More than eight years after Boko Haram terrorists took 276 schoolgirls hostage from their dormitory in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok, about 100 are still suspected missing.
But Christian Solidarity International (CSI), a religious liberty and human rights advocacy organization, reports that in recent weeks the Nigerian Army has located several former schoolgirls who are now mothers of children they birthed while in captivity.
Hauwa Joseph and Mary Dauda, both in their early 20s, were found with their children by the military in June. Following their abduction from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, the girls were distributed to different camps where they were forced to marry members of the jihadist group, Joseph and Dauda said. They reported that more than 20 of their former schoolmates were still being held in Gazuwa camp in the Sambisa forest.
A few weeks later, the Nigerian Army held a news conference to announce that it had freed three more of the Chibok captives.
“Three of the Chibok girls are here with you, these girls are Ruth Bitrus, Kauna Luka and Hannatu Musa,” said Waibi Shaibu, commander of the 7th Division, as reported by Africa News. “All of them were rescued by the troops of the 21 special armored brigade after operations that created an enabling environment for these girls to escape from their captors.”
And on Aug. 13, the Nigerian Army reported on Twitter that it had rescued a sixth girl, Aisha Grema, along with her 4-year-old child.
The Nigerian news website HumAngle reports that the young women regained their freedom amid “a wave of [Boko Haram] defections and movement” from their hideouts in the Sambisa forest to government-controlled areas in recent months.
CSI reports that between 2016 and 2018, 103 girls were freed following negotiations between the Nigerian government and Islamic militants. But Franklyne Ogbunwezeh, CSI senior research fellow, said that since 2018 little progress has been made in securing the release of the remaining captives as many of the girls may have been moved to more remote locations.
Campaign group BringBackOurGirls says 112 Chibok girls are still missing. Most are presumed to be married to jihadists and living in camps.
In other developments, Islamic terrorists in southern Nigeria kidnapped four nuns on Aug. 21, just three days after suspected Fulani herdsmen shot a Christian attorney to death in northwest Nigeria.
Benedict Azza, director of the legal department of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Zamfara State Chapter, was murdered when gunmen shot him at his home on Aug. 18 in Gussau, capital of Zamfara state, according to the Morning Star News.
In Imo state, southeast Nigeria, Islamic terrorists suspected of working with Fulani herdsmen on Aug. 21 kidnapped four Roman Catholic nuns as they traveled in the Okigwe-Umulolo area, the Reverend Sister Zita Ihedoro, secretary-general of the Sisters of Jesus the Savior, said in a press statement.
And according to the Nigerian newspaper, The Desert Herald, a top commander of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has indicated he will forcibly marry a Christian university student who was kidnapped along with others after ISWAP attacked a train from Abuja to the city of Kaduna in March, sources said.
Azurfa Lois John, 21, a third-year student at Kaduna State University, was kidnapped on the evening of March 28 after ISWAP bombed the train, along with more than 60 other passengers.
Nigeria is ranked seventh in Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The west African nation was ranked No. 9 last year.
Nigeria led the world in Christians killed for their faith last year (Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021) at 4,650, up from 3,530 the previous year, according to the 2022 World Watch List report. The number of kidnapped Christians was also highest in Nigeria, at more than 2,500, up from 990 the previous year.
In 2021, the Biden State Department opted to drop Nigeria’s designation as a “Country of Particular Concern,” drawing sharp criticism from religious freedom advocates and calls from Republican leaders to revisit that decision this year.