19 September 2017

Nigeria: Zannah Mustapha Wins UN Award for Educating Boko Haram Victims

Photo: Rahima Gambo/UNHCR
Mustapha talks to students in one of the junior classes of his Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

A teacher who takes in orphans of both Islamist fighters and Nigerian Army soldiers has won this year's UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award.

"They are the best of friends," Zannah Mustapha said of his pupils. "This should be a template for world peace," he advocated.

Mustapha is the founder of one of the few remaining primary schools in Nigeria's troubled city of Maiduguri.

According to the BBC, he also negotiated the release of 82 Chibok girls, kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.

A former barrister, Mustapha played a crucial role mediating between the Nigerian government and the Islamists for the release of the abducted schoolgirls.

More than 100 of the 276 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok are still unaccounted for, and are presumed to still be in the custody of Boko Haram.

At Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School, the volunteer teacher provides the students with free education, as well as free meals, uniforms and healthcare.

"We have the largest number of girls in school in the whole of the region," Mustapha told the BBC's Newsday programme.

He added that the children of a "senior member of the insurgents" were studying there.

The UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award honours those who give "extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced".

Previous winners include Graça Machel, Luciano Pavarotti and Eleanor Roosevelt.

"Education is one of the most powerful tools for helping refugee children overcome the horrors of violence and forced displacement," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

"The work (Mr) Mustapha and his team are doing is of the utmost importance," Grandi observed.

Mustapha will be presented with his award at a ceremony in the Swiss city of Geneva on October 2.

But despite the efforts of the likes of Mustapha and the huge sums allocated to the education sector, Nigeria has continued to remain stagnant in its bid to fight illiteracy with a record 11.5 million out-of- school children, while 63 million youths and adults are estimated to have attained different levels of illiteracy.

This was revealed yesterday by the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu in Abuja to mark the World's 51st International Literacy Day with the theme, "Literacy in a Digital World."

The minister said the time had come for Nigeria to uphold her constitutional obligations for equal opportunities through education for all citizens and be actively committed to its pledge as a signatory to the world conference on education for all and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

The minister, who was represented by the permanent secretary in his education ministry, Mr Sunny Echonu added that based on the 2017 theme, the importance of information and communication technology was embedded in its ability to create greater access to information and communication among the undeserved population.

He said: "Worldwide, 750 million adults today still lack even the most basic literacy skills. Some 246 million children and youths are not benefitting from education.

"Different official estimates put youth and adult illiteracy levels in Nigeria at about 63 million. It is also estimated that over 11.5 million children are out-of-school. A large share of children who are in school are not attaining the learning outcome benchmarks.

"Addressing these skills gap is an educational and development imperative," he asserted.

The executive secretary of the National Commission for Mass Literacy (NMEC), Prof. Abba Abubakar Haladu, in his address, said very little can be achieved without the support and significant contributions from the state and local governments, adding that they are statutorily responsible for the provision of basic education including adult literacy.

He said: "I would like, therefore, to take this opportunity to urge states and local governments to deploy the needed political will and provide the necessary material support for the eradication of illiteracy in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

"Such support is urgently needed if only to ensure the establishment of adult literacy classes and vocational skills acquisition centres, the recruitment and payment of part-time literacy facilitators, the provision of teaching and learning materials, including facilities for ICT, and logistics for monitoring and evaluation of mass education programmes and centres among other forms of support," he stated.

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