‘Survivor’ – Photo Exhibition

Ordinarily, when people think of capturing the photographic images of internally displaced persons (IDPs), they aim to centre the photos on the vulnerability of IDPs who have been rendered homeless, not by default of theirs, but to reflect the situation and draw empathy. In 2020, I decided to visit an IDP camp in Nigeria to have a photographic documentation of the on-goings there.

Photographs by Toluwanimi Onibokun
Follow him on Instagram @mirror0_photography

'Survivor' by Toluwanimi Onibokun

I went there with quite a different mindset. I wanted to photograph the people from a place of understanding. Understanding how they live, how they got there, if they are being cared for, and if they see any road back to the places they once called home.

As I walked through the camp and watched through the eyes of my lens, a particular word kept ringing over and over: “Survival”.

These persons, fellow Nigerians like myself, had come to find several ways to survive, even when the elected leaders who ought to fight to restore them to their place of dignity in the society, had abandoned them. Each person had picked up a skill, not just to help them survive the harsh conditions they are facing, but to use those skills for monetary gains.

No country or society can build itself successfully by depending on aides or handouts from external sources, and that has manifested in many IDP camps across the country. There was the era when the various international and local non-governmental organisations rushed to aide IDPs through one project or the other. In exchange, many received more funding and the good name of being the saviors of the victims of terrorism in Nigeria.

Of course, there was only so much these organisations could have done, and it was only a matter of time before the projects ended and everyone returned to their lives in comfort, while the victims were left to figure things out themselves.

The people I saw, though did not seem like victims to me, rather, they are survivors of the ugly side of weak governance and inadequate security measures in Nigeria. They had been dealt with bad blows by life, but they found ways to keep going. From the man who picked up tent-making skills with bamboo, to put a roof over his family’s head, to the woman who picked up embroidery to put some beautiful clothes on the backs of her children, to the women who had mastered the art of baking, using a few pieces of firewood; every person had mastered a skill of some sort, just to keep themselves going.

As I rambled some more, I was stopped in my tracks by a child, who was eager to get his photograph taken, and seemed almost unaware of what was going on around him. He smiled willingly and genuinely with a smile that can make one forget that even though their schools within the camp had been shut down as a result of COVID-19, no one cared to educate children like him virtually or physically while they stayed locked down. Kids like him, who have had part of their childhood affected by terrorism, now have to further take a back seat because of the pandemic, while their mates continue to learn online.

I believe we all need help and the world can only help when they are aware. But it is important that as we reflect on the lived experiences of these persons, we do not just return to our ivory towers, forgetting about these brothers and sisters of ours, who committed no other crime than being born in a conflict region.

This visual content part of research of the Global Engagement on Internal Displacement in Africa (GENIDA) (EP/T003227/1) projects supported by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).