NEW: Boko Haram & Northeast Nigeria
This year, I spent most of the month of January in northeastern Nigeria on a reporting trip for The Times Magazine with the writer Sarah Topol to tell the story of boys abducted by Boko Haram and forced to become child soldiers. During this time, I was also able to photograph parts of the conflict that are rarely seen, including a night patrol with Nigerian soldiers and a road that was attacked by Boko Haram the day before.
The war against Boko Haram is one of the biggest and most underreported conflicts raging in our world. Around three million displaced people have fled the conflict between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram. These images tell the story of the high human cost and the geopolitical stakes in the battle against Islamic extremism in Africa.
At times, I felt as if I were grasping at straws with my pictures, looking for anything to emotionally translate this conflict. One day, Sarah told me the story of Fatima, a young girl she had interviewed who was abducted by Boko Haram but later escaped with a few other captives. She told Sarah that traveling with the other escapees would have drawn suspicion, so on the day of their escape, they scattered into the night like “children of birds.”
Fatima’s story and her words stayed with me. I couldn’t take a complete portrait of Fatima because it might put her at risk. I couldn’t photograph her captors — those big men who detained her and their wives who beat her. There were so many constraints on what I could photograph that everywhere I went and every chance I got, I went looking for birds. I found them above neem trees and above refugee camps. I saw them above a near-vanished lake at the edge of town, suspended midair below our helicopter and above the ground.
One evening, as we rushed back to the hotel before nightfall and our agreed-upon curfew with the Times security team, I followed a flock of birds with my camera from the car window. They flew over the checkpoint manned by soldiers, over the walls of Bakassi — one of the biggest camps for internally displaced people in Maiduguri — and on into the dusk. I made it safely back to the hotel that night, and Sarah and I finished our trip and have moved on to other stories and other assignments. But the Baga Boys are still there in Maiduguri, along with Fatima, the kids at the almajiri, the soldiers conscripted into this conflict and Boko Haram, lurking in the brush, waiting on the outskirts of town, continuing to fight.
Thanks to the Pultizer Center for making this work possible. Please read Sarah Topol's insightful and challenging long form work about the choices children make to survive, and read more here about my time with the Nigerian Military.