Q&A with Nigerian filmmakers Ijeoma Ndukwe and Ema Edosio
The Nigerian filmmakers and journalists discuss documenting Taiwo and Kehinde’s story
Taiwo and Kehinde are twin sisters living in Lagos, Nigeria who were forced to quit school and find work to support their family.
Malala Fund spoke with Ijeoma Ndukwe and Ema Edosio, the two filmmakers behind the short documentary featuring Taiwo and Kehinde. We asked about their experience working on the project, how they found Taiwo and Kehinde and the importance of sharing their stories.
Malala Fund (MF): Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you go to school and what did you study? What is your background?
Ijeoma Ndukwe (IN): I was born and raised in London, UK with dual British and Nigerian nationality. I spent my childhood between Nigeria and the UK because my family lived in London and my father worked in Lagos. I moved to Lagos two years ago to work and I have been freelancing since for international broadcasters including the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. I have an English Literature BA from Royal Holloway, University of London and an International Journalism MA with a specialism in investigative reporting from City University London.
Ema Edosio (EE): I am a Nigerian based in Lagos. I obtained my bachelor’s degree in computer science from Ogun State University, before proceeding to the U.S. where I studied digital filmmaking at the New York Film Academy and Motion Picture Production at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan.
I returned to Nigeria in 2013 to tell stories about my country. The same year I was awarded the Film and Television Director of the Year award by the prestigious Ebonylife Television Nigeria. I have created award-winning films, television series and documentaries for Google Nigeria, the BBC, Bloomberg, Konbini Nigeria, Alliance Francaise Lagos.
MF: Did you always want to become a journalist?
IN: To be honest, I hoped to become a novelist. I was the kind of child who spent the entire day with a book under my nose and expected to write the type of stories I loved to read. However, it’s not surprising that I find myself a journalist today — it’s simply another form of storytelling. A friend from university told me about the course at City University where I could train to become a journalist. After several years of travelling and living in cities around the world I returned to London where I initially worked in production on features and factual entertainment programmes. I joined the master’s programme soon after.
EE: I stumbled into filmmaking after my first degree. I studied computer science because African parents value the blue-collar industry over the creative professions. After university I decided to intern in a small film production company. I fell in love with process of filmmaking and decided to do this for the rest of my life and I never looked back.
MF: How did you find the story of the twins Taiwo and Kehinde featured in your piece?
IN: Initially I got in touch with contacts and organisations and asked them to suggest anyone they might know who fit the criteria [for our story].
I was originally interested in speaking to young girls who were working as domestic help, which is extremely common. I also spoke to many girls in the north of the country, some staying in camps for the internally displaced due to the Boko Haram insurgency. I eventually met a social worker called Ayo Fajemibola. She explained that her organisation partnered with “mobilisers” — people working with young people on the ground in communities around Lagos. She reached out to them to see if anyone fit our criteria. In a few days she was given a list of names and addresses. We then spent a day driving around communities in Ipaja, meeting and spending time with girls and their families.
Taiwo and Kehinde immediately stood out. Many of the girls I met were so conditioned by their environment that they found it extremely difficult or impossible to express their hopes and dreams beyond their present situation. Both Kehinde and Taiwo were able to express their dreams, their desires, their love of learning, and describe how they felt about their day-to-day lives.
MF: Describe what the process of shooting the video was like.
IN: We spent two days filming the girls and their family. It was a fascinating experience and a huge privilege for the family to open up their home and share their lives with us. The girls lived in the same compound as their younger cousins who were such joyful and happy children. They loved watching us at work and despite constantly walking into shot, they entertained us endlessly.
EE: Documentary filmmaking can be a bit sensitive. As a filmmaker I have to win the trust of my subjects first, this is very tricky because I have to make people comfortable having me and my equipment in their space. Once this is achieved, they open and share their stories with me. We spent time experiencing and documenting their daily lives. Irrespective of the hardship the family faces, they were very warm and receptive to the film crew.
MF: There are more than 10.5 million children out of school in Nigeria. What drew you you to Taiwo and Kehinde’s story?
IN: I felt they had an important story to share and one with many layers that could provoke a meaningful discussion in Nigeria. Their story gives people an insight into the lives of the young children we see everyday trading on the side of the road. It shows how basic education, which many people take for granted in Nigeria and around the world, is not a right for millions of children. You get a glimpse into the struggle people go through to get an education and the reasons why many are not able to finish secondary school. You see how and why people are trapped in the cycle of poverty. Also, you get to see what it means to grow up as a female in an environment where your education is not perceived as valuable and your role in life has been predetermined by others. Although they were 14 years old, they seemed to have the weight of the world on their shoulders having been forced to become breadwinners and take care of their family at such a young age. I loved the girls’ strength and spirit and their passion to learn despite the challenges they faced.
EE: The Fuller Project for International Reporting is dedicated to in-depth and independent reporting, with an emphasis on the traditionally overlooked and underrepresented role of women and children in the media. Taiwo and Kehinde’s story is a strong example of stories that are usually swept under the carpet, especially in Africa. These are films that need to be brought to the forefront of the media.
MF: Anything else you’d like to share?
IN: I hope films like this can help trigger important discussions that we need to have in Nigeria. Obviously, we need to discuss as a nation how to address the education crisis we currently face. However, we also need to question some of the destructive cultural practices and attitudes that we continue to preserve.
EE: It was a privilege to tell this story and I hope that this documentary would start a much needed conversation on the plight of children who do not have access to education in Nigeria.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah W. Orenstein is digital manager at Malala Fund. Her favourite ice cream flavour is pistachio.