A Nigerian lawyer who helped secure the release of dozens of Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 was announced winner of a UN prize for providing an education to children uprooted by violence in north-east Nigeria.
Zannah Mustapha is the founder of two schools offering free education, meals and healthcare to its pupils and enrols children born to Boko Haram fighters to learn alongside those orphaned by the Islamist group’s eight-year insurgency.
The Nansen Refugee Award, bestowed by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), has been won in the past by Eleanor Roosevelt and Luciano Pavarotti and the winner receives $150,000 to fund a project complementing their existing work.
“I am exceedingly happy and motivated to do more . I will scale up my efforts,” Mustapha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Maiduguri.
“Some students who started in my school have graduated and they are now going to university – I can use this money to help them complete the cycle,” Mustapha said.
His first venture, Future Prowess, opened a decade ago and was the only school in Borno state to stay open when Boko Haram began their brutal campaign to carve out an Islamic state in 2009.
The Islamist militants killed hundreds of teachers and forced more than 1,000 schools to shut, leaving tens of thousands of children without an education, aid agencies said.
UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi hailed Mustapha for helping to foster peace and rebuild communities devastated by violence.
“Education is one of the most powerful tools for helping refugee children overcome the horrors of violence and forced displacement,” Grandi said in a statement.
Mustapha’s work also includes helping to negotiate the release of more than 100 of the 220-odd girls snatched from their school in Chibok in April 2014 in the biggest publicity coup of Boko Haram’s insurgency.
The return of 82 girls in May marked the second group release of Chibok girls by the militants – with both deals brokered by Switzerland and the Red Cross and mediated by Mustapha – after a group of 21 were freed in October last year.
Others have escaped or been rescued but about 113 of the girls are believed to still be held captive.