(Photo: Nguveren Ahua)
Photo Series, ‘Like Ashes’ Showcases The Lives Of People Displaced By The Benue Crisis
While most Nigerians are aware of the clashes between Fulani herdsmen and famers from Benue state, not enough attention is given to the people whose lives have been altered by the unrest - the people who have been displaced and are forced to live in underserved and underfunded IDP camps.
In true Nigerian fashion, and because there is so much dissatisfaction and unrest across the nation, we sometimes end up shifting our focus from one tragedy to the next on a daily basis because things are truly dire for a lot of people.
But to draw more attention to what is happening to displaced persons in Benue state, Nigerian photographer Nguveren Ahua has created a new photo series and documentary titled Like Ashes, which highlights the lives and stories of displaced people - and their uncertain futures.
In conversation with Konbini, Nguveren gave a backstory of the crisis and her interpretation of what has led to it:
"Benue is the food basket of the nation due to it’s fertile soils. The ground yields easily, the river runs constantly and though life is not effortless, everything grows in that primeval pact between earth, water and hoe. Fulani herdsman come from their arid areas to Benue to graze their cattle, not discriminating between wildlands and farms.Clashes naturally occur between farmers and herdsmen when cattle decimate the hard work of a harvest. Over the last few years this conflict has escalated beyond anything one could imagine, indiscriminate massacres and campaigns of displacement are becoming the norm as the herdsmen, armed with superior weaponry, attack communities with no warning or provocation."
"My previous job was with Sesor Africa, an NGO founded to offer aid to people who had been displaced from their homes due to the farmer-herder crisis. In the ensuing years the conflict has escalated beyond the scope of what anyone could have imagined.The news calls it a communal conflict, indigenes of Benue and the other states that have experienced the brutal attacks that have become typical of this under-represented slaughter have much stronger words for it. And though I was aware of it, it was almost easier to shove it to the back of my mind because it did not directly affect me beyond fleeting moments of horror and empathy.The spark that lit a fire under this project however was an event that could not go ignored. On New Year's, this year, over 73 people were brutally murdered in their homes. The level of violence that they inflicted upon the community was particularly horrific due to the fact that the marauders did not simply stop at slaughter, they also defaced the bodies. Including slitting pregnant women open. The images that flooded social media were terrifying, the tales of the doctors who attended to the injured, the dead and dying were worse. I could not remain complacent any more so I was determined to go to Benue and to shoot a documentary on the project."
On the meaning of Like Ashes and why she focused on telling the stories of displaced people in particular:
"Unfortunately I was not able to gain the access that I needed. No doctors would go on the record. I was barred from seeing or interviewing the victims that were still being treated at the hospital. The people of Makurdi themselves did not want to speak out on it for fear of unseen repercussions.So I changed the narrative of the project to focus on the people I could access, and that was the people who fled their homes to stay in various IDP camps that had been established around Benue state.
So I followed them, and I recorded their stories. Of their trauma and their optimism. Their day to day struggles and their hopes for the future. And that is where the title Like Ashes comes from. The sentiment is inspired in part by Maya Angelou's poem, Still I Rise (you may trod me in the very dirt, but still like dust I'll rise) but it owes more to the dual nature that ashes have. They are signs of ruin, the destruction of a material.
However in agriculture they are also a source of renewal. Farmers will fire fields and fold the ashes into the earth as a way to re-enrich the soil. This lends a note of hope that eventually, out of this destruction, something good may emerge. I have no idea of what the shape of that something good may be but it is a hope that must remain viable if only in our hearts."
To learn more about Nguveren Ahua and her work, follow her on Instagram.
By Damilola Odufuwa, published on 20/06/2018