Few journalists have managed to gain access to Boko Haram's heartland in northern Nigeria. Those that have, usually embed with one of the regional armies fighting the armed insurgents under the umbrella of the African Union.
Charles Emptaz and Marine Courtade were given access to the Chadian Armed Forces and travelled with them into Nigeria territory before managing to leave their military minders behind and find their own way to the heart of the story - in the Lake Chad region, where Boko Haram has turned the lives of local civilians upside down.
Watch Chad: At War With Boko Haram on People & Power .
P&P: Was being embedded with the Chadian Army an advantage or an obstacle to making this film?
The Chadian Army allowed us to get to the battlefields of Nigeria, something we probably would not have been able to do without their help. This allowed us to gain a clearer insight into a war where the realities can often be distorted by the Western media’s inherent fear of terrorism.
Accessing these areas alongside Boko Haram's opponents, albeit for a short period of time and as part of a military's PR strategy, still afforded us the opportunity to ask some important questions and to understand the nature of a conflict that looks like it is going to last for some time.
The Chadian army is courageous, proud, and renowned for its determination in battle. Through the media officer’s interactions with us, we could see how the propaganda machine works and how an army unites by dehumanising the enemy. They are Muslims fighting against Muslims, but it's the nationalist spirit, the pride of belonging to a famous and well-equipped army that brings the Chadian soldiers together.
P&P: Is the Chadian intervention really a turning point in the war against Boko Haram, as many international commentators seem to think?
The Chadian army is a lot stronger than the Nigerians, whose defeats have allowed Boko Haram to emerge and grow in strength. Their involvement in the conflict has changed everything; it has made it regional and brought professionalism to the fight against the militants.
The Chadians have already achieved many victories on the battlefield. They have of course lost men in the process, but they have more proper soldiers than the Nigerian Army and are better equipped with newer weapons and technology. However, poverty, corruption and the authoritarian attitude of Chad and other states involved in the coalition are also feeding the conflict.
P&P: The Nigerian Army was severely criticised for its inability to destroy Boko Haram. Did you have any contact with Nigerian soldiers during your shoot?
Nigerian refugees told us about their army. One of them told us that one day, during a Boko Haram attack, Nigerian soldiers took off their uniforms and gave up their weapons to blend in with the local population and avoid confronting the rebels.
P&P: Aside from the African Union, who else is involved in the war against Boko Haram?
The French are officially providing logistical support, such as rations and transport to the African Union forces. The French Army also has a base of operations headquartered in Ndjamena. But the official line from France is that its military involvement is very limited. It would be interesting to find out if the French have flown military drones above areas controlled by Boko Haram. Officially, they haven’t.
P&P: At the end of the film, a teacher explains that some of his pupils' parents are members of Boko Haram. Did you meet any of the rebels personally?
It is almost impossible for journalists to speak to active members of Boko Haram. They are either on the wanted list or dangerous and certainly not inclined to talk to reporters. However, it is likely that inside the village where we were staying, some villagers had sympathy for the movement.
Some people in the region think the group is a source of religious truth. They believe that Boko Haram is preaching true Islam and there are also financial incentives for those who are supportive of the group: rumour has it that Boko Haram fighters get paid a monthly salary of 500 Euros, which represents a fortune to the local populations in Northern Nigeria and Chad.
P&P: Were you ever afraid during the shoot, particularly in Ngouboua?
Yes. One night the police tried to get us to leave the village after the curfew, for security reasons. They were on edge and it scared us. We were torn between their anxiety and our desire to stay and carry on shooting. It was very stressful because we had to do a very quick risk-assessment. Marine and I talked it through together and we managed to convince our hosts to let us stay and everything was fine in the end.
Another night, they moved us from the house we were staying in to another building as a precaution. Warning shots were being fired by the soldiers to inform us of an imminent attack. We started running in complete darkness, in the middle of the night. But everything had been set up in case an attack happened, so we didn’t feel danger. These are surreal moments. In fact, a genuine attack was happening at that time in a nearby village.
P&P: Do you think that the conflict is nearing its end?
I doubt we can say the conflict is close to ending. Extremist rhetoric is deeply entrenched in certain sections of Nigerian society. While the Chadian victories cannot be denied, Nigeria remains a fertile ground for radicalisation - entire regions have been left abandoned to poverty by the government, leading local people to drift away towards radical groups, like Boko Haram.
Source: Al Jazeera