Nigeria's Chibok Girls: How Many Have Escaped Boko Haram?

Chibok girls
The 21 Chibok girls released by Boko Haram attend a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria, October 19. They were the first to be freed following talks between the government and the militant group. PHILIP OJISUA/AFP/Getty

For more than two years, Nigeria's war with Boko Haram has been synonymous with the militant group's highest-profile abductees.

Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in the town of Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria, on April 14, 2014.

The abduction sparked international outrage, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls shared by millions of people—including America's First Lady Michelle Obama—in a frantic bid to rescue the girls.

While the Nigerian government has managed to secure the release of some girls, the vast majority remain missing and the issue has fallen from the global news agenda.

Newsweek summarizes the current state of affairs.

What happened to the Chibok girls?

Boko Haram militants raided the Government Secondary School in Chibok, a rural town about 75 miles south of Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's northeastern Borno state and the militant group's birthplace. 276 girls were taken from their dormitories and forced into lorries by the militants, but 57 girls managed to escape in the immediate aftermath, largely by jumping from the lorries and running into the surrounding bushes. The total number taken into captivity was 219.

The first escapee

Besides the girls who immediately fled Boko Haram, no others were known to have escaped until May 18. A local civilian vigilante found Amina Ali Nkeki, 21, with her four-month-old daughter near Damboa in Borno state. The child was allegedly fathered by a suspected Boko Haram member, Mohammed Hayatu, who was found with Nkeki and arrested. Hayatu has claimed to be the girl's husband. Nkeki has also said that some of the other girls have died in childbirth or been killed by bombs, according to a BBC interview with Nkeki's mother.

Amina Ali Nkeki and President Buhari
Chibok schoolgirl Amina Ali Nkeki holds her baby as she meets President Muhammadu in Abuja, Nigeria, May 19, 2016. Nkeki was the first Chibok girl to escape from Boko Haram captivity after the initial abduction and runaways. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Negotiations pay off

The administration of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari finally managed to bring back some of the girls last month, announcing on October 13 that 21 of the Chibok abductees had been freed. A presidential spokesman said that the release came after negotiations between the Nigerian government and a faction of Boko Haram pledging allegiance to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), brokered by the Swiss government.

There were mixed reports about whether the girls were freed in exchange for the release of Boko Haram members in prison. Four senior Boko Haram commanders were swapped for the girls, according to AP, which cited a military source, but Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed denied that any prisoners were freed.

The latest return

The Nigerian Army claimed on Saturday to have found one of the girls while screening escapees from a Boko Haram hideout in the Sambisa forest, one of the group's last remaining strongholds, in a village called Pulka in the Gwoza local government area in Borno. Nigerian Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman named the girl as Maryam Ali Maiyanga and said she was carrying a 10-month-old son called Ali.

The campaign group Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG), which has been lobbying the government to secure the girls' release, said that "preliminary investigations" showed Maiyanga was abducted with her twin sister (who is still in captivity) and is from the Askira Uba district of Borno.

Who is still missing?

Chibok girls video
A Boko Haram fighter and kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls in a still image from a video posted by the militant group on social media, August 14. In the video, the group demanded the release of its prisoners in exchange for freeing the girls. Social Media/Reuters

Despite the recent release and escapes, 196 girls remain missing. The Nigerian government has pledged to rescue them and the BBOG group has said it will keep up its advocacy on their behalf.

Following the success of the 21 abductees released in October after talks with the militant group, Nigerian presidential spokesman Garba Shehu claimed that the ISIS-aligned faction of Boko Haram was willing to free a further 83 girls subject to negotiations with the government.

The recent split in Boko Haram could complicate the release of the remaining girls. Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2015 under the auspices of its longtime leader, Abubakar Shekau. But after an ISIS publication named Abu Musab al-Barnawi, a former Boko Haram spokesman, as the leader of ISIS's branch in West Africa, Shekau disavowed Barnawi and claimed to be the group's rightful leader. Clashes have since been reported between Shekau's faction and Barnawi's.

It is not clear how many of the Chibok girls are being held by each group, nor even how defined the division is, but any split could mean the Nigerian government is forced to negotiate with more than one group to secure the release of the remaining girls.

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