The escape of a Chibok schoolgirl from Boko Haram is being exploited by the Nigerian government as an accomplishment in efforts to recover more than 200 girls still missing in the 2014 abduction, sources told Baptist Press.
The Nigerian government has used the escape of Amina Ali Nkeki to create photo opportunities for good publicity internationally, while skirting the ongoing tragedy that the government has not recovered any of the missing girls, Open Doors USA’s advocacy director Kristin Wright told BP.
“It seems to be much more important to the Nigerian government to make good headlines around the world than it is to actually find the Chibok girls,” Wright said.
Not only that, but details revealed in publicity after Amina’s escape don’t correlate with the facts of the Chibok kidnapping, Nigerian relations expert Adeniyi Ojutiku told BP, and raise speculation that Amina might not have been among the Chibok girls kidnapped in 2014.
“What is happening is the whole Chibok girl thing has been so highly politicized, that it’s difficult to discern the truth from fabrications,” he told BP. “There seems to be so many discrepancies in the story and those discrepancies make a person believe that the whole thing may have been stage managed. That’s my concern.”
Open Doors USA photo
Yakubu Nkiki Maina, right, the father of a kidnapped Chibok schoolgirl shows a newspaper photo of the missing girls to Open Doors USA advocacy director Kristin Wright, who met with him in September 2015.
The chief discrepancy is in Amina’s age, 17, and her identity as a student in the first year of senior secondary school (SS1), Ojutiku said. Students abducted in April 2014 were all in the third year (SS3) and had been called back to school from vacation to take a required physics exam. All other classes were away from school on vacation during the raid, he said.
“She said she was not of the class level of the people taking the exams. She was in SS1. She could not have been [called] back to take an exam that she was not qualified to take,” Ojutiku said. “At 15 [her age at the time of the kidnapping] the appropriate class level was SS1, and she actually said that she was in SS1. How could she have been among the group of SS3 students? They were recalled from their homes specifically to take a physics exam.”
The details of her road to freedom, whether she actually escaped on her own or was aided by the government, also vary, Ojutiku said.
“People have speculated that the government may have created a story around her to appear that they are really doing something to rescue the girls,” Ojutiku said. “When you fabricate a lie there are always things that you overlook that will eventually point people to the fact that it’s a lie. But the truth is just something that stands always, by itself.”
Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 girls from the boarding school in the mostly Christian town of Chibok during a raid in the early morning hours of April 14, 2014, but as many as 60 of the girls escaped during the journey into the Sambisa Forest. An estimated 219 remained missing.
Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist in Raleigh, N.C., leading the Lift Up Now grassroots outreach to his Nigerian homeland, was on a 10-day business trip to southern Nigeria when Amina was discovered, but he did not travel to northeastern Nigeria during his visit.
Wright, based in Washington, met with some of the fathers of the Chibok girls during a September 2015 visit to Jos in the country’s middle belt. Amina’s father, now deceased, was not among that group, but is among at least 18 parents who have died since the kidnapping, Wright said.
“Two years have gone by and these girls are still missing and their families are dealing with that loss, that agony of not knowing every single day,” Wright said. “Visiting with the fathers was just deeply emotional. One man told me he wakes up every morning wondering where his daughter is at.”
Open Doors USA welcomes the news of Amina’s wellbeing, but is advocating for the safe return of those still missing.
“It is great news for this girl and for her family, but when you think of this unconscionable outrage that for more than two years these girls, over 200 of them have been held, there’s really not a cause for celebration,” she said. “This is a time for us to soberly step back and think about the fact, these girls have been missing for over two years. What are you going to do to bring them home?”
Open Doors USA has launched a petition to encourage U.S. President Obama to visit Nigeria and issue a statement advocating for the girls’ release. Thousands have signed the petition that will be available a few more months, Wright said.
“There are many captives of Boko Haram and the government is actively seeking to rescue captives, whenever they are able, but the reality is that none of the Chibok girls, until Amina, have been rescued,” she said. “And that’s something that the world wants to hear about. The world is waiting to know what will happen to the Chibok girls, and we’ve had one escape.”
Wright was encouraged by the faith expressed by the girls’ fathers, who are hopeful for their daughters’ safe return.
“A lot of men told me that they do have hope that they’ll see their daughters again and that they’ll be reunited,” Wright said. “And that’s one reason why I do feel incredibly grateful and optimistic about Amini Ali’s escape. And the fact that she was able to make it home and be reunited with her family is incredible.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)