One of the more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram is finally free after more than two years as a prisoner of the terror group, Nigerian military officials and a witness say.
Military officials and locals gave different accounts of how she was liberated. Nigeria’s army said she was rescued by army troops, while a witness spoken to by CNN said the girl wandered out of the Sambisa Forest in the northeast of the country along with her child and husband on Tuesday night.
The Sambisa Forest, believed to be the terror group’s stronghold, has long been the suspected location of the girls since 276 of them were kidnapped at gunpoint from their boarding school in Chibok in Borno, northeast Nigeria, on April 14, 2014.
At least 57 girls were able to escape soon after their abduction, but more than 200 of the abducted girls remain missing.
Witness: She wandered out
The eyewitness, Aboku Gaji, told CNN that he was participating in a nightly patrol with the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF), a vigilante group set up to help fight Boko Haram, on the edge of the Sambisa Forest when the girl and some companions wandered out at about 7 p.m.
He said her name was Amina Ali Nkeki, and he recognized her as one of the missing schoolgirls, although she looked different and in poor physical condition. “Their bodies didn’t look good. They had had no bath and were in a dirty condition,” he said.
The young woman was part of a group asking for help, including a man who identified himself as her husband and the father of her baby, he said.
The man said that he had been kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Mubi, taken to Sambisa Forest and married to Nkeki.
Gaji and his commander took the girl to the house of her mother Binta Ali, in the settlement of Mbalala, where she was reunited with her mother, he said.
Army: We rescued her
The Nigerian government and army disputed the account, giving a different name for the girl and saying she was rescued by government troops, although confirming that they were referring to the same incident.
Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman, acting director of Army Public Relations, said the girl’s name was Falmata Mbalala, and she had been rescued by government troops at Baale near Damboa — an account backed up by the country’s Information Minister Lai Mohammad.
A distant relative of the girl, Yakubu Nkeki, said his wife had spoken to Nkeki’s mother and confirmed that they had been reunited.
“It’s a joyful time for me,” said Nkeki, who is the father of another of the abducted girls. He said the girl was being taken to the state capital Maiduguri on Thursday.
‘Bring back our girls’
The girls’ kidnapping sparked global outrage, with Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai and a slew of other high-profile figures lending their weight to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
But Nigeria’s government has proven powerless to recover the girls, most of whom were Christian, and are believed to have been forced to convert to Islam by their captors.
Last month, CNN obtained a video of some of the missing Chibok girls sent to negotiators by their captors as a “proof of life,” and showed it to some of the girls’ mothers, who had not been shown the footage by officials.
Boko Haram, based mainly in Nigeria’s northern states but responsible for attacks in neighboring countries, is seeking to implement sharia law. According to a report released in November, the Global Terrorism Index, Boko Haram was the world’s deadliest terror group in 2014, responsible for 6,644 deaths, an increase of 317% from the previous year.
Two years ago, when CNN first visited Chibok after the mass abduction, parents described how they followed their daughters’ trail to the edge of the Sambisa Forest, which had been overrun by the Islamist insurgents several years earlier.
But with danger lurking amid the dense vegetation, an ideal hiding place for the militants and their IEDS, they were unable to go any further.
Since then, Nigerian soldiers have infiltrated the forest and driven back the militants from some of their territory.
But the group still holds territory right in the heart of the forest.
Nkeki Mutah, the vice chairman of the Chibok association of Abuja, told CNN that urgent action was needed to recover the girls.
“It is now left for the government to act as quickly as possible and we are calling on international leaders to act.”