A teacher who takes in orphans of both Islamist fighters and Nigerian Army soldiers has won this year’s UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award. “They are the best of friends,” Zannah Mustapha said of his pupils. “This should be a template for world peace,” he advocated.
Mustapha is the founder of one of the few remaining primary schools in Nigeria’s troubled city of Maiduguri. According to the BBC, he also negotiated the release of 82 Chibok girls, kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.
A former barrister, Mustapha played a crucial role mediating between the Nigerian government and the Islamists for the release of the abducted schoolgirls. More than 100 of the 276 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok are still unaccounted for, and are presumed to still be in the custody of Boko Haram. At Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School, a school that provides free Islamic-based education to children orphaned by the insurgency, the volunteer teachers provide the students with free education, as well as free meals, uniforms and healthcare.
“We have the largest number of girls in school in the whole of the region,” Mustapha told the BBC’s Newsday programme. He added that the children of a “senior member of the insurgents” were studying there.
The UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award honours those who give “extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced”.
Mustapha is a well-known figure in northeast Nigeria having previously represented the family of Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram who died in police custody in 2009. The lawyer has previously been involved in peace talks with the group, whose insurgency has left at least 20,000 dead and displaced more than 2.6 million in the last eight years.
“This is the place where every child matters, no matter what their religion, background or culture… Our aim is to make positive changes in their lives,” he told the UNHCR.
Know more about Fridtjof Nansen, a winner of Nobel Peace Prize in 1938 here. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fridtjof_Nansen)