“I faced a lot of challenges when I started the project in 2009, accommodating children of Boko Haram members as well as those who had suffered from that terror group. During that time, I even protected Boko Haram members’ children’s rights of inheritance in court. That’s why some people called me names like “Boko Haram’s lawyer.” But seeing the hope and resilience in the eyes of children and widows gave me strength to stick with my conviction,” says Mr. Mustapha.
“There are lots of challenges. Often your credit, your reputation lies on a slippery ground. Some can take you either for an impostor, or a traitor, as you are dealing with families from the opposite side, people they’ve never met before or seen eye to eye. But now they are all in one place, which used to be almost taboo,” continues the Aurora Humanitarian, still stunned himself by the fact that has been possible.
Brought up in a family of an Islamic clergyman, Zannah Bukar Mustapha was fortunate enough to get both a formal and an Islamic education. He studied Sharia and common law and before going into the humanitarian field he had been a lawyer for 20 years. Even with this experience, the transition from an attorney to a humanitarian was not a smooth one.
“In the beginning it was a daunting challenge – taking your biological children to a school meant for orphans of conflict, and those orphans are from Boko Haram families, and they consider education to be wrongful. Imagine. Anyway, I am not a superhero. I am a person who believes in all that he does. Whatever I do, I do it diligently and with a deep sense of sincerity and dedication.”
If it weren’t for his belief in the humanitarian work, Mr. Mustapha would have probably chosen mediation. He happened to be the main negotiator between the government and Boko Haram to release the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014. And he succeeded — 103 children were released and brought back to their families. Most of the girls who owe their freedom to Mr. Mustapha are now studying at the American University of Nigeria. They still keep in touch with their savior.
“Why did they choose me to negotiate? I don’t have the exact answer. But I know for sure that mediation generally is not about training,” he says.
Mr. Mustapha is inspired by the children of Future Prowess. “My personal heroes are these children who stand by me, who went through pain and suffering but never lost hope. Yes, they are from “Future Prowess”. And they are the generation who is going to take on peacemaking efforts in the future, if we fail to do it now.”
Two years ago, before being selected as one of the three 2019 Aurora Humanitarians, Zannah Bukar Mustapha was named a modern-day hero by Aurora, which made him curious about Armenians and Armenia. Now he looks forward to visit Armenia to take part in the Aurora Forum.