By Nimi Princewill
Prominent for facilitating the release of 103 Chibok girls from the Boko Haram insurgents, Zannah Bukar Mustapha, a Nigerian lawyer and educator was on Saturday, October 19, unveiled as a finalist for the 2019 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity in Yerevan, Armenia.
Aside from his valiant efforts in negotiating with the hierarchy of the dreaded Islamic sect for the release of some of the abducted school girls, Mr Mustapha is also renowned for providing free education to children and orphans of Boko Haram fighters.
In this interview, Mr Zannah Mustapha speaks on the remote possibility of securing the release of 112 Chibok girls still stuck with the terrorists.
What circumstances led to your role as mediator between the government and Boko Haram insurgents?
I was born and brought up in Maiduguri and I happened to have a foundation that was established in 2007, much earlier before the advent of Boko Haram. The foundation was for orphans and vulnerable children. In 2009, when the insurgency started, a lot of Boko Haram elements were killed and their wives and children were cast on the streets. Since my primary aim of setting up the foundation was to cater for orphans, I took in the kids of slain Boko Haram fighters as well as their wives. I was doing that before they abducted the Chibok school girls. So, I think they felt I would be an impartial mediator.
Were you contacted by the government or the insurgents recommended you to the government?
The government did. The mandate was given to me shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari went to the UN to ask for assistance to negotiate with Boko Haram terrorists.
You negotiated the release of 103 Chibok girls. What were the terms agreed upon by the government and the sect?
That’s not within my powers and it’s not something I can disclose. I will not earn the confidence of both sides if I reveal details.
About 112 Chibok girls are yet to be released five years after their abduction. What do you think is responsible for the delay?
After I negotiated the release of the first batch of 21 and the second batch of 82 girls, I told the world that some of the remaining girls did not want to return home because they had developed the ‘Stockholm syndrome’. They had identified with their captors and desired to stay back. But their parents and the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) civil society group did not believe it was true. In less than two days, the girls came out in a video to confirm what I said. As a mediator, it was not part of my mandate to force them to return home.
From your interaction with the insurgents, what can be deduced as a cogent reason for their violent actions?
There is nothing positive about those people. Whether they have any justification for their actions is a question for them to answer.
You founded a school which offers free education to hundreds of children affected by insurgency, including children and orphans of Boko Haram fighters. What inspired this?
I opened the school to help less privileged children get education. I take pride in impacting knowledge to people in general and I see that it is only through education that we can change the tide of time. At the school, we also give special orientation to children/orphans of Boko Haram fighters on conflict resolution and peace building.
You were the first Nigerian to win the United Nations’ Nansen Refugee Award where you received $150,000 to aid your humanitarian work. What successes have been recorded so far?
The school has been expanded. We now have a centre which trains widows of Boko Haram fighters on entrepreneurship skills such as shoes and bag making, tailoring, bead making and even computer appreciation.
Recently, in Yerevan, Armenia, you received $50,000 as a finalist for the 2019 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. What should Nigerians expect from you going forward?
We are going to enroll more students. When we opened the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School in Maiduguri, after the Boko Haram insurgents forced all schools to be closed, we started with a single classroom for 36 children. The school now educates hundreds of students, and has a waiting list of more than 2,000 children.