By Lizzy Okoji
A Nigerian lawyer, Mr Zannah Mustapha, has won the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) 2017 Nansen Refugees Award.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Director, Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School, the first Nigerian Laureate of the award, will be unveiled on Monday in Abuja.
UNHCR and the Norwegian Refugees Council said on Monday that Mustapha was chosen as the winner of the award for his humanitarian works in championing the rights of children.
They noted that Mustapha’s NGO not only provides education for children but also caters to the needs of orphans, widows and abandoned children affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, thereby bringing succour to them.
In a statement issued in Geneva on Monday, Mr Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said: “Education is one of the most powerful tools for helping refugee children overcome the horrors of violence and forced displacement.
“It empowers young people, equips them with skills and works to counter exploitation and recruitment by armed groups.
“Conflict can leave children with physical and emotional scars that are deep and lasting as it forces them from their homes, exposes them to unspeakable atrocities and often rips apart their families.
“The work Mustapha and his team are doing is of the utmost importance, helping to foster peaceful coexistence and rebuild communities in North-Eastern Nigeria.
“With this award, we honour his vision and services,’’ Grandi said.
Mr Jose-Antonio Canhandula, UNHCR Representative to Nigeria, said that Mustapha was recognised for his efforts in championing the rights of children.
“In addition to his education work, Mustapha has demonstrated commitment to helping all parts of the society affected by the conflict which includes setting up cooperatives for widows and supporting nearly 600 women in Maiduguri.
“The UNHCR recognises his role as a mediator between the government and the insurgents for the release of the 82 chibok girls and the 21 young women held captive by Boko Haram for two years,’’ Canhandula said.
In a separate statement, the Secretary-general of Norwegian Refugees Council, Mr Jan Egeland, said that the recognition of Mustapha’s brave works highlighted the importance of education for the future of Nigeria.
“Schools lie at the heart of a society and destroying them crushes the chance of Nigeria’s next generation succeeding,’’ Egeland said.
In his reaction to the award, Mustapha told NAN in Abuja that he felt humbled and honoured to be “listed among great icons’’ in the world for his humanitarian works in the North-East.
He said that the award would give impetus to his humanitarian works as his vision is for the activities of his foundation to serve as a template for peaceful reconciliation in the North-East and other parts of the country.
He said that in just a decade since its inception, the school had recorded tremendous success, which gives him the assurance that peaceful reconciliation through education and integration is achievable.
Mustapha told NAN that he founded his NGO in 2007 to provide free education, meals, uniforms and healthcare to children and orphans among others, in an effort to engender peace and reconciliation.
“We started with 36 students and have graduated more than 1,000 students; 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.
“If it continues like this, then we are sure of peaceful reconciliation and an end to the insurgency,’’ Mustapha said.
NAN reports that the 2017 Nansen Refugees Award will be presented to Mustapha on Oct. 2, in Geneva.
The UNHCR Nansen Refugees award was established in 1954 and awarded annually to an individual, group or organization in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees, displaced and stateless persons.
The award includes a commonwealth medal and monetary prize of 100,000 dollars donated by the governments of Norway and Switzerland to begin a project in consultation with UNHCR, to complement the laureate’s existing work. (NAN)