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In Bakassi… Joel Benson’s harrowing tales from IDP camp

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Joel Benson

Since the rise of insurgency in northeast, millions of Nigerians have been displaced from their homes. Bakassi IDP Camp is one of the most populated IDP Camps in the region, sheltering over 35,000 Internally Displaced Persons, out of which half are children, who live in squalid conditions and have little or no access to a proper education. Many
of these children are orphans, victims of Boko Haram’s deadly.

Despite efforts by the government and the international donor agencies toward supporting the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), it is evident that there is a humanitarian deficit as many of these people live under poor humanitarian conditions in and out of the camps.

In a bid to bring the challenges being faced by IDPs in Nigeria to the fore, filmmaker Joel Benson has produced a short film, In Bakassi, in virtual reality, the first of its kind to be made in Nigeria. The film had its first premiere in Cairo International Film Festival recently and was screened in June this year to the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who lauded efforts of the filmmaker and other stakeholders at the launch of Northeast Innovation Hub.

Benson, who is passionate about stories from the northeast conflict zone, plunges the audience into a simulated 3-D Bakassi IDP Camp in Maiduguri.

The opening scene shows a busy market place, while a child’s voice reels out the emotional words: “They planted a bomb in the market…that’s how my papa died.”

The voice belongs to Modu Mustapha, an 11-year old orphan, whose father was killed in a suicide bombing. His mother absconded after the incident, leaving Mustapha and his younger siblings to the care of their aged grandmother. The young lad has been living in the Bakassi IDP camp for three years.

Through the lens of the virtual reality headsets, viewers are submerged into Mustapha’s world, walking with him through the sandy camp, queuing with him as he awaits his turn for food, going through the dumpsite to search for leftover meals to fill his growling stomach and taking up menial jobs to cater to his family. The great responsibility of taking care of his family at such an early age highlights the hardship faced in the camps.

In Mustapha’s case, the conditions are no different. However, the young man longed for access to proper education. Though there is a school in the camp, he harboured a desire to go to the school in the city high he believes has better resources to educate him.

His quest for knowledge is triggered by his late father’s words that education makes one successful and responsible. Beyond those words, however, lies a greater mission for Mustapha… to use education to rid the society of insurgents.

Virtual reality is relatively new to most filmmakers in Nigeria. The 360-camera is not an easy gadget to work with, and often requires the director to be off-camera.

Relaying his experience at the Facebook NG Hub in Lagos where the film had its official screening, Benson opined that the only thing a filmmaker can do is to hope for the best.
“The 360 camera has cameras all over it; it is camera everywhere. If you’re coming from a traditional filmmaking experience, you have to make a switch in your mind because you’re no longer a present director, you are a director of camera and hope for the best because you can’t cut this scene or that scene.”

In shooting In Bakassi, Benson and his crew spent three days in the camp, took some test shots and spent weeks in post-production, which he said is a nightmarish adventure.

A client, who wanted him to make a virtual reality film, stirred Benson’s interest in virtual reality. After watching a virtual reality film, he was determined to make one. He first travelled abroad and garnered the knowledge and on his return, his first mission was to go to Maiduguri and make a story.

He believes that telling stories like In Bakassi will bring the experience closer to the audience as well as spark as public discourse.

“A lot of times when we tell stories about IDPs, people don’t believe us. What VR was able to do for us is to take people who live in Lagos, Abuja or in London, into an IDP camp so they can see, taste, smell, walk in the shoes of the little boy living there. It was important for us because we felt like that the more people are connected to the stories the more dialogues and discussions can be raised around this issue. One thing I have noticed is that the biggest victims of every kind of conflict are women and children; when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. To see a young boy like Mustapha fending for his family at that young age is devastating. If discussions like this do not take place a lot of wrong will still happen,” the filmmaker said.

Meanwhile, the Facebook NG Hub is empowering young creatives to use technology tools like VR to tell their stories. Benson and Jumoke Sanwo, whose feature film in VR is in progress, are some of the beneficiaries of the initiative.


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