One of the schoolgirls whose abduction triggered the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has been located after more than two years in captivity, an activist and Nigeria’s military said Wednesday.
The mass kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram from the Nigerian town of Chibok in April 2014 ignited an international outcry. The ensuing #BringBackOurGirls campaign was backed by the likes of Michelle Obama, while the U.S. and other countries sent military assistance.
A handful of the kidnapped girls managed to escape early on but most were never found.
Both Nigeria’s military and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign said Wednesday that one of the girls was now in safe hands — but gave conflicting information on the circumstances and her identity.
Bukky Shonibare, one of the strategic team members of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, told NBC News that a 19-year-old named Ameina Nkeki was found Tuesday by the Civilian JTF vigilante group, which fights alongside the Nigerian military, in a village near the Sambisa Forest.
Nkeki had a baby with her and told the militia members she had escaped from Boko Haram captivity, Shonibare said, noting that the details of the girl’s escape were not immediately unclear.
“This is a major, major breakthrough — this is the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for,” she said.
Nkeki was taken to a military base in Damboa before being brought to her mother and her former high-school head teacher — both of whom positively confirmed her identify, according to Shonibare.
The activists are “100 percent sure that this was one of the Chibok girls,” Shonibare added.
Col. Sani Usman, a spokesman for the Nigerian Army, confirmed via WhatsApp message that one of the kidnapped Chibok girls had been recovered.
He added in a statement that the girl was “rescued” by “our troops” near Damboa. It was not immediately clear if he was referring to his soldiers or the JTF.
Usman’s statement also identified the girl as Falmata Mbalala — which did not correspond to the name given by Shonibare and the Bring Back Our Girls movement.
Both Usman and Shonibare insisted they had the correct name for the young woman. NBC News was not immediately able to reconcile the differing accounts.
While the Chibok Girls drew the most international attention, an estimated 2,000-plus women and girls have been abducted during Boko Haram’s violent campaign in Nigeria. Chibok may not even be the largest group to be kidnapped, with Human Rights Watch reporting that some 400 people were taken from the town of Damasak last year.
The army gave details of a large-scale operation against Boko Haram on Tuesday — the day the young woman was reportedly found — in Sambisa forest.
The military said troops killed 15 Boko Haram fighters after coming under heavy fire in the area of Alafa.
Troops also rescued 41 hostages — mainly women and children, the military added in a statement.
While Nigeria’s government has publicly touted an aggressive campaign to beat back Boko Haram, its failure to find the girls has drawn criticism.
The news comes one day after the president’s wife, Aisha Buhari, presented “symbolic” checks to the mothers of the missing girls.