Four kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have escaped a camp run by the militant islamist sect Boko Haram in Cameroon, raising hopes for the more than 200 still missing.
The four, all aged between 16 and 18, had been told that if they criticised Boko Haram, their families would be killed. They were helped to escape by a teenage boy, also a prisoner, who managed to get them out of the camp, according to Stephen Davis, a British-Australian negotiator who had tried to bargain with the extremist Islamic group for the schoolgirls’ freedom.
The girls were among about 219 girls taken from their school in northern Nigeria while sitting exams in April. Their kidnapping sparked internbational outrage and a campaign to free them.
The four free girls walked west for three weeks guided by the setting sun, finally arriving in a Nigerian village, starving and traumatised.
“They were amazing — to first escape and then walk for weeks. They are the only ones that have escaped from a Boko Haram camp,” Mr Davis, who used to be the canon emeritus of Coventry Cathedral, said.
In a separate incident 27 hostages, including ten Chinese workers who have been held for months by Boko Haram, arrived in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde on Saturday after being freed. In return for them, the government reportedly paid $400,000 – assisted by the Chinese government – and released four commanders of the terrorist group that has been looting, raping, and killing in northern Nigeria in an attempt to turn it into an Islamic caliphate.
The group operates along the border with Cameroon, and the violence frequently spills over it.
Akaoua Babiana, the wife of Cameroon’s deputy prime minister, was among those freed, three months after she was captured with her maid from their home in Kolofata in what the government described as a “savage attack”. Her husband had escaped to a nearby town.
Mr Davis has abandoned his attempts at negotiation after realising that if the girls from the town of Chibok were freed, Boko Haram would just kidnap more girls. Instead, he is trying to cut the militants off financially, by persuading Britain, America and other countries to freeze the bank accounts of high-profile Nigerians who are allegedly channelling money to them.