Joel ‘Kachi Benson: Making A Moving Movie on Missing Chibok Girls

As Nigerians mark the 10th anniversary of the abduction of the 276 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, Joel ‘Kachi Benson, tells Vanessa Obioha what inspires him about the mothers,

 whose daughters are yet to return from captivity.

In 2019, Joel ‘Kachi Benson, set out to capture the story of the missing Chibok girls – the infamous event that rocked the nation in 2014 – in virtual reality format. The technology was relatively new and Benson was among those early birds in Nigeria who experimented with the immersive storytelling style.

Benson arrived in the conflict-ridden town of Chibok, in Borno State, with a clear plan in mind. However, upon sitting with the women and hearing their stories firsthand, he realised that his approach needed to diverge from the conventional narratives often depicted in the media. The result of that adventure was ‘Daughters of Chibok,’ which fetched Benson an award at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival, making him the first African to receive the festival’s Virtual Reality award.

‘Daughters of Chibok’ revolves around one of the mothers of the missing girls, Yana Galang, who still hopes that her daughter will return someday. The film received accolades for the way Benson captured their story, reminding the world not to forget these mothers still awaiting the return of their daughters.

‘Today marks the 10th anniversary of the abduction of 276 girls from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok. With many of the girls still missing,’ Benson wondered if the world still remembers the women of Chibok.

“What is the value of human life in Nigeria?’’ he pondered on a recent Tuesday afternoon in his studio in Yaba. It is a constant question that he asks. From the economic challenges impacting the cost of living to the plight of citizens at the bottom of the ladder, these issues dominate his thoughts and discussions.  Even as we discussed, our conversation often drifted to the country’s economic woes.

“I wonder how the poorest amongst us are surviving. If those that are “comfortable” are “feeling it”, how much more are the poor?” he mused.

In his view, Benson, who recently co-directed ‘Madu,’ a Disney original production that revolves around the viral Nigerian ballet dancer Anthony Madu, the country’s system is structured in a way that does not benefit the poor.

To be sure, Benson is a patriotic Nigerian who strongly believes that Nigeria could be one of the best countries in the world, despite all the odds stacked against it. But the country can only boast of such status if it creates an enabling environment for its people.

Given his humble background, Benson could relate to the daily struggles of the ones at the bottom of the ladder. Raised by a single mother after his parents’ separation, he experienced firsthand the challenges of making ends meet in Nigeria. He lived in a one-room apartment with his siblings and often went to cybercafes to explore opportunities on the internet. While his peers were drawn to cybercrime, Benson was fascinated by the world of documentary filmmaking. He scoured the internet for insights into renowned filmmakers, emerging technologies and prestigious film schools.

However, his mother’s sudden death halted his aspirations, forcing him to forgo university due to financial constraints. Undeterred, Benson, his younger brother and some friends turned to music to make ends meet. Providence smiled on them when a benefactor offered an opportunity for the singing group to tour the United Kingdom. In London, Benson rediscovered his passion for film, enrolling at the Central Film School, London. Today he runs his own multimedia company, JB Multimedia Studios, in Lagos, Nigeria.

Comparing the economic realities between his earlier years and the present day, Benson shared that present conditions are more severe, noting that surviving under the current minimum wage is near-impossible. The implications of these tough times, according to him, is that they take people to a level of desperation where it’s all about survival. And for those who have the means, escape is the best alternative, illustrated by the thousands of Nigerians who leave the country daily in search of greener pastures. But even though it seems he has the means, Benson has not left. For now. Could it be because he’s comfortable where he is, or is it because of a lingering hope?

“It’s a tough question and one I often ask myself. I don’t know. Storytelling is at the core of my work as a filmmaker, and my stories are here. They are not in the U.K. or America. I couldn’t have made ‘Daughters of Chibok’ if I was living abroad. Take ‘Madu’ for instance. One of the things that gives me a lot of pride is that a documentary film like ‘Madu’ which was backed by a mega studio like Disney was done by a Nigerian filmmaker, based in Nigeria. And I hope it inspires other documentary filmmakers that we can still tell stories from here that can travel and gain global acceptance and recognition.”

Benson is passionate about amplifying unheard voices and finding hope in challenging situations. This theme of hope and resilience plays out very strongly in a new film that he’s currently working on, which will be a sequel to the award-winning 2019 VR doc, ‘Daughters of Chibok.’

In this new film, Benson returns to the community of Chibok to spend time with the mothers of the missing girls. “We think we know them from the stories we’ve heard, and what has been shown to us in the last nine years. But there is a side to them that we haven’t been presented with and that was the side I was very interested in and curious about. What makes these women tick? What keeps hope alive?” he said.

The women in a way reminded Benson of his late mother and her sheer determination to care for her children. “Even though she had little, she would endeavour to make it work for us. It is a demonstration of how far a mother would go for her child,” he said. “I am fascinated by the strength, courage and resilience of the Chibok women. How they hold each other up, support and encourage each other; how one person’s grief is everybody’s grief, and one person’s joy is everybody’s joy. And when one girl returns from captivity, it is a collective joy and hope that more will return. I experienced those emotions genuinely with them. They gave me so much access to their lives and I will forever be grateful for that.”

Benson hopes that his new film will help reshape the narrative surrounding the Chibok kidnappings, offering a fresh perspective on the story. “It’s easy to regurgitate images of sadness and grief. But I want this to be a narrative of hope. The tragedy will always be part of their lives, but it is not all of their lives,” he said.

For him, the Chibok tragedy represents more than just a story to be told—it’s a call to action, reminding the world that the misfortune of Chibok is not just a chapter in history but an ongoing struggle for justice and healing. But more importantly, to remind all that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope.

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