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Finalist 2020

Emeke Obanor



Boko Haram is an Islamist terrorist group that operates ruthlessly in northeast Nigeria. In addition to committing atrocities such as invading communities, killing innocent people, burning down houses, schools, and places of worship, it has kidnapped dozens of girls of various ages.

During captivity, they are forced to spend several hours a day in indoctrination sessions in order to radicalise them against Western/secular education because they fear that they will learn to think independently and challenge the authority of Islam.

The intensity of the programme can be better understood through the testimonies of some of them. This paper presents the stories of 10 girls who managed to escape this horror.

“We were abducted because of the choice we made: to go to school,” murmured Amina (not her real name*), who was abducted along with 13 other girls on her way home from school.

They say that the radicalization sessions were endless; the aim was to erase the memory they had of their classes: the rhymes, the alphabets, and the letters they had learned.

Some girls were released when they were unable to detonate the bombs that were tied to their waists and turned themselves into the security authorities, while others were released after military incursions into their camps.

Upon returning from captivity, many of the girls were traumatized and stigmatized. Even so, some still had the courage to return to Western education. This group of girls persevered in the face of the drama, economic hardship, Islamic extremism, and cultural and gender biases to dare to return to school and get an education in the midst of bleak realities.

*Fictitious names have been used to protect the girls’ identities.


Emeke Obanor [b. 1972, Delta State, Nigeria] is a rising self-taught photographer based in the oil-rich, but crisis-torn Niger Delta region of Nigeria. A literature teacher by day, he is committed to showing the world the atrocities happening to girls in his region by Boko Haram, a ruthless terrorist group operating in northeastern Nigeria.

Obanor is also working on a sequel of "Heroes" and other projects to draw attention toward the issue of global climate change, and migration as a direct result of social problems.

His photographs have been exhibited in Nigeria and abroad. In 2020, he was featured with his Heroes series in Rolling Stone Magazine, F-Stop Magazine, and Social Documentary Network. This year he has also been awarded the Michael Reichmann Grant, the 2020 Critical Mass Award, and received the Special Mention for Best Photography Project from Obbiettivo Solidarietà for his "Tree of Freedom" series. In 2008, Emeke Obanor won the first prize in “Unbreakable Nigerian Spirit” a competition organized by the African Artist Foundation.