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Bar­ris­ter Zan­nah Mustapha is a Maiduguri-based phi­lan­thropist who re­cently won the UN High Com­mis­sion for Refugees (UNHCR) 2017 Nansen Refugees Award, the first in West Africa to be so hon­oured. In this in­ter­view, Mustapha gives an in­sight into his life a

Weekly Trust - - News - Hamza Idris & Ifeanyi-Obi Ikechukwu Bar­ris­ter Zan­nah Mustapha: Mustapha: Mustapha: Mustapha: Mustapha: Mustapha: Mustapha: Mustapha:

Daily Trust: How did you feel when your name was men­tioned as win­ner of the Nansen Refugees Award?

Well, I was ex­ceed­ingly happy, more so when it was made by one of the ma­jor or­gan­i­sa­tions in the world - the United Na­tions. It means a lot for them to say I am a wor­thy am­bas­sador, es­pe­cially af­ter look­ing at the cal­i­bre of lead­ers pre­vi­ously se­lected as re­cip­i­ents of that award, in­clud­ing one of the great­est hu­man­i­tar­i­ans - Eleanor Roo­sevelt, the wife of Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt of the United States. She was the first re­cip­i­ent of that award and then Mwal­imu Julius Ny­erere of Tan­za­nia. For my name to ap­pear in such a list, I am ex­ceed­ingly happy. In my wildest dream, I never thought I could mea­sure up to such lead­ers. DT: What does it mean to you?

I just want to say that it has made me stronger, and I would re­main res­o­lute in all the ef­forts that I’m try­ing to put in place for or­phans and dis­placed peo­ple in my area and be­yond.

DT: Have you ever been hon­oured else­where be­cause of your hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tiv­i­ties?

Well, I have to admit that you the Daily Trust, were the first to ac­knowl­edge what I am do­ing. You were the first plat­form that pro­jected me to the world when I was hon­oured as Unsung Hero in 2013.

DT: You are a lawyer by train­ing, what led you to hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tiv­i­ties?

Well, I started as a lawyer but af­ter twenty years, I felt I had done enough prac­tice. I felt I could also en­gage in cer­tain things I could call my own be­cause the other ones were not mine as an in­di­vid­ual; we go as a team. I wanted to give back to the so­ci­ety be­cause the gov­ern­ment, with no kobo from any­body, trained me. My last regis­tra­tion in the univer­sity was N40. I started this in 2007 with 36 or­phans and as we speak, they have all got­ten the min­i­mum re­quire­ment for en­ter­ing the univer­sity. We have grad­u­ated more than 1,000 stu­dents at the lower level; en­rolled 626 in 2017, more than half of whom are girls, in­clud­ing 186 IDPs with 5,000 on the wait­ing list. Th­ese chil­dren in­clude chil­dren from both the mil­i­tary and the Boko Haram and they have grown to see them­selves as one. The wis­dom is that if it con­tin­ues like this, then we are sure of peace­ful rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and an end to the in­sur­gency.

DT: Phil­an­thropic ven­tures are mostly as­so­ci­ated with the wealthy. Were you rich when you ven­tured into this?

It de­pends on your es­ti­ma­tion of a rich man in terms of mon­e­tary value; I have never been rich in my life even to this point. For in­stance, I have never got­ten the amount that came with this award. All I know is that I started with mea­gre amount and at that time, I never thought the in­sur­gency would even come. It was there­fore a big chal­lenge with the on­set of the vi­o­lence be­cause peo­ple were made or­phans in their own homes; it caused a lot of dis­place­ment of peo­ple.

DT: Is it true you ac­tu­ally ded­i­cated part of the house you live with your fam­ily for the or­phan­age?

What hap­pened was that in 2007, I had a very large house in GRA Maiduguri, about 600 square me­tres and in Is­lam, one can give out at least one third of his es­tate as char­ity, gift or what­ever. You can put it in your will that it should not be part of what your fam­ily will in­herit. I felt I didn’t need to keep that much; 400 square kilo­me­tres is enough for me as a hu­man be­ing so I carved out 200 square me­tres from my house and started the school.

DT: How did you man­age to bring in chil­dren from across the di­vide un­der one um­brella?

One ex­am­ple I want to give is when any­body sees a dead man on the street, no­body can stand there and cry; the high­est he can do is to sym­pa­thise with the per­son in his mind be­cause it is the in­ti­macy that evokes emo­tion. So I felt that if all seg­ments of the so­ci­ety are em­bed­ded in an area, no­body would feel iso­lated or aban­doned; ev­ery­one would be in­cor­po­rated. I never thought the in­sur­gency would come to this and I felt since it has hap­pened, our pri­mary tar­get should be or­phans. The of­fences of par­ents should not be that of the chil­dren. Th­ese chil­dren are empty ves­sels, if you feed them with good things, they would grow up with it. If you keep or­phans in a se­cluded area, it would be prob­lem­atic by the time you want to rein­te­grate them back to the so­ci­ety.

If you keep them iso­lated as or­phans, the is­sue of stigma will later arise and you would start talk­ing of trauma be­cause most of them wit­nessed how their par­ents were killed. If this psy­cho­log­i­cal scar is not taken away from them by the time they get to adult­hood, then the Boko Haram cri­sis would be a child’s play. That was why we in­tro­duced the so­cial sup­port; we take them for trauma ses­sions, and some of them go for a sort of coun­sel­ing with re­li­gious and com­mu­nity lead­ers. One as­pect that re­ally works for us is the com­mit­ment we have shown be­cause all my bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren went through this school along­side the or­phans. All the di­rec­tors of this school have their own chil­dren; the head­mas­ter and all other teach­ers must have their chil­dren in this school. They eat to­gether, play to­gether and feel they are one.

DT: An­other area you are noted for is try­ing to find am­i­ca­ble res­o­lu­tion to the in­sur­gency, which also cul­mi­nated in the lib­er­a­tion of hostages. What gives you courage to me­di­ate?

Well, there are lots of things. The lead­er­ship and po­lit­i­cal will of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari helped a lot. When the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment pro­scribed Boko Haram, it meant no­body could me­di­ate at both the in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal lev­els. If you at­tempt to me­di­ate on th­ese things, you can be treated as an ac­com­plice.

My first time at me­di­a­tion was when for­mer Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo came down. In fact, he didn’t call me un­til he landed in Maiduguri; then he called me and Se­na­tor Shehu Sani. When they came, we started the process of putting up me­di­a­tion but that me­di­a­tion fell short of some com­po­nents; we started mak­ing the in­ter­ven­tion long be­fore the Chi­bok girls’ ab­duc­tion.

We made some rec­om­men­da­tions, which he (Obasanjo) took to the gov­ern­ment then, but those rec­om­men­da­tions were not heeded to and many other at­tempts were made. At this point, I just want to make a cer­tain com­men­da­tion be­cause what made it pos­si­ble (to me­di­ate) was the abil­ity of Pres­i­dent Buhari to open his mighty heart. What makes it dif­fer­ent this time is that the pres­i­dent showed some level of pre­pared­ness.

Dur­ing his cam­paign, he said ‘I would crush them’ but maybe af­ter com­ing to gov­ern­ment, he un­der­stood what the cri­sis was all about so he took it to the United Na­tions to say ‘I want to ne­go­ti­ate with Boko Haram if they are will­ing to come for­ward’. That was when the nar­ra­tive changed. That is not small courage; it opened up the fron­tier for us to go into me­di­a­tion, at least for us to get those ladies. We first went in for con­fi­dence build­ing which led us to get the first 21 girls. Then we went in again for the other 82 girls and that was when we were on a plat­form. In me­di­a­tion, there are lev­els, one of them is that you have to get the man­date, the en­try point and then build con­fi­dence; we were able to build con­fi­dence on that. In­stead of be­ing stag­nated in one area, you need to open other fron­tiers, it’s not just about bring­ing the Chi­bok girls, there are many other cap­tives, and even how to end the cri­sis. It is a kind of build­ing block; when you start with this you go to a cer­tain level then go for a wider one, so that makes it pos­si­ble for us to reach out with a view to re­solv­ing other is­sues.

#BringBack­OurGirls is just one as­pect of the cri­sis. There are other in­te­gral parts of the process. Of course, we are try­ing to bring back more of th­ese Chi­bok girls but when more than four hun­dred peo­ple are killed by sui­cide bombing, peo­ple would keep ask­ing what kind of suc­cess is be­ing recorded. That is why we have to open the fron­tiers of me­di­a­tions; th­ese are pro­cesses you can­not com­plete in one or three months. You have to go into the deeper as­pects of the process. There are cer­tain pe­ri­ods that you get stag­nated but then you need to lever­age on that and plan again.

If you keep them iso­lated as or­phans, the is­sue of stigma will later arise and you would start talk­ing of trauma be­cause most of them wit­nessed how their par­ents were killed. If this psy­cho­log­i­cal scar is not taken away from them by the time they get to adult­hood, then the Boko Haram cri­sis would be a child’s play

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