Bits of Borno
Isabella De Maddalena
+December 05, 2019
Bits of Borno is a project through which Fati Abubakar (@fatiabubakar), a Nigerian photojournalist and documentary photographer whose work focuses on the resilience and the humanitarian issues, documents her hometown of Borno State at the time of Boko Haram. Boko Haram, a radical Islamic terrorist organization widespread in Northern Nigeria, was born in 2009 from the radicalization of a group formed in 2002 in the city of Maiduguri in the state of Borno, by the preaching of a radical Islamic scholar: Mohamed Yusuf.
The “laws” that Boko Haram has imposed and the extreme fear that it has spread through terrorist attacks have influenced the Nigerian population on several levels. And these consequences are what Fati Abubakar deals with through the various themes of her Bits of Borno project.
Several of the subjects she faces have to do with childhood: a childhood in which fundamental rights such as access to food or to education, are currently inaccessible because of the conflict. The translation of the name Boko Haram literally means "Western education is prohibited". Boko Haram, as well as having closed schools since the beginning of the insurgency has in some cases, kidnapped schoolgirls.
In Fati Abubakar project Education In A Crisis, we see schoolgirls and schoolboys back at their school desks, after the two years of total teaching closure established by the government for security reasons from May 2014 to November 2016. Some of the boys and girls, look at us with deep black eyes, some seem older than their age, others show a light-heartedness and a smile despite the difficult background they probably come from.
Photographing children for me is always an extremely emotional experiences. I am either extremely happy that they are excited about being photographed or extremely sad that they are in this situation of being displaced, hungry or sick. When I post online, many people who see my work are very willing to help. There has been a situation where I photographed a group of street children but I couldn’t post the photos because there were no parents with them to ask for their consent. So I posted only a picture of a boy on my personal page. He was so cute and had a beautiful smile. Someone ended up paying for him to be enrolled in school and now he’s in a private school in Maiduguri. Moments like these make me believe that sometime’s telling the story is very important. However, I am still very cautious on the issues of privacy and protection, and about ensuring that parents approve first because I want to protect my people. Accurate representation and true storytelling is incredibly important.
In the images of the series Malnutrition Fati deals with the issues of malnourished children. Because of the violent conflict in the north-east of Nigeria, and the consequent interruption of agricultural activities and destruction of crops, hundreds of thousands of children are severely malnourished and risk dying.
The images Fati brings to light are heartrending and convince each of us to confront the terrible inequality of the world. Suffering is even more unbearable when it comes to children, or vulnerable people. Fati Abubakar manages to tell this story from the inside also because of her education: she studied Nursing and Public Health and besides being a photographer, she is also a public health worker in Nigeria.
I have seen cases of physical illness and mental health in communities as a student before the crisis”, Fati says, “but in the case of the conflict, the trauma is on such a massive scale that it is emotionally difficult for me to see my community so devastated. I have had to seek therapy myself and then also deal with the guilt of being privileged to access to it.
By reporting these important topics through her work, Fati raises awareness of how Boko Haram affected entire communities.
I report those devastating situations because I think they are important to be seen also by individuals who are living in different parts of Nigeria. Imagery is powerful and conveys the hardships and tragedies accurately. It is to me, evidence of our pain. And I do get empathy towards the people photographed from so many different regions around the world; some send clothes, other donate money for someone’s education. It has been a profound response not only in terms of creating awareness but also in the beautiful reaction from kind and empathetic people around the world.
Fati Abubakar’s work has gained international recognition and has been published on various media outlets, among the others: the New York Times, BBC, Newsweek Europe.