Abuja, Nigeria | AFP |
A second Chibok schoolgirl has been rescued, Nigeria’s army said Thursday, after President Muhammadu Buhari met the first student to be found and voiced fresh hope for the recovery of the more than 200 others still being held.
Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said the student was found by troops and civilian vigilantes at about 11:00 am (1000 GMT) on Thursday in the Damboa area of Borno state, northeast Nigeria, during military operations.
“Her name is Miss Serah Luka,” he added in a statement, saying she was believed to be a Christian pastor’s daughter and originally from Madagali, in neighbouring Adamawa state.
A photograph released by the military showed a young woman in a long, dark blue hijab common in the region and seen on abducted girls in previous videos from the Boko Haram Islamist militant group.
Boko Haram’s shadowy leader, Abubakar Shekau, has previously claimed all the girls had converted to Islam.
The first student to be found, Amina Ali, flew with her mother to meet the president at his official Aso Rock residence in the capital, Abuja.
Buhari said he was “delighted” at her release and the government was doing “all it can to rescue the remaining Chibok girls”, who were abducted from the remote town in northeast Nigeria on April 14, 2014.
“Amina’s rescue gives us new hope, and offers a unique opportunity for vital information,” he said.
A total of 276 girls were kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School. Fifty-seven escaped in the hours that followed.
The abduction provoked global outrage and brought worldwide attention to the conflict but until Amina and the latest student were found, there were few indications about their possible release.
Community leaders said Amina told her relatives at a brief reunion at the family home in Mbalala, near Chibok, that most of the girls were still in the Sambisa Forest area of Borno state but six had died.
Nigeria’s military has been conducting operations in the former game reserve for weeks in the hope of flushing out militants and destroying Islamist camps in the sprawling semi-desert scrubland.
Borno state governor Kashim Shettima said on Thursday soldiers were “already moving into the forest aggressively”.
“I am an eternal optimist. I believe that in the coming days and weeks more recoveries will be made,” he told reporters.
The abducted girls have long been thought to have been taken to the forest. Satellite imagery provided by the United States and Britain reportedly identified the location of some of the students.
But Nigeria’s military failed to act on the intelligence, Britain’s former ambassador to Nigeria has claimed.
Former president Goodluck Jonathan’s delayed response to the abduction and overall handling of the insurgency was seen as a major factor in his election defeat to Buhari last year.
Amina was brought to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, with her four-month-old baby girl named Safiya and a man she said was her husband.
Her purported husband, identified by the army as “suspected Boko Haram terrorist” Mohammed Hayatu, was shown in one photograph cradling the infant on a hospital bed.
The army said he was “undergoing further investigation at (the) Joint Intelligence Centre” and was being “well-treated”.
Boko Haram has used kidnapping as a weapon of war in the conflict, which has killed at least 20,000 people, forced 2.6 million from their homes and devastated the northeast since 2009.
Young women and girls have been forced to marry rebel fighters, becoming sex slaves and even suicide bombers in the group’s campaign for a hardline Islamic state.
Men and boys have also been seized and forcibly conscripted.
Boko Haram is thought to have kidnapped several thousand women and young girls and there have been calls for Nigeria to do more to support former hostages.
Buhari said Amina would receive “the best care the Nigerian government can afford” and disclosed she had undergone medical tests for about five hours and met trauma experts.
The resumption of her education would be “a priority”, he added. “Every girl has the right to an education and a life choice,” he said.
Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, from Refugees International (RI) said such specialised care was not available to most former hostages.
“On the contrary there is a seemingly arbitrary and haphazard approach to dealing with these women and girls,” she said.
RI and other agencies have highlighted in particular the lack of facilities for victims of sexual violence and psychological services.
Northern Nigeria, which is largely Muslim, is deeply conservative and kidnap victims have reportedly been shunned on their return home.