Amina Ali was the first Chibok schoolgirl to be successfully rescued from the famous Sambisa Forest, den of the dreaded Boko Haram sect in Nigeria last May. Rescued recently after two years in Boko Haram captivity, the teenager was flown to Abuja on 31 July, 2016, and she and her mother, Binta Ali, were received by Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari the Presidential palace in Abuja.
Interestingly, her freedom seems to add pressure on the government to do more to rescue 218 other girls whose whereabouts are not known, even as her mother has expressed worry about her future. Amina’s mother fears that, held for two years in Boko Haram captivity, and likely to spend months in federal government confinement in a house in the capital, the teenage schoolgirl may never in future be the same girl she once was before their abduction.
The visibly traumatised Amina, one of more than 200 girls abducted from a secondary school in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, in April 2014, returned with a four-month-old baby after she was rescued near Damboa in Borno State by soldiers working together with a civilian vigilante group. She recounted that she managed to escape from the Boko Haram stronghold and spent nights in the wild beast-infested forest with her young baby. “How I survived in that forest with my baby remains a mystery to me,” she said, amidst tears.
Since meeting with President Buhari, the poor girl remains held in a house in Abuja for what the Nigerian government calls “restoration process” in the hope that she would shed light on the fate of the other kidnapped girls. But her mother, Binta Ali, who stays with her since their arrival, continues to express concern about Amina’s welfare and future.
During a briefly return to Chibok to seek medical treatment, Binta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Before they were kidnapped, my daughter’s dream was to further her education. But now, she dreads schooling and wants to always be close to me at home,” adding that Amina wants a sewing machine so that she could start dress-making a business.
Amina is from a Christian background, but after their abduction, she was forced to convert from Christianity to Islam by Boko Haram militants during her captivity. Now, Binta is also worried that her daughter is being pressured into following Islam, having been forced to convert from Christianity to Islam by Boko Haram militants during her captivity. Amina herself does not want to remain a Muslim, which is why when an Islamic teacher visited the house several times and told Amina to maintain her new faith, she did not want to see him. The teacher has since stopped visiting after she complained about him. However, the Nigerian government, through President Buhari’s spokesman, has said Amina’s confinement in the house has nothing to do with religion.
Created since 2000, Boko Haram has been fighting to set up an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, and the insurgency has led to the death of over 15,000 people and displaced more than two million others. In April 2014, the group abducted some 219 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno State, Northeast Nigeria. The girls’ disappearance sparked a global campaign dubbed #bringbackourgirls, though some of them managed to escape in the melee. The inability by the Nigerian government to find the missing girls, their parents have continued to accuse the powers that be of not doing enough to bring back their daughters.
As revealed by Amina, the girls face a lot of hardships as captives of the Islamist group. She said the starving girls resorted to eating entire bags of raw beans and maize. “I cannot imagine how a human being can eat raw maize and beans like a goat,” Binta wept, as she listened to her daughter’s and her friends’ ordeal. Amina also recounted how some of the kidnapped girls had died in captivity, while others suffered broken legs or went deaf after being too close to explosions. But she pleaded with her mother not to break the news to the families in Chibok, especially those whose daughters have died.”
Despite her fears over Amina’s religion and education, and uncertainty over when she will be allowed to return home, Binta said she still had reason to be positive about her daughter. She said Amina used to be so afraid and would talk to herself shortly after her rescue. But now she sleeps soundly and is no longer afraid, although the signs of trauma are still very visible on her.