Dispatches From Ake - Fati Abubakar Tells The Real Stories Of Yerwa


The convergence of creatives at the fourth annual Ake Book and Arts Festival was not limited to lovers of literature alone. Amidst the conversation around books, Fati Abubakar’s images of Maiduguri from her project, Bits of Borno, took up room on the walls and shifted the conversation in the Southwest a little up North. The digital media project captures images of everyday life in Borno’s thriving capital and provides a respite from the sustained narrative of tragedy that has plagued her community for over three years.  

“Most people think it’s a conflict zone, but for me it’s home,” says Abubakar about Maiduguri or Yerwa as she affectionately calls it on her Instagram page. 

“People are bombarded with all these images of how they think it looks there, so I took it upon myself to show them how it actually looks and in the images they can see it’s not ugly all the time, there is some good. Constantly, it was just ‘oh there are Internally Displaced People, they’re suffering, they’re starving, and I really wanted people to see a different side.’ 

For Abubakar, the bigger picture might look something like a clique of five schoolgirls dressed in a blue and white checkered uniform, their heads cocked and smiles keen as Abubakar snaps a photo. In other cases, the bigger picture might not always exude joy. Underneath an image of a young girl outside a brothel, the girl’s father notes that there are no jobs for the Northerners who depended on a nomadic lifestyle for sustenance, which is why he has assumed the position of a bodyguard at the brothel. 

“The Fulani who've lost their livestock are forced to find jobs in cities and towns around Northern Nigeria. The nomadic lifestyle has paused,” said the man to Abubakar.  

Whether the bits of Borno Abubakar gathers are hopeful or not, they showcase a more nuanced depiction of what life is really like in Maiduguri. 

“I usually ask them, “how is life in Borno state and that’s how you get the flow of the conversation. They tell you the good, the bad and the ugly,” says Abubakar. 

Unlike traditional news images, Abubakar’s images center her subjects and not the instability in the state. Abubakar’s portraits reveal a kind of intimacy that can only come from a genuine interest in the subject. 

“People are tired of not being able to tell someone else their problems,one year,” says Abubakar

“I really insist on engaging with the person first, you have to sit down and have a conversation with them. Engaging the person and gaining their trust is very important.”

Although the page officially reached its one-year milestone this year, her Instagram page alone has made a huge impact. With over 7,000 followers and counting, Abubakar herself has become a local celebrity in her hometown.

“People always want to put a face to something. So wherever I go, people recognize me and they’re happy about what I’m doing,” says Abubakar.  

When asked about what she wants the Bits of Borno platform to achieve, Abubakar noted that she wants the platform to help change the narrative around internally displaced Nigerians and also act as a digital and ultimately physical testament of the people who survived Boko Haram. 

“I want people to be able to humanize internally displaced people. When you tell their story, tell it in a dignified way and present them so beautifully that people will see beyond their circumstance,” says Abubakar.

“The resilience of these communities is what I want people to see.”

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