Utopia focuses on the lives of children and families displaced by terrorism in north-east Nigeria as they rebuild their lives at Durumi Camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Abuja. It explores race, representation and identity politics within the context of displacement, challenging the visual stereotypes of the developing world in global development discourse.

Since 2009, Boko Haram terrorists have displaced 2 million people (1% of the population), killed and maimed over 30,000 others. The group canvasses against Western education in the Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria, bombing government buildings and soft targets, burning schools, abducting schoolchildren, marrying-off underaged girls, and radicalizing boys.

Durumi IDP Camp in Nigeria’s capital; Abuja, hosting about 3000 people, is one of many such temporary sites in Nigeria for displaced persons. I made two trips there in 2018 – six months apart, spending weeks with the settlers, getting to know some of the families, understanding their living conditions, photographing them, and creating a critical awareness of self-narrativization for the children through participatory photography workshops held in the camp. Their voices are enabled in their images – they assert their fears, needs, and hopes.

Here is my visual journey – our gaze upon the camp life, and on one another.

By so doing, the Black subject of humanitarian appeals becomes the creator of their own imagery, the ‘distant other’ becomes a self-construct.

The Ali Family

“We are from Gwoza in Borno state and we’ve been here for three years. My husband was killed in Gwoza by Boko Haram (BH) terrorists, girls were being abducted for suicide bombing and boys for radicalisation,” says Mrs Hadiza Ali (sitting) who was training to be a teacher before the displacement. Three of her nieces (in coloured hijab) live with her.

Idris, 3

Zarau, 10

Ibrahim, 5

Zarau washes a plate outside their camp shelter.

Zarau Ali’s Photos

Zarau Ali is my name, I’m 10 years old. As a soldier, I want to defend my people against Boko Haram because they killed my father when we lived in Gwoza.

My mum makes beautiful slippers, she was trained at the other IDP camp at Kuchingoro. Soon, she’ll start making it for profit so that she can afford to sustain us. Our dad was killed by Boko Haram members

Jije, my elder sister is going to throw away my little brother’s poop. We don’t have toilet facilities here in camp.

The Nuhu Family

Suleiman, 15, bought his bike from the proceeds of selling cashew seeds. “I saved up the money in a month,” he says.

The family admires the family portrait given to them during my second trip to the camp.

Mrs Ladi Nuhu poses in front of her family shelter.

The interior of the shelter shared by 8 family members.

Suleiman Nuhu’s Photos

My name is Suleiman Nuhu, 15. I’d like to join the army because I want to defend my country. I don’t love the way we were displaced from home; it shouldn’t happen to anyone else.

This house is near our camp shelter. It is beautiful and I’d like to live in it. In the future, I want to own something like this.

“Nana, my classmate; washing her siblings’ clothes.”

The Umaru Family

Mrs. Fatima Umaru, who is the women leader at the camp, was a trader and maker of kube caps in Gwoza before their relocation four years ago. At about 4pm, Boko Haram (BH) attacked their neighbourhood, sent them out without their belongings, and set their houses on fire. They trekked to Madagali camp on that rainy night, arriving by 3pm the following day. Her husband works as a ticketing officer at a bus station.


Left: Amina; 8, the Utopia poster girl, displaying the exhibition poster during my subsequent visit.
Centre: Maimuna; 12, says, “We wear make up on our faces to hide our pains.”
Right: Mariam; 6.

Umaru Children’s Photos

I’m Fatima Umaru, 10. I’ve had a 1st position in class twice and I want to be a teacher because I love children.

Maimuna Umaru is my name, 12. I will join the Nigerian Army in dealing with Boko Haram for killing my uncle, Mohammed.

My name is Amina Umaru, 8. I want to become a soldier who will kill Boko Haram terrorists, they are evil.

“I share this mattress with four of my siblings. Back in Gwoza, all of us had 3 bedrooms to ourselves.” – Fatima Umaru, 10.

“Star Boy, my pet cat.” – Maimuna Umaru, 12.

“My mum (lying down) is relaxing with her friends.” – Maimuna Umaru; 12.

“Saleh is washing his commercial tricycle.” – Amina Umaru, 8.

Having lived in Durumi Camp for up to six years, the families, who were mostly displaced from Gwoza and Bama communities in Borno state, live harmoniously under the leadership of elected camp officials – fellow IDPs. These officials collect, store and share the donations received from members of the public who flock the camp to celebrate their birthdays with the IDPs on weekends.

The Ali Family

Ali Children’s Photos

“My name is Ali A. Ali and I’m 12 years old. I want to become a medical doctor or a soldier. I want to be a doctor because I love helping people, a soldier, because I want to kill Boko Haram members. They displaced us from our hometown and killed my grandma.”

My name is Fatima Ali (2),10. I would like to become a soldier, I want to kill Boko Haram members. They killed my grandfather.

“Good people regularly visit us with donations of food, toiletries, and daily needs.” – Ali A. Ali, 12.

“Hamidu and Abba fetching water at the pump.” – Fatima Ali (2), 10

“Hamidu and Abba fetching water at the pump.” – Fatima Ali (2), 10

As the security situation improved in the north-east, some families moved back home, like Yinusa Abubakar’s (2nd right below).


“These are the cattle and sheep donated to the camp by people who come to visit us. The beef will be shared to everybody living here.”

 I’m Yinusa Abubakar, 13. I want to be an Air Force pilot in order to fight Boko Haram for killing my elder brother, Adamu, who was 19. Three terrorists entered our house and shot him many times when he refused to join the group.

But for Iliasu Haruna’s family, there may be no going back. He was born 3 years ago in this camp to a displaced father and a local mother and he might not share the sentiments of the older children regarding the concept of ‘home’.

“Fatima is my aunty; she sells food at the camp.” – Aisha Haruna, 13

“Our kitchen. We share it with some other families and many times cook together.”

I’m Aisha Haruna, 13. I want to become a medical doctor so I can help other people.

Life at Durumi Camp 

Dr Fahad S. Muhammad oversees the Durumi Camp Clinic, which is run by a local NGO. With the assistance of a pharmacist, he attends to a minimum of 20 patients daily.

Sanitation is a nightmare at Durumi. Waste is dumped in the open before being set on fire. The residents practiced open defecation for six years until a church built toilets at the camp

Kiek Foundation, a local NGO, donates food items, toiletries, beddings, and clothing to women.

Camp residents provide goods and services to other IDPs to earn their livelihoods, with some having learned a new trade or started a new occupation from their previous ones.

Mohammed, a camp resident, is a bike mechanic who repairs motorcycles for okada riders (commercial cyclists) in the vicinity of Durumi camp.

A viewing centre owned by an IDP where campers watch European football league matches for a fee. Some of them stay awake till midnight to watch their favourite Nigerian footballers play in these big leagues.

Some boys playing football at the camp.

The primary school at the Durumi Camp caters for 175 children, established two years ago by the IDPs but run by a local NGO, Child Aid and Sponsorship Awareness Foundation (CASAF). Some of the children had not been in a classroom for two years due to the armed insurgency.

Some individuals and local NGOs like the Arewa Foundation enrol over a hundred children in private preschools and secondary schools outside the camp. “I’m done with primary school”, says Ali A. Ali, 12, who will be joining one of the secondary schools next year. “I want to be a soldier because I want to kill Boko Haram terrorists. They displaced us from home and killed my grandma,” Ali concludes.


Tug of fun – At the end of the school day, some girls at Durumi Camp school stay back to have a go at tug of war. While some children study on-site, others school in different parts of the city.

By September 2018, the school on the camp site hit the rocks due to poor funding. CASAF could no longer continue and the children idled at home.

“I’ve been staying at home…I’ve forgotten my lessons,” laments Amina Umaru; 8.

“I dream of the day we will stop living in this camp,” Fatima Ali (2); 10, blurts. “I would like to become a soldier because I want to kill Boko Haram members. They killed my grandfather.”

A school term later, the government education authority, religious bodies, and local charities made provision for the children to be enrolled in schools outside the camp. “I’ll miss the camp school. I don’t know what to expect in the new school,” concludes Fatima.

174 other children like Zarau Ali, 10, were in limbo at home for three months.

Participants of the participatory photography workshops

Some of the children who study outside the camp walk to their schools in the morning