Wednesday 25 April 2018

First Chibok girl to escape Boko Haram to meet with Nigerian president

Nigerian soldiers drive past the school in Chibok where the girls were abducted from. (AP)
Nigerian soldiers drive past the school in Chibok where the girls were abducted from. (AP)
A screengrab taken from a video showing the abducted girls in full-length hijab, praying in an undisclosed location Photo: AFP/Getty

Michelle Faul, in Lagos

The first kidnapped schoolgirl to escape from Islamic extremist group Boko Haram's stronghold in the Sambisa Forest has been flown to Nigeria's capital, Abuja, to meet the country's president.

Officials say the 19-year-old, who was 17 when she was abducted along with 218 other girls from a boarding school in the town of Chibok, will meet with President Muhammadu Buhari.

Aid workers say the young woman, who was found with her four-month-old baby, urgently needs reproductive health services and psychosocial counselling.

Hunters found the young woman wandering on the fringes of the remote north-eastern forest on Tuesday and reunited her with her mother, her family doctor Idriss Danladi said.

A photo released by Nigeria's army of the rescued Chibok schoolgirl and her baby Photo: Nigeria Military/Handout via REUTERS
A photo released by Nigeria's army of the rescued Chibok schoolgirl and her baby Photo: Nigeria Military/Handout via REUTERS

She has already provided valuable information, revealing that some of the Chibok girls have died in captivity and the others continue to be held hostage, according to Dr Danladi.

Authorities will be asking her where her classmates are being held. If Boko Haram tries to move large groups of girls because of her escape, those movements can be captured by satellites and air reconnaissance.

The woman, with her mother and baby were taken to a military camp and flown by helicopter on Wednesday to Maiduguri, the biggest city in the north-east that is the birthplace of Boko Haram and the headquarters of Nigeria's war against the extremist group.

They were handed over to Borno state governor Kashim Shettima, who declared he would in turn hand her to President Muhammadu Buhari "to present to the nation".

The woman's uncle confirmed she arrived in Abuja on Thursday for an expected meeting with Mr Buhari later in the day.

Hostages who escaped have said Boko Haram forces victims to convert, to marry and to copulate "to create a new generation" of extremists.

The teenager and her baby were examined at an air force medical facility on Wednesday and were found to be stable with normal blood pressure, according to a Nigerian army spokesman.

She was then released to the military's Operation Lafiya Dole headquarters for further investigation and handing over.

Nigeria's military claimed it had rescued the young woman, though its initial statement identified the escapee as another Chibok girl who is still missing.

Her escape highlights the failure of two Nigerian governments and the military to rescue the girls snatched from the government boarding school on the night of April 14 2014. The schoolgirls have not been found, despite the help of drones, hostage negotiators and intelligence officers sent by the United States, France and Britain.

That failure is partly to blame for the electoral defeat last year of former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was seen as uncaring of their plight and uncommitted to rescuing them.

Mr Buhari said earlier this month he has not seen a proof-of-life video that Boko Haram sent to the government months ago in a bid to open negotiations. It was the first indication in two years that some of the girls are alive.

Aid workers warn that escaping Boko Haram does not mean an end to trauma.

Former captives, especially often-pregnant victims or teen-aged mothers, are frequently ostracised by their peers and taunted as "Boko Haram wives". Unicef spokeswoman Helene Sandbu Ryeng said other escapees from Boko Haram "often face mistrust, stigma and rejection when they return to their communities".

The treatment of thousands of other rescued or escaped Boko Haram hostages who are further distressed by military detention has been condemned by Refugees International.

"Boko Haram abductees are frequently and arbitrarily detained," said the organisation's spokeswoman, Alyssa Eisenstein. "Previous girls have been taken to Giwa military barracks, where they were interrogated, treated with suspicion and fear, and had no access to medical services."

Amnesty International this month called Giwa barracks, in Maiduguri, "a place of death" where babies and children are among scores of people dying from disease, hunger, dehydration and gunshot wounds. Nigeria's military denied the allegations, calling them "a surprise and shock because the organisation has accessed the facilities and made recommendations which were implemented".

Amnesty denied the military's statement, saying it was "completely false" and that the rights organisation has never been allowed to inspect the barracks.

Press Association

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