Nigerian lawyer wins award for educating Boko Haram children

Zanna Bukar Mustapha, who founded two schools offering free education to children affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, has won the Nansen Refugee Award given out by the UN Refugee Agency.

He is credited with helping to facilitate the release of dozens of abducted Chibok girls from the Boko Haram terrorist group.

But who is Zannah Bukar Mustapaha?

He is a lawyer, a negotiator and now an educator. Mustapha ventured into teaching a decade ago after establishing his school, Future Prowess, in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria. This was shortly after the Boko Haram Islamists forced all schools to be closed at the peak of the insurgency.

Mustapha describes himself as a humble person from Maiduguri. “I am just what I am. At least I have been trained as a lawyer and a mediator,” he told DW.

“I was trained as a grade two teacher, and that is what I like about my teaching life. I like the idea of giving some positive moral values to children.”

Not only does Mustapha offer education to orphans and vulnerable children whose parents were killed by Boko Haram terrorists, but he also enrolls children born to Boko Haram fighters, who learn alongside children whose parents were killed by the insurgency.

“There was a backlog of requests for the enrolment of children orphaned by the insurgency. We started with 36 students, but when the insurgency was at its peak in 2009 we took about 250 children,” Mustapha said.

And for his relentless efforts and determination to help the orphans, the UN refugee Agency (UNHCR) has given him the Nansen Refugee Award. Nigeria’s UNHCR representative, Antonio Canhandula, said that, “what Zanna has been doing is trying to provide protection to these children in such a manner that they feel society still cares for them.”

“Protecting children is really extraordinary work,” he added. Another important role that Bukar Mustapha has played has been negotiating the release of 106 Chibok girls from Boko Haram Islamists.  He has hope that more girls and women abducted by the Islamists will be freed.

“You build confidence by getting 21 released, and then by getting 82 released, so you have enough confidence to say by the time you go for cessation of hostilities each and every one would be released,” Mustapha said.

As the first Nigerian to win the Nansen award, Zannah Bukar Mustapha will receive US$150,000 (127,000 euros) to fund a project that will enable him to continue his work.

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