Creative Culture

@Bitsofborno: Instagram Captures The Young Vigilantes Protecting Borno From Boko Haram

Fati’s photos are not of her outfits of the day or beautiful landscapes, but rather of the people of Maiduguri, Nigeria – the birthplace of extremist militant group Boko Haram.

Thirty-year-old Fati Abubakar is something of a celebrity in her city thanks to her popular Instagram account, Bits of Borno.

But this is no ordinary Instagram success story. Fati’s photos are not of her outfits of the day or beautiful landscapes, but rather of the people in Maiduguri, Nigeria – the birthplace of extremist militant group Boko Haram.



Maiduguri is where Fati was born. In the mid-to-late 2000s, when she was in her 20s, the Boko Haram insurgency began and she was sent to receive schooling in London. There she kept up to date on the happenings of her hometown and returned with a purpose: to change the beaten and broken image the media has created of her city.



When Boko Haram was pushed by military to the outskirts of the capital city, they began to terrorize the surrounding villages. This resulted in an influx of villagers to the city, with many taking refuge in abandoned hospitals and buildings around Maiduguri.



‘When they say there’s an insurgency here, people assume it’s nothing but death and despair. I want to change the image. You can see, everyday life continues,’ she told New York Times.



Fati was inspired by the Humans of New York (HONY) photographer, who takes photos of people around New York City and couples them with personal quotes or captions. Fati photographs everyone from children to the civilian vigilante groups.



The ‘Civilian J.T.F’ (Joint Task Force) is paid by the government to provide protection for the city, in conjunction with the military.


'My position is 'Super Overall' Civilian JTF. Our job is to compliment the military efforts. We have our field officers on ground and they bring reports. Our leadership is structured, there's an overall, a sub overall and a unit chairman. Every arrest at any neighborhood is carried out by the field officers and the case goes up the ranks. The investigation goes on till we prove the suspect guilty or innocent. If its a Boko haram suspect we hand over to the Nigerian military. But if its theft or other fences that aren't terrorism acts we hand over to the Nigerian Police. And that's how we work' Baba Shehu #photojournalism #documentaryphotography #documentaryphotojournalism #photography #bitsofborno #dynamicafrica #theafricathemedianevershowsyou

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The ‘BOYES’ are a volunteer youth vigilante group. They look out for Fati- As a woman who walks around alone, she is often suspected of being a suicide bomber.


Next, the Men that Watch over Us, the youth vigilante groups as part of the Face Series. The insurgency that started 2009 in Borno has spurred a shift in the mental and physical capacity of youth in Borno. This renaissance started when young men in Maiduguri decided enough is enough, there is need to fish out the enemy, stop the abuse on our community and to address the terrorist groups head on. The Civilian Joint Task Force was born. They aid the military, go on hunts for Bokoharam terrorists and set up guard in every area in the metropolis. Excited by such bravery, the Borno State Government chipped in making it the BOYES, Borno State Orientation and Youth Empowerment Scheme, to encourage more young men find purpose and create employment opportunities. The State Government provides training, vehicles and a structure for proper surveillance. #documentaryphotography #documentaryphotojournalism #dynamicafrica #bitsofborno #Maiduguri #Borno #Africa #theafricathemedianevershowsyou #everydaypeoplestories

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'As a volunteer youth vigilante, no one really pays you. Theres the paid civilian JTF and then there's the volunteer vigilante. One can differentiate us by the colorful shirts we wear: red, purple etc. The BOYES wear blue. And we joined out of free will. You just do the job and move around helping people. You 'volunteer' your time and energy to help people, and organizations look for us to help them in food distributions around neighborhoods. We control the crowd and ensure safety for their staff. But I think they forget we have needs also. That we have families who don't have that same food we help others get. Only few kind people remember and then at the end, give you something for the day' #photojournalism #documentaryphotography #documentaryphotojournalism #bitsofborno #documentaryphotography #dynamicafrica #theafricathemedianevershowsyou

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'When I joined the Civilian JTF, we didn't even think the government would help. It started as a sacrifice for our parents and our younger ones. A brave work. If we don't do that, people would view us the same as the terrorist groups. All youth in Borno are viewed as Boko haram by outsiders. With this, everyone can see we are for the people. Now the government gives us a monthly allowance, cars, health care. But in last two years, we've been within Maiduguri. We want to follow the terrorists to the villages. Let's all go and clash. We want the government to know this our land, this is our home. Like President Buhari said 'Our problem is our problem, let's solve our problems our own way'. With or without Nigerian Army, we are ready to end Boko haram. But we understand the pause. As they say in military, 'When they say fire, you fire. Cease fire, you cease fire. Retreat, you retreat. Withdraw, you withdraw'. And we believe there are bad seeds even amongst the people in our community, and the military. They communicate with the terrorists. Information is being transfered. But the youth in Borno are confident the war will end. What has gone up will come down. And after the war, we want fulfilment of promises by the state and federal government. They have the capacity to do so. For me, I finish my BSc next year. For others, because of the crisis they have become drop outs. Some youths were threatened by the terrorist groups to drop out or be killed. Some are now willing to go back to school, others are married with children, they all need help. Some have died during our activities. We've left lots of our brothers' dead bodies behind. But our heroes aren't even recognized. When a soldier dies even if he worked in a lush office, the Nigerian Army says to every member 'He died serving the country' but the Civilian JTF don't get that. We just remember my brothers in nostalgia sometimes and call them our heroes' #photojournalism #documentaryphotography #documentaryphotojournalism #photography #dynamicafrica #theafricathemedianevershowsyou

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A caption beneath a photo of a woman named Mrs. Chidinma reads: ‘I’ve been living in Maiduguri for 30 years. I love the town because of how peaceful it was before the insurgency. But because of the attacks, it has lost some of its peaceful nature. So many were killed..’


'I was living and working behind Markas [Mohammed Yusuf's mosque] as a security guard in the school behind the mosque. I would see them everyday going on their activities. But before the crisis, one of them approached me and insisted I join the sect. I refused. He hit me with a machete. I started bleeding profusely. Then another member came and quarreled him for attacking me. He sent me to the hospital where I recovered. I still have the scar on my forehead. I still came back to live next to the mosque even as the crisis began. Even when the military came to demolish the mosque, I was screaming and insisting that our nursery and primary school wasn't part of the sect but it was demolished. We had so much food stuff from our harvest in the farm but it was all destroyed. I've seen it all. And I still lived here even when it became a ghost town. When you've seen the worst of man, you don't fear anything' Bukar #photojournalism #documentaryphotojournalism #refugeecrisis #dynamicafrica

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She continues, ‘But still, forget the insurgency issue for a minute, we love this place. We love the people.’



Bits of Borno has inspired many to donate items like books, clothes and toys as well as cash donations which Fati then gives to the various initiatives in the city.


By Zoya Pon for and adapted from Marie Claire SA.