It was Friday, the 16th of September 2016 that we left Abuja on a MedView Midday flight to Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno State. Just like every other day, within my professional arena, I was hired by a US based production company to join a team of three USA Citizens and two Nigerians on a Polio success story Documentary. Considering the enormity of Boko Haram violence, I withheld the news from my Mother and prayed to my God for protection from ambush attacks by Boko Haram.
George in IDP Camp in Borno
Arriving Maiduguri, we quickly proceeded to Barwee Luxury Suites, to drop our Luggage, before hitting the State EOC where we had a short meeting with the state Field Coordinator, Rotary International NNPPC, Incident Manager, EOC Maiduguri, Zonal Coordinator Northeast NSTOP, State Manager, eHealth Africa, The UNICEF access adviser, etc, we started shooting from our point of arrival, from the debriefing we had by the incident manager, we discovered that even up till now, Millions of Women and Children are still trapped in communities controlled by Boko Haram insurgents, Thousands has however been rescued by the Nigeria Military. While the rescued children showed high levels of malnutrition, the trapped ones are reported to be in even worst conditions. We established that through a Hit and Run framework, interventions were rarely dropped to the trapped communities on stipulated intervals and with a long convoy of military escorts. We decided to visit a take of point on Saturday morning, 17th of September.
Military convoy waiting for take off
Judging from the number of troops on standby and the armories that I saw, I was able to quickly adjust my understanding of Boko Haram conflict to a war between two nations. I must run back unnoticed, leaving our convoys and escort and with a kekenapep back to the EOC where I could use internet and printer to process our Military clearance application to visit Bama.
While riding down, I had fears of people tracing my Kekenapep, I thought of several cases where health workers and journalists had been diverted and slaughtered. I also considered that I can hardly communicate with the kekenapep rider who is a complete stranger to me.
After processing the clearance application, I rode through all the corners of the town through several military barricades to shagari low cost quarters where I had a brief meeting with the UNICEF access adviser. My team was calling from pompomari where they are already covering Polio vaccination exercise. My producer was worried; the security expert from USA started to query our local fixer of my safety. I couldn’t have been kidnapped, shagari estate was far and I had to get an approval from the Executive Director, State primary healthcare development Agency. It was on a Saturday but since we have mounted pressure from the Minister of Health, the Commissioner for Education, I insisted on getting the clearance sorted out to enable us heed to Bama the next day.
Saturday aft noon, my mother called. Emeka or Aunty odinakachi must have told her where I was so I had to open up to her and also re assured her by explaining how the state is currently safe.
Sunday morning, 18th of September, we still have not got response from the GOC, 7 Division, Baga Road. We had limited time to shoot as my team’s return ticket was for 21st of September. We had to as film makers we are, visit Dalori IDP for a shoot.
According to information, Dalori IDP has been attacked twice because enormous populations of displaced people there were recovered from Bama military operations and seem to be wives and children of the Boko Haram. The military intelligence in this IDP is however strong. We managed to access the camp and shoot footage of mobile health care services going on in the Camp. I also observed that the camp is made up of mostly pregnant women and children. The insurgents must undoubtedly have slaughter all the young men before the rescue operation. I think with them, as a man, you are either a member or dead and thrown into mass shallow graves.
Dalori IDP Camp
While driving out of the camp, a military Hilux arrived with two Boko Haram fighters chained at the back of the Hilux. According to information the fighters source of food supply has been compromised by Nigeria Military so the fighters are starving and some fleeing to renounce their membership. I pitied them.
On discovering that we did not have any formal approval from the GOC, THE Dalori IDP forces detained us, asked us to delete all the footage we shot and escorted us to Barwee where the CO Lodged. The Commanding Officer in addition, sized our Cannon C300 and full frame lenses. One hour into this sad development, we put calls across to Minister of Health, Commissioner of Health and the UNICEF Access adviser also used his military influence to get approval from the GOC and also an order to release our camera to us.
George in Konduga Military Base
With this progress, Monday morning, the 19th of September, we heeded to Bama. On arriving Konduga with our police escorts, we reported to the military base where the police escorts will wait while we are handed over to Military convoy that will further lead us through the most dangerous part to Bama. At the military base, we got information of Boko Haram armbush and attack within the axis. Instantly, the same military convoy assigned to us had been mobilized ahead of time to push back the insurgents then on rushing back to the base, they led us straight to Bama.
Street of Bama
The streets of Bama are deserted with every good thing destroyed. At every meter, we pass throough military check points and all along the streets are expended bullet cans and burned heavy military artilleries.
Compound of the Shehu of Bama
Our first stopping was at the compound of shehu of Bama also Bama 21 Brigade where we had a brief meeting with the Military commander who commended our bravery to come by road and took us straight into the Bama IDP
Inside Bama IDP, we took shots of all we wanted, we saw children and women being thought to count numbers with soldiers as teachers, we saw happy children, we saw sad and heartbroken women, we saw families that watched Boko Haram slaughter their loved ones. The camp made me see the true efforts of Nigeria Military. As a Nation, I realized how outstanding, our Military has been.
Bama IDP camp
Tuesday 20th September we had to leave Borno state. Our flight from Maiduguri to Abuja was for past 1pm so we left early morning to shoot at Pompomari health center, Custom Market and Muna IDP camp. I made friends amongst the children, I gave them my precious smile and I encouraged them to work with the government as rebuilding of the town is ongoing and with time, they will reconcile with their lost families and go home to leave their normal everyday life.
Cross section of displaced children in Bama IDP
For organizations and individual that want to make a humanitarian or production trip to Nigeria, I am willing to do this again. Ugwuja George Odinakachi