Borno state, in northeastern Nigeria, has been ravaged by a deadly conflict between the military and Boko Haram jihadists for more than a decade. Last autumn, the authorities announced that they wanted to close the Borno refugee camps as they claimed the insurgency was almost eradicated. However, in recent months, deadly attacks have taken place on the outskirts of the regional capital Maiduguri. Our team met some of the two million displaced people who have fled the fighting.
Fatima, 26, was forcibly married to a Boko Haram commander. She did so to prevent her son from being turned into a child soldier by the Islamist sect. But since then, her family has disowned her and called her a “Boko Haram wife”. Falmata, 50, saw Boko Haram put a price on her head simply for being a businesswoman. She barely survived, but lost everything in her hometown of Bama, and doesn’t know how she will feed her eight children. As for 70-year-old Mala, he survived a recent massacre of peasants but hasn’t dared to go back to the fields since.
The stories of these displaced people are rare in the Western media. Borno state, in northeastern Nigeria, and neighboring countries have been torn apart by the Islamist insurgency for more than 10 years. We’re the first Western camera crew to film the martyred city of Bama since Boko Haram made it its short-lived caliphate back in 2014. Liberated after seven months, Bama now resembles a “super camp”, a town of checkpoints and roadblocks. The schools, so hated by the Islamists, are no longer empty. But the countryside remains subject to racketeering and attacks from the Islamists.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the security situation forced our team to reinvent working methods at a distance, with two co-authors in France and the third in Nigeria. We filmed our report over several weeks so that we could take the time to speak to all our interviewees. But it all took place in a highly volatile security context: Maiduguri, the regional capital of Borno, was hit by an attack just two days after the team began their journey home to France.
This rare report shows the absurdities of an endless war and of a seemingly hopeless situation, just as the Nigerian government wants to close the refugee camps.