My motivation for telling the stories of Boko Haram survivors – Nelly Ating


While the world focused on the negative effect of Boko Haram in the northeast. She was compelled to show and tell the virtues of resilience and the collectivist African culture displayed by the refugees. Nelly lived through the surge of Boko Haram; slept in a house once occupied by the terrorists.

Nelly Ating lives with the story, as a Photojournalist working in these high-risk zones, She has heard the sounds of the bomb blast; it has become a motivation to tell the positive side and personal stories of survivors. More of putting faces to the personal stories, a show of dignity in humanity, this is why her story is unique. In her words “ I am fearless, something must kill a man”. Nelly shares her inspiring story as a Female Photojournalist documenting liberated Boko Haram Communities

Meet Me
My name is Nelly Ating, I am from Akwa Ibom State, but I like to identify myself first as a Nigerian before any ethnic group or tribe. I am a 28-year-old female Photojournalist based in Yola, Adamawa State. A graduate of Journalism from the American University of Nigeria, Yola.

How the journey started…
I left my job in 2014 as a Video Coordinator in a small Multimedia company based in Port Harcourt to return to Yola. This was at the peak of the insurgency. The drive was stirred from a curiosity of the actual situation on the ground. I came back thinking that from the plane I would be dodging mines, but that wasn’t the case. Life was buzzing only with a strong visible security presence. Mainstream media had painted the image that the northeast was red zone. Quite well, the insurgency, but we had beautiful stories there were underreported. Stories such as a ‘Peace model ‘ used in addressing violent extremism that no one was thinking about. A university using research drawn from community development projects to approach resolution in a volatile zone. This was not in the news, I began documenting all the University activities.

Most of my images that are viral now were taken in 2014 as they were no actual people who were reluctant to visit. The peace model had given us stories such of how people were thriving on soccer to bring unity between two religious groups. Churches that opened up their cathedral to feed refugees. Muslim prayers were said in church cathedrals and same with Christian prayers. Instantly, I knew history was set and these stories would be needed.

Full nature of my job
My job as a photojournalist is a risky one as right now I am considering visiting Sambisa and this is a plea to Nigerian Army to allow us to tell the stories of the war from both the people and the military perspective. But however, something must kill a man so I am not afraid.

Challenge
My worst challenge was having a congestive cardiac failure last year from pursuing this route in life. And coming face to face with a live IED in Michika local government area or listening to bombs go off few miles from Madagali while people went on with their normal activities.

Fearless Nelly!
I have heard the sounds of the bomb blast; it has become a motivation to tell the positive side and personal stories of survivors. More of putting faces to the personal stories, a show of dignity in humanity. Just like three days before September 11, 2015, Malkhoi IDP bomb blast in Yola, I had accompanied some university students who went to mark World Literacy Day with the refugee children. Last year, I was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and Congestive Cardiac Failure (CCF) which was traced to my constant visit to various concentration camps. None of the above deters me, I woke up from being bedridden for nine months to host a photo exhibition in honor of those lost their lives, the INGO who have worked tirelessly to relief the suffering of the refugees.
The world has a lot to learn from the tales of Boko Haram insurgency which started like a joke until millions of Nigerians in the Northeast became internally displaced suffering from hunger, trauma, and deprivation.

The world has a lot to learn from the tales of Boko Haram insurgency which started like a joke until millions of Nigerians in the Northeast became internally displaced suffering from hunger, trauma, and deprivation.

This war will fade, but in managing conflict/peace resolution, history must be revisited, our children must learn, unlearn, and relearn from the mistakes of our government. The path of war lives trails that last forever, especially in the minds of children who are the most affected as their education and future are cut short. Exactly why we shouldn’t take the growing Biafran agitation for granted, the effect of war is pain and trauma.

Social Media as a tool
I have been able to use social media to keep pushing this work out there, of which has proven a success. Last year, I hosted an exhibition themed “The Refugee’s Prayer” in honour of the victims who died. Monies generated were use to support eight Boko Haram orphans residing in Yola, Adamawa State through completing their Junior Secondary Education (Grade 7-9). The campaigns were mostly on social media and the reviews were positive. Recently, another generous Nigerian has decided to support more children in Michika local government area, Adamawa State.

Greatest reward
I have eight children who are victims of this war in school. One is very dear to me, his name is Mahmoud. He was captured by the insurgents for few days and has lost contact with his family. He was a truck-pusher in the market hustling for N150 daily to survive. With help of friends from Facebook we bought Mahmoud, school supplies and paid in full school fees from Jss1-3. And, recently I had a couple from Lagos sent money to a Pastor who is harboring orphans and supporting Boko Haram widow in Michika. I also link NGO’s with direct help through my images and stories.
I once slept in a house full of terrorists…

I once slept in a house full of terrorists…
I went to Michika for an assignment and spent a night in this house that was occupied by Boko Haram when they had seized that town in 2014. I listened to the widow who owned the house tell me the things she discovered in her house when she returned right after the military liberated that community. She said they had changed her toilet from the water system to pit toilet. Stole her China wares and generator.
The house was so dirty, the left behind sanitary towels. It was eye opening to discover that they terrorists move with their own families in groups when they seize towns. But honestly sleeping with such information in that house, I felt hunted.

Life in bomb blast IDP camps
The government in conjunction with the international NGO’s are doing a lot to support the IDPs, though there is more to be done, the situation is much better compared to 2014 when some IDPs would prefer to live in the host community than living in the camps. Although, some IDPs have started going back home, especially those from communities that have been liberated.

Greatest fear?
Nothing, I would have said failure. I have failed so many times that I see it as a step to success.

Inspiration
I am inspired by these IDPs who are living despite what they have gone through. To understand the true meaning of happiness, one should listen to these people’s stories and watch them live life. It is called resilience. Then, of course, knowing that you were called to serve humanity.

My Philosophy
My philosophy is not just capturing these faces, but as a creative artist, development impact to the community through photography is my motivation. With my camera, I am creating impact one picture at a time.

Final words to the government and well-meaning Nigerians
We have more people in need of help, you can help a widow by adopting a child. It is a lot easier to be a widow in the south than in the North which has a religious and cultural undertone stigma. They have to work twice as hard to support their families. Most of them have assumed heads of household responsibility; a reality they were not prepared for. We also have young girls who were forcefully married to Boko Haram soldiers. They need rehabilitation, they complain of being stigmatized. Then instead of NGO’s supporting just farming, can we train young people who are interested in Suya making on how to make package Kilishi etc. Let’s find ancient trades that the northerners have been practicing and teach them how to grow that business. Did you know that Mubi has an International Cattle Market? We need to think of leveraging the opportunities here to create employment for youths instead of giving them just food. Lets, go to financial literacy training and break it down to the street food seller etc.

I Am a Woman of Rubies
Oh, being a woman who is fearless! The humility to accept challenges and learn daily.

Final word for women all over the world
Go to the world and do exploit! We are in no competition with men. Our world is gearing towards artificial intelligence, especially as African women, we need to set the pace for the next generation women to grow! The best resources Nigeria has, is not in its mineral resources, but the PEOPLE. I am challenging a generation of women to fill in most of those spots.

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Boko HaramNelly Ating


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