Barrister Mustapha Zanna is a passionate and committed humanitarian worker whose activities attracted national and international reputation, especially his contribution to peacebuilding and support in the Northeast where it is wallowed by a decade-old insurgency.

The region is suffering the largest humanitarian crises as a result of Boko Haram’s violent activities, unprecedented fatal attacks on rural communities, destruction of properties and shelters which led to the large displacement of persons and refugees up to date. 

Mustapha is the son of the largest tribe in the region, the Kanuri tribe. He was born in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State, on 19th Jan 1959. He received both traditional Islamic education and formal educational training.

From 1967 to 1973 he attended the Central Primary School Maiduguri for his primary education certificate, and, moved to further his post-primary education and tertiary education from 1983 to 1988, where he studied Law at the University of Maiduguri. And, he went to Nigeria Law School Lagos from 1988 to 1989, for him to be a barrister.

Mr. Mustapha now is a lawyer and human rights advocate, one of those who brokered the release of Chibok schoolgirls taken hostage by Boko Haram and a provider of educational opportunities to children victims of the insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria. He opened a school in Maiduguri –the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2007.

The school is essentially his personal orphanage that provides care and free education and basic care and needs for children who lost their parents from either side of the Boko Haram insurgency.

The conflict with Boko Haram has produced many orphans on either side, and they are all welcome into Mustapha’s classrooms. By this move, he raised hopes and created a chance for reconciliation in the region.

Education is recognized as a powerful tool for helping refugee children overcome the horrors of violence and forced displacement. It counters attempts to exploit and recruitment of young people into insurgent groups. Schools constitute the engine of society’s advancement and offer the opportunity for the next generation to succeed.

Mustapha is therefore on an important mission to rebuild communities in north-eastern Nigeria and foster peaceful coexistence that denominates hope and progress. His effort in providing education to orphans and vulnerable children has been described as an extraordinary humanitarian work centered on displaced children caught in the web of violence in north-eastern Nigeria.

His first school: Future Prowess Islamic Foundation, provides free education for hundreds of students and thousands on the waiting list. He opened a second school in 2016, which has witnessed rapid growth in children enrollment. Increasing the capacity is an effort to cope in the region in which, in one way or the other, everyone there is a victim of the Boko Haram insurgency and needs a lifeline and a fresh chance in life.

Future Prowess Islamic Foundation

I faced a lot of challenges when I started in 2009, it was difficult accommodating children of Boko Haram members and those who suffered the terror of the group,”

ZANNA Mustapha
School at Future Prowess Islamic Foundation

People called me names like ‘Boko Haram’s lawyer’ because I offered legal protection services to these children.  

Mustapha’s school is open to Christian and Muslim families from both sides of the conflict and offers Islamic and Western education. There are no background boundary restrictions; instead, hands of friendship are extended to both sides of the conflict. This provided a rare opening that made Mustaphaa the right and proper person to mediate in the release of Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014.

Mr. Mustapha was selected as the first Nigerian Aurora Humanitarian and was awarded by many national and international organizations for his contribution to the humanitarian sector. 

Mustapha is on a venture to give help to orphans in communities where they are counted in their thousands. He began the journey before the conflict escalated and when in his wildest dreams, he never imagined the situation could reach the overwhelming stage now in his hands.

He was inspired to fill a gap of neglect of children’s educational needs, especially girls. It is a duty owed by everyone to give support services to less privileged and vulnerable children, particularly the orphans.

The insurgency escalated in 2009, and so did the number of widows and orphans that needed help. Mustapha increased the scope of his operation to include widows and children of Boko Haram suspects killed in the conflict, as they might not even be fully aware of what their parents or husbands were into before they got killed.

UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award
UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Their inclusion provided a turning point for the widows and their children, according to Mustapha. The intervention involves various lifelines, including skills acquisition programs and other forms of economic empowerment.

Being at the receiving end of the conflict, he could see how the government’s change of approach from crushing Boko Haram to dialoguing with them helped set the Chibok school girls free. It is, in his view, the icebreaker. Muting the idea of dialoguing with the insurgent was entirely a humanitarian move, according to Mustapha.

“What I did was truly patriotic and it was something that can be measured in terms of honesty, dedication, and loyalty to own country

Mustapha Zanna

Mustapha isn’t just a humanitarian who works to address human miseries but a philanthropist who seeks to eliminate the fundamental causes of human suffering. He seeks a holistic approach that should put on the table how to proceed from rescuing hostages in the Boko Haram camp to ending the insurgency.

He expects that the next time the government gets a chance to interface with the insurgents, what needs to be on the table should be the cessation of hostility, protection of civilians’ lives, and stoppage of suicide bombings.

Mustapha considers true victory over insurgency as the ability to transform to a level where the insurgents decide to drop their arms completely. Setting the agenda in the event of another interface with Boko Haram, Mustapha expects that a complete end to the conflict should be on the table.

According to him, the protection of civilians, including many still in captivity, should be on the agenda. In his view, the total stoppage of suicide bombings should also be a top item on the agenda in exchange of some form of safe corridor for the terrorists.

His work in the Northeast included advocacy for a non-kinetic approach to peacebuilding and conflict management through dialogue, negotiation, and free education to the victims of humanitarian crises, making him a champion as hope to millions of people. He inspired his people and many institutions.

2019 Aurora Humanitarian