ABUJA, Nigeria – It was hearing about her sore eyes that convinced Lawal Zannah his daughter Aisha was still alive, the first sliver of good news to emerge after months of nervy silence enveloped Nigeria’s kidnapped Chibok girls.
Word of 21-year-old Aisha’s persistent eye problem came via a newly released captive, Jumai, who had shared a militant encampment with her in northeastern Nigeria.
Aisha was among the more than 200 girls kidnapped from their school by Boko Haram militants in April 2014. Since then, about half of the girls have been found or freed, dozens have been paraded in propaganda videos and an unknown number have died.
Reports of forced marriages and indoctrination have kept rumours alive about the captors and their brutal lifestyle.
But the welfare of Zannah’s daughter, along with the other captives taken from their school in Chibok, had remained uncertain as the kidnapping ordeal dragged past its fourth year.
“(Jumai) told me that she was in the same camp as my daughter and five other Chibok girls,” Zannah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the ex-captive’s Chibok home.
“She said my daughter has been suffering from eye problems and I knew it was true because the eye trouble started before she was kidnapped.”
It was the first confirmation his daughter was alive that he had received since May, when more than 80 of Aisha’s classmates were freed following negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram.
Zannah was not the only local hoping for an update.
Once word got out that a Chibok woman had escaped from the Sambisa Forest hideout of the jihadist group, parents rushed to her home in the hope of any news, be it good or bad.