North Eastern Nigeria has been the center of media coverage for a couple of years now. Media narratives abound on issues arising from these areas that were captured by the Boko Haram militant group and the eventual recapture of those areas by the Nigerian army.
The bring back our girls movement was one of such that got international coverage and Internal displaced persons (IDPS) living in camps in other states also received their fair share of media coverage.
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As relative peace is restored in some of the areas, the people of Borno, Yola and Bauchi, who have had to abandon their homes because of the armed conflict returned from far and near. It is the lives, hope, dreams and courage of such people that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegate to Nigeria, reporter and photographer Jesus Serrano sought to capture in his exhibition “Beyond the armed violence, Life in the north east.”
The photo exhibition, which took place at the Italian Ambassador’s Residence, was powered by the Italian embassy in Abuja and ICRC. It had in attendance people from all walks of life both from and outside Nigeria.
Jesus Serrano, 32, said he has been in Nigeria for close to a year for the project.
“I have been in Nigeria for 11 months, based in Abuja but travelling almost every two weeks to Maiduguri, Yola basically all the northeastern places that are affected by the conflicts between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Army.”
Jesus, who is from Spain, explained that the exhibition was to raise awareness about the situation of those who have been displaced by the armed conflicts, who as a result had to flea to other states and neigbhouring countries and are returning to find that their houses and crops have been destroyed. He also explained that it was important to highlight the work that the ICRC is doing with the IDPs to help give them a better life.
“When you have seen more than 2 million people displaced by the violence, it is difficult to take an image particularly when you are talking to children, orphans widows who have nothing in their life but hope and I see my colleagues from the international and Nigerian Red Cross helping them everyday, giving them their time and receiving smiles in return. It is important that they don’t get forgotten.”
At the exhibition, Jesus Serrano welcomed every guest with a smile. On how he was able to maintain a high spirit despite being faced with human agony all the time his response was, “I am an outgoing person and I always try to have a smile on my face. It is also important to be close to the people who are suffering humanitarian crisis. It is not just a job, it is a moment to understand the harsh situations these people are going through.”
Before taking a photograph, Jesus said he would analyse the environment and think about the best moment to capture the message he wanted to convey. Then he would wait for that instant when everything; light, person, background, synchronise and he would click away.
Mr. Mukthar Saleh, who was invited to the exhibition by a friend, said that the exhibition surpassed his expectations. “The exhibition was more than my expectation. I really wish Nigerians and not just people from other country will highlight what is happening in the northeast it will really make a difference to know what is going on there.”
Among the photographs displayed, Mukthar said the photo of a young girl laying on what appears to be a hospital bed with her mother nursing her, was the picture that evoked his emotion the most because “her eyes show the suffering that she has gone through,” he said.
Ms Rahila Bawa expressed dismay after going round the exhibition. She said, “The worst part is we are all in the same country and some people go on everyday with their daily life as if it is not happening, as if it is not part of the country, as if it is somewhere else.”