Conflicts are real, they exist in our world and although we may not always be able to prevent them, we can turn them into channels for social impact. This is why when I caught wind of UPROOTED– a documentary film directed and produced by Ummi Bukar, founder and Managing Director of PAGED Initiative [Participatory Communication for Gender Development] NGO, I was very interested.
UPROOTED is a moving advocacy and education tool that explores the silver lining in the outcomes of the Boko-Haram conflict in Nigeria.
The menace of Boko Haram isn’t news to anyone who has ever heard of Nigeria. Since 2009, Nigeria has faced the greatest security threat from the Boko Haram fundamentalist Islamic group which has been termed the world’s deadliest terrorist group. Pursuing a mandate to rid Nigeria of western and Christian influences, the group has unleashed unprecedented mayhem resulting in loss of thousands of lives, pillaged communities, abduction of school girls, sexual slavery and forced child brides, death of security force agents, threatened access to education, displacement of thousands, suicide bomb attacks and even bombing of infrastructure including amongst many others, the United Nations Building and Police Force Headquarters.
This interest is personal for me because I belong to the category of people who see film-making, content creation, storytelling, videography as not just entertainment or art but as avenues to effect social change, create awareness and change the mindsets of people globally. Documentaries have been known to play a key role in bringing causes to light and triggering action for change.
Featuring real-life stories of these four women- Ruth Stevens (Maiduguri), Hadiza Mustapha (Baga), Halima Bukar (Bama) and Zainab Hamidu (Gwoza), this film is more than just a work of art, in terms of colours, hues, lens and editing. Rather, the focus for me is the impact that this documentary highlighting hope, discovery and resilience in the face of crisis and insurgency would have on mindsets, globally.
So, armed with a number of questions, I reached out to Ummi to understand the vision behind her work and amplify the narrative. From my conversation with her, I realized how challenging it was to have put this together and the emotional investments this work required of her. Similar to the role of a therapist, Ummi had to push past defences to get these victims of insurgent attacks, many of whom had been displaced to open up about their devastating experiences. And so, for over a year, she was working hard, patiently and consistently at gathering real-time sociological insights around this issue. According to her, a major lesson she learned was the fact that it’s difficult for humans to confess possibilities and see achievements or positive impacts when you’re still on the path of that struggle. Ummi’s attempt initially faced criticism, with folks around seeing it as crazy and a bit of a tall order but she felt a responsibility to share the plights of the victims.
Although the reason for the project was first because she wanted to shed more light on the present or past state of dejection these persons found themselves in and not even to explore a silver lining, it eventually segued into it. Ummi’s underlying belief is that at the end of the day every conflict produces some kind of awakening and this is not far-fetched from the idiomatic expression- “Every cloud has a silver lining” which eventually formed the central theme of the documentary.
The crisis is real
You see, I found out that when we hear news around the Boko Haram crisis, missing Chibok girls etc. being peddled around, most times, we don’t realize that this news is real.
We have fast become desensitized to this mindless insurgency and the destruction it leaves in its wake but they are all happening. But the violence is real, real humans died, real lives were disrupted, people lost everything, women became widows. Zainab, one of the case stories featured in the film lost both her husband and son. Her son was only nineteen. Men ran away because they were the targets, leaving their women defenceless. As it currently stands, there are more unreported than reported killings and attacks.
And contrary to a misconception surrounding who the real victims are, we see that even Muslim-believers of the Islamic faith were affected as well. These events should sharpen your thoughts, how you think and how you respond to critical issues because they may happen elsewhere tomorrow, perhaps even closer to you or your loved ones.
The outcome-silver linings
Let’s talk about the resulting social outcomes of the insurgency attacks and how they shaped the theme of the documentary;
Gender equality and role change
One prominent change that the documentary highlighted was the change in gender roles- the role of women in a marriage.
Inferring from the background story of the rise of the feminist movement in the West following the Second World war where men had to go to war and women had to step into the offices to work,
Ummi saw a repeat pattern here, in that the Boko Haram conflict produced an awakening for the women in their ability to contribute to securing their livelihoods as opposed to just being dependants. When the men lost everything, they could not find employment and so women had to step up to provide for the family. Women had to start businesses to support the family, mini trades like selling akara (bean cakes), kola nuts etc. Some even worked for NGOs.
These women grew from being content to sit at home and not aspiring for more to having a sense of fulfilment at their ability to contribute. They became part of the decision-making process while the men got more involved in the running of the home. The changing dynamics also helped in strengthening their love relationships. Some men now cook for their wives. There’s even a striking example of a woman who now has access to the husband’s ATM card.
This is not only worthy of note, but there’s also a need to foster sustenance. I learnt from my conversation with Ummi that everyone has a part to play. There’s the tendency to make gender-centred discussions about women alone but that’s not effective. We would achieve more if we don’t sideline the men. Both genders have a part to play and an informed understanding of both sides will make all the difference.
Interestingly, the International Women’s Day celebration is pretty close and while the official tagline for the year is “BalanceForBetter”, the Singapore Committee for UN Women’s adapted theme- “Think equal, Build smart and Innovate for change” profoundly calls all of us to action.
An additional silver lining that this conflict birthed was inter-tribal cooperation and support. For instance, we learnt of a situation where an Igbo woman gave some money to one of the indigenous women to start a trade.
Security and protection of rights
Also, we discovered that women are beginning to stand up and defend women rights. Hadiza, for instance, reportedly fought a soldier who was harassing a woman, ensuring that more women are protected.
Some women formed vigilante groups and took part in providing security. In spite of the loss of their loved ones, it’s remarkable to learn that these women were not afraid to engage the Boko Haram insurgents under a Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) umbrella. Zainab actually became a CJTF leader.
This innate ability to create ideas and take action to fix problems has in some measure, contributed to their healing and rehabilitation process.
Ummi intends to create a mobile cinema to display this social impact film. This will increase the reach across regions of the country, facilitate dialoguing and then report stories that come out of these dialogues so as to effect change and increase awareness. A remarkable character of the documentary is that although it deals with and showcases issues that happen in the North-east region, most of the lessons here are applicable to other regions like the South.
It is reassuring to learn that Ummi’s work didn’t end with the production of the documentary. According to her, research is ongoing to find out other volatile zones and screen all over Nigeria as we live in a conflict-prone environment, especially with our diverse cultural heritage.
The hope is to also use this documentary as a medium to engage policymakers.