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Rahima Gambo: Searching for Details

2014 Magnum Foundation Fellow Rahima Gambo is back in Nigeria, and in her childhood region, where Boko Haram is is violently separating families and driving thousands away from their homes. Frustrated by the faceless treatment of Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria’s mainstream media, Rahima is seeking out the personal narratives of those buffeted by Boko Haram’s increasing presence:

It was a weekday in Nigeria’s capital city and, unusually, there was no traffic. All roads leading to the central business district were barricaded and patrolled by security men because President Goodluck Jonathan was publicly declaring his intent to to seek another term. Just the day before, Boko Haram, an indigenous extremist group, had attacked a boys secondary school, killing 47 students. 

700 km northeast of the capital city, refugees were flooding into government camps for internally displaced peoples seeking safety from Boko Haram, who had violently captured a string of towns in the region. The front pages of newspapers showed a smiling president surrounded by adoring supporters. There were no images of those affected by the insurgency in the northeast that had been escalating over the last several months. Information coming from the region was ambiguous at best and any reference to internally displaced persons was followed by numbers: 10,000, 400,000 or 1.5 Million - the latest figures released by the UN.

I really wanted details. I wanted to see and talk to those non-descript IDPs who were written about like they resided in a far flung country. I particularly wanted to know what was happening in Yola, Adamawa state, my home state and one of three states that had been under emergency rule for the last fourteen months.

Yola has always been that place that never changes. It’s like a museum. A pothole on a familiar road can trigger a childhood memory of a hot summer and a grazed limb. Now, my euphoric childhood memories were being replaced with more recent ones, filled with shell-shocked eyes and dusty faces.

Like those two sad boys sitting in a dark echoey room; the soft spoken farmer who was trying to move on with his life without his family; those people in the yellow bus who were excited to finally be on their way home; and that teenager with her five day old baby.

- Rahima Gambo, 2014 Magnum Foundation Fellow

  “I was separated from my husband when I fled Gwoza. I found myself in Gulak and the insurgents attacked. I fled to Mubi and they attacked again. I went to Cameroon but the people there forced us to leave. We travelled on the back of a trailer on its way to Yola. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived and I slept outdoors in a park. It was a stranger that brought me to the camp.” Laraba Joseph, 19, mother of a 5-day-old baby. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

“I was separated from my husband when I fled Gwoza. I found myself in Gulak and the insurgents attacked. I fled to Mubi and they attacked again. I went to Cameroon but the people there forced us to leave. We travelled on the back of a trailer on its way to Yola. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived and I slept outdoors in a park. It was a stranger that brought me to the camp.” Laraba Joseph, 19, mother of a 5-day-old baby. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

  Ten year old Stevenson and Jibrin in the mens living quarters in Damare IDP camp, Adamawa state. They are both from Michika, a town in northern Adamawa that is an area of heavy fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram. “My father and mother are not in the camp,” said Jibrin. Though numbers haven’t been formally tracked as registration of displaced persons is still ongoing, Nigerian Red Cross volunteers who work in the camp say that there are many orphans whose parents whereabouts are unknown or feared dead. Their immediate family members are yet to be found or contacted. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

Ten year old Stevenson and Jibrin in the mens living quarters in Damare IDP camp, Adamawa state. They are both from Michika, a town in northern Adamawa that is an area of heavy fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram. “My father and mother are not in the camp,” said Jibrin. Though numbers haven’t been formally tracked as registration of displaced persons is still ongoing, Nigerian Red Cross volunteers who work in the camp say that there are many orphans whose parents whereabouts are unknown or feared dead. Their immediate family members are yet to be found or contacted. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

  “When Boko Haram came to Gwoza they were killing everybody. I escaped at night. I counted over ten dead bodies as I was escaping. Twelve members of my family are missing. I don’t know where they are. I’m alone. Now I have nothing. Even food is hard to come by. All my thoughts are on home and returning home.” Ahmadu, 46, is a farmer who has been living in Daware settlement in Fufore, Adamawa state for the last four months. Daware is a sprawling shanty settlement of over 3,000 displaced persons who have built homes out of old sacks and dried stalks. Over the months they have managed to farm the land growing crops to sell at the market for subsistence. Still life is hard as there is a severe lack of water and food. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

“When Boko Haram came to Gwoza they were killing everybody. I escaped at night. I counted over ten dead bodies as I was escaping. Twelve members of my family are missing. I don’t know where they are. I’m alone. Now I have nothing. Even food is hard to come by. All my thoughts are on home and returning home.” Ahmadu, 46, is a farmer who has been living in Daware settlement in Fufore, Adamawa state for the last four months. Daware is a sprawling shanty settlement of over 3,000 displaced persons who have built homes out of old sacks and dried stalks. Over the months they have managed to farm the land growing crops to sell at the market for subsistence. Still life is hard as there is a severe lack of water and food. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

  The Borno state government evacuates its residents fleeing from Boko Haram occupied towns of Gwoza and Damboa to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. They are being moved from Girei primary school settlement which houses about 3,000 IDPs. The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA) have stated in an assessment report that they are being moved because the Borno state government has deemed Yola unsafe. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

The Borno state government evacuates its residents fleeing from Boko Haram occupied towns of Gwoza and Damboa to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. They are being moved from Girei primary school settlement which houses about 3,000 IDPs. The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA) have stated in an assessment report that they are being moved because the Borno state government has deemed Yola unsafe. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

  Sani Umaru, 44, stared vacantly into space most of the time. His voice had been reduced to an almost inaudible mumble. He arrived at the Yola Federal Medical Centre in late October. Both of his hands were wrapped in thick bandages due to gunshot wounds so severe that they say his left hand will have to be amputated. He remembers Boko Haram men making him lie down in a road-side gutter with five other men, just before the execution style shooting. He was a farmer from Madagali town before the attack and the only survivor of the shooting. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

Sani Umaru, 44, stared vacantly into space most of the time. His voice had been reduced to an almost inaudible mumble. He arrived at the Yola Federal Medical Centre in late October. Both of his hands were wrapped in thick bandages due to gunshot wounds so severe that they say his left hand will have to be amputated. He remembers Boko Haram men making him lie down in a road-side gutter with five other men, just before the execution style shooting. He was a farmer from Madagali town before the attack and the only survivor of the shooting. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

  A man prays during Sunday service at the Damare IDP camp. The service provides a space for traumatised IDPs to begin the healing process by giving them strength through sermons and testimonies of survival, says John Nihanpa the camps pastor. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

A man prays during Sunday service at the Damare IDP camp. The service provides a space for traumatised IDPs to begin the healing process by giving them strength through sermons and testimonies of survival, says John Nihanpa the camps pastor. 2014, © Rahima Gambo

Katerina Voegtle