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Uprooted… A reflection on changing role of Northeast women

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Nigeria map. PHOTO: nigeriamap.facts.co

Gleaning from news footages, the Northeast of Nigeria is a disaster waiting to happen. The local economy is in shambles.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, in a paper titled, Counter- Insurgency and Role of the Nigerian Army in Creating Conducive Environment For Nigeria’s Economic Development, said the economic impact of Boko Haram activities in the Northeast is estimated at $9 billion (N274.5 billion).

While noting that Borno had the highest impact, estimated at $5.9 billion (N180 billion), Buratai said the loss of agricultural production in Northeast was $3.5 billion (N107 billion).

On the streets, soldiers still wield their guns to tame the invading monsters, while the sectarian group, on its part, carry on as if it is the lord of the manor.

In Uprooted, one of the films screened at the recently held Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (Kabafest), the viewers are immersed in a lucidly told narrative that takes them through a historical journey of Boko Haram terrorist group’s operation in Borno.

The camera tracks down specific characters from a huge number that has vanished or liquidated by the gun-totting sectarian group to tell the ugly story.

Directed by Ummi Bukar, Ilse Van Lamoen Isoun and edited by Ummi Yakubu, Uprooted, in the best sense, ‘romances’ the four women.

Halima Bukar, Ruth Stevens, Hadiza Mustapha and Zainab Hamidu – in a manner that no jealousy brews.

They are the eyes of the camera through which viewers interrogate the tragedy that has coloured Northern Nigeria’s landscape.

In over 45 minutes, the documentary leverages on the silver lining of an otherwise terrible situation to bring anagnorisis. The camera pans from one woman to the other to reach peripeteia.

With close-up and long shots to establish the locale, viewers are taken into different scenes. The camera lucidly carries everybody into the crowd and its terrifying chaos.

The historical problems the characters confront are presented in exquisite detail, down to the sympathetic almajiris with their beggarly posture and the smug ruling class’ opulence and finery.

Women left behind in the conflict tell their experiences, however, their stories are not only of terror and despair, but also hope and self-discovery.

Four brave women survive the conflict, in the process, they find opportunities, like access to livelihoods and decision making power that would have been hard to acquire prior to the conflict.

The four women desire different things: Ruth’s ambition is to work, but her husband thought not. The other women face similar challenges. Their lives revolve around their homes, taking care of their children and husbands.

In their own words, they tell how they are able not only to live through one of worst terrorism ever, but also how they find strength they never knew they possessed.

And also, how the aftermath of Boko Haram insurgency is seeing them switch some roles with their husbands and how many, who hitherto lived in purdah, have become breadwinners.

But the ideas are also designed to resonate today: an economy that short-changes women, callous politicians without conscience or empathy, even an assault on truth..

There is a build up towards a war against security forces, before it transmutes to a total battle to win the state from the evils of infidels.

Some of these women are in school and life evolves for them, from being single to married.

At a point, the women are separated from their husbands, and life means living in Internally Displaced Persons’ camp. Instead of this being the death of their dreams, it becomes the beginning.

These women later play significant roles in their societies. Mrs. Bukar becomes a successful kolanut and charcoal seller, Mrs. Stevens, a food seller, Mrs. Mustapha, an NGO volunteer, and Mrs. Hamidu, a member of the Civilian JTF.

Their husbands now look beyond their wives’ genders as they themselves take on roles they formally see as strictly for women.

They take care of the children, sweep and clean the house, and most of all, they support their women like never before.

According to Bukar after the film’s screening in Kaduna recently, “the documentary shows how war and hunger can change people’s thinking or reasoning.

What used to be ‘taboo’ becomes ingenuity, what once appeared to be abnormal turns productive.”

An opinion also echoed by the writer and artistic director of Kabafest, Lola Shoneyin.

She said the film, which was recommended to her as a must watch on Boko Haram, will redefine the narratives on equal participation of women in conflict transformation and recovery.

For Yakubu, “the film is a product of a one-year bottom-up research and filmmaking project that sheds light on changing gender norms and cultural practices in the conflict-ridden region of Borno State.

“The project aims to capture the untold stories of women and girls who, like countless peers in the region, have shown exceptional courage and resourcefulness in safeguarding their families and helping them to survive in the midst of the Boko Haram crisis.

In the process, they found opportunities, like access to livelihoods and decision-making power that would have been hard to acquire prior to the regional conflict.”

Bukar noted that as a non governmental organisation, “the project aims to produce a movie to be used for sensitisation and advocacy purposes, as well as building awareness and promoting acceptance of women’s changing gender roles among a variety of audiences, including local women and men, civil society organisations, policymakers and other stakeholders.”


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