by Eromo Egbejule
In an age where social media has made it increasingly urgent for newsrooms to break the news at, well, breakneck speed, and in a country where media budgets are crippled by a lack of depth, there is also the temptation to leave the story in their barest forms – simply sensational headlines, numbers – ‘25 dead’, ‘Boko Haram husband, ‘soldiers retreat’.
As a journalist, I have always believed in looking for under-reported stories or the unseen angles in a widely reported story – after the hoopla has gone down, and everyone has left the scene. So in April 2016, I decided that I would go to Nigeria’s North East where the Islamist group Boko Haram has been waging a war since 2009 against the Nigerian government, even annexing at some point a territory almost the size of Belgium.
But rather than stories about doom and gloom (not that they are unimportant), I promised myself that my purpose was to go find stories of survival and hope in the region. Of human beings and the triumph of their spirits.
My initial scope was Maiduguri, but YNaija.com was already commissioning a series capturing the untold stories of citizens across Nigeria, and so they decided to support the project, so I could go even farther, to Konduga, Bama, Mubi, Yola, Damboa and Biu.
Sadly, due to the state of the road networks to Chibok, security alerts by the military about Potiskum and the inaccessibility of some other areas like Malafatori, those were as far as I could go.
I went with an agenda – to tell stories of triumph – but had a mandate not to sugarcoat reality. Thus I was pleasantly surprised. The NE held stories even deeper than I had any right to expect – stories of love, happiness in the midst of nothing, sacrifice, resilience, economic empowerment – even though there were, of course, the inevitable tinges of bitterness.
As a former commercial hub in West African, Maiduguri for instance is not back to its place of former glory – not by a mile. But the peace has returned.
There are still checkpoints with soldiers and local vigilante as well as an existing curfew, but children playing on the streets in the early evening, without fear, is proof of a rebirth.
In the twenty narratives you will read in this series (‘They Survived Boko Haram’ starting today, you will find that the different lives of these people are conected by a common thread – the insistent, stubborn, earned will to live on after having escaped death at the hands of its agents.
Make no mistake, these citizens need help, as they begin a slow march to a semblance of their former lives. But, as a key part of that journey, they need someone to tell their stories, the way they would prefer their stories to be told – first and foremost as humans, with dignity.
In the coming months, commissioned by YNaija.com, I will be investigating, immersing myself in and sharing stories about the lives of everyday Nigerians across a country bristling with stories – so that citizens, together, can connect with a shared humanity.
And understand what our country stands for – and what our country can, and should, be.
This series is just the beginning.