Since 2009, the armed Islamist group, Boko Haram, has waged an insurgency that has displaced more than two million people in the country’s northeast, according to the UN.
Ngarannam, a village of around 3,000 people located in Borno state, became desolate after the attack as displaced residents fled to Borno’s capital Maiduguri and surrounding areas.
After nearly a decade of living in refugee camps, some Ngarannam residents got the opportunity to access 864 homes serving 5,000 people. They are benefactors of the first wave moving back in a joint rebuilding project between the Borno State government, the United Nations and the European Union.
“Ngannaram: The Homecoming” is a documentary that tells the story of Amina, Falmata, and Hassan, three residents of Ngarannam village. It follows their journey from the devastating 2015 insurgency attack that upended their lives to the UNDP’s intervention program in 2022.
The project aims to rebuild Ngarannam and provide a fresh start for those displaced by Boko Haram. Supported by UNDP, the Nigerian government, and international partners, this initiative takes a unique approach to address the challenges of displacement and conflict by reconstructing the entire town of Ngarannam.
During the red carpet at the private premiere of the documentary recently in Lagos, Dominique Turner, producer, Ngarannam, stated that while many people are aware of the insurgency, they often lack knowledge about the individuals it impacts. “It is really important for us to tell the story of how we got here, where we came from and where we are going,” she said. “This is really important for many people just to understand what is happening in the North.”
“On the night we escaped I wondered if I would ever walk along the fields I played in as a child and if things would ever go back to the way they were,” shared Amina Modu, 19 years old, one of the main characters of the film. “After living in a camp for almost a decade, I hope our story inspires others not to give up on their dreams of returning home someday.”
The Rebuilding Ngarannam project, conceived and led by Mohamed Yahaya, the UNDP’s Resident Representative for Nigeria, is part of a hearts-and-minds stabilization program in the northeast, the region worst affected by the insurgency. It provides new and dignified living spaces to resettle people internally displaced by Boko Haram.
It is also the fruition of UNDP’s partnership with the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Borno State Government, the European Union, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, setting out to tackle the problem of displacement and conflict by taking an unprecedented approach to address the challenge; to rebuild the entire town of Ngarannam from the rubbles left behind following the attack by the insurgents.
“We have done a lot of resettlement projects but we wanted to do something different. This specific town was chosen as a prototype in bringing design for internally displaced people,” Yahaya said at the private premiere. “Ngrarannam offered us an opportunity to rethink our work and how we can leverage Nigerian talent and homegrown ideas to address the challenges of displacement and other development issues.”
“We also appreciate the support of the Borno State government and our partners,” he continued. “Without the generosity of our donors, we wouldn’t have been able to rebuild a community of this size and importance in such a short timeframe. The film showcasing the story of Ngarannam gives people hope that they too can contribute to solutions that prioritise their needs and aspirations. This success serves as a blueprint for expanding and replicating similar work in other affected areas.”
Babagana Zulum, the Executive Governor of Borno state, expressing gratitude for the general effects of the collaboration, said: “Borno has gone through a lot of internal and external turmoil over the last decade. The only way to prevent the next generation from joining the extremists is to make sure that many villages are stabilized, allowing people to return and use their agricultural lands, which will allow them to earn their living.”
The architectural designs created by Tosin Oshinowo, a Nigerian architect, include 864 new homes serving 5,000 people, a school, a hospital, a police outpost to keep the village secure, and a marketplace to provide ways for returning families to make a living. This is the first time a project of this scale will be tried in the African region.
“The buildings are inspired by the Islamic lifestyle and culture and the security of the residents was taken into consideration in the design,” Oshinowo said. “We also have the layout of the overall site with breaks between so that we never have a clear line of sight. So for security reasons, if there’s ever any insurgency attack, you don’t have people running in a straight line and they become effectively a target,”
“The first time that I visited Borno was in November 2021 and we handed over October 2022, she added. “I’m really proud to be involved in this project. And I’m really hopeful that we’ve created spaces where, who knows who could grow up here, and what great things they will do. So you know, for me, this is really about legacy.”.
Joel ‘Kachi Benson, the first Nigerian director to use virtual reality technology for storytelling said: “The bulk of my work is actually around documenting conflicts and what I am drawn to is the resilience and the strength of the people and not the tragedy, Nagarannam: The Homecoming is a story of hope, family and home.”
At the private premiere, the production was best captured as an emotionally moving documentary in an immersive virtual reality film set to help viewers experience life in a camp for people who have been displaced and watch the incredible transformation of their village.