329 Views

Meet The Man Who Brokered The Deal To Release The Chibok Girls

In our series of letters from African journalists, novelist and writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani profiles the lawyer who brokered the release of 82 women captured by Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

When 57-year-old Zannah Mustapha arrived for the handover of the 82 Chibok girls freed from Boko Haram after three years in captivity, a militant read out the girls’ names from a list.

One by one, the abducted schoolgirls, now women, lined up along the outskirts of a forest near Kumshe town, on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon. Each of them was covered from head to ankle in a dark-coloured hijab.

“I went ahead of the Red Cross. They [the militants] brought the girls to me,” said Mr Mustapha, the lawyer from Borno state in north-east Nigeria.

Mr Mustapha says the girls started singing for joy when they got into Red Cross vehicles

He has been mediating between the government and militants for the release of the Chibok girls and for an end to the Boko Haram insurgency.

In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari told the media that his government was willing to negotiate with “credible” leaders of Boko Haram for the release of the girls.

More than 200 of them were abducted a year earlier from the north-eastern town of Chibok, sparking global outrage.

Previous attempts had failed, with different groups coming forward, each claiming to be the militants in possession of the missing schoolgirls.

It was Mr Mustapha who succeeded in convincing the Nigerian authorities that this particular group should be taken for what they say, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu told me.

The freed women will now have to rebuild their lives

“He had dealt with them in the past and they keep to their word,” he said.

Mr Mustapha’s role as a mediator dates back to his founding the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School in 2007, to provide free Islamic-based education to orphans and the poor.

When the Boko Haram insurgency erupted in 2009, the school offered admission to the children of soldiers and government officials killed by the militants, as well as those of militants killed by the state.

The 82 met the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari after they were rescued

Mr Mustapha then sought the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which began providing free meals to the pupils.

He also encouraged parents to form an association which would reach out to other widows and convince them to send their children to his school.

The ICRC soon extended its humanitarian services to the mothers, providing them free food and other items every month.

“This was at a time when the wives of Boko Haram militants were being arrested and their houses demolished, so Boko Haram saw me and the ICRC as neutral parties,” Mr Mustapha said.

During the previous government of President Goodluck Jonathan, former President Olusegun Obasanjo visited Maiduguri, the epicentre of the insurgency, to intervene in the escalating crisis.

He then set up a group to discuss peace with Boko Haram. Mr Mustapha was included in it because of the relationship he had forged with the families of Boko Haram militants.

After the Swiss ambassador to Nigeria paid a visit to the Future Prowess school in 2012, he arranged for Mr Mustapha to go to Zurich and Geneva to receive formal training as a mediator.

ALSO READ  New Details On Federal Government's N5000 Monthly Stipend

“We were already trying to negotiate peace with Boko Haram before the Chibok girls were kidnapped,” Mr Mustapha said.

The initial negotiation was for a batch of 20 Chibok girls to be released.

But, as a sign of commitment to their relationship, Boko Haram added an extra woman, whom Mr Mustapha said was their gift to him, hence the number 21.

When they were released in October 2016, she was chosen by Boko Haram to read out the names of the other 20 women from a list.

Mr Mustapha said the 21 women were lined up and asked by Boko Haram militants if they had been raped. They all said they were not.

When a militant approached a woman who was carrying a baby, she said that she was pregnant at the time of her abduction, having got married a few weeks earlier.

The baby girl in her arms, she said, was her husband’s child.

For some reason, Boko Haram, a group that has cultivated a reputation for brutality, wanted it to be known that it was only after the women “agreed” to get married that the militants had sexual relations with them.

This process of lining up the women, pointing at each one and asking the same question, was repeated at the beginning of May when 82 more women were released.

One of about seven Boko Haram militants, who accompanied them, went from woman to woman asking: “Throughout the time you were with us, did anyone rape you or touch you?” Mr Mustapha said, adding that each of them replied in the negative.

None of the second batch of 82 captives came with a child.

But one had an amputated limb and was walking with crutches, an injury she sustained, according to what Mr Mustapha was told, during Nigerian military air strikes against Boko Haram.

‘They all ran’

“You are free today,” Mr Mustapha announced to the 82 women after all the names were called out.

“They all smiled,” he said.

He believes that their subdued reaction was as a result of the presence of the militants, all armed with guns, some wearing army camouflage uniforms and boots.

Mr Mustapha then took some photographs with the women. The militants also had their video camera on hand and recorded the event. ICRC vehicles eventually arrived.

“When I told them to go to the cars, they all ran,” Mr Mustapha said. “Immediately they entered the vehicles, they started singing for joy. Some shed tears.”

Mr Mustapha has received a number of accolades for his work with Future Prowess School. He was a finalist for the 2016 Robert Burns humanitarian award, given to those who have “saved, improved or enriched the lives of others or society as a whole, through self-sacrifice, selfless service, hands-on charitable or volunteer work, or other acts”. He was also given a 2017 Aurora Prize Modern Day Hero award, for those whose “life and actions guarantee the safe existence of others”.

However, he described handing over the 82 freed girls to the Nigerian government as “the highest point in my life”.

“I felt that I have done something that is worth saying to the world that I have done this,” he said.

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest Posts

Anthony Joshua Knocks Out Alexander Povetkin After Seven Rounds
Best of Nigeria
26 views
Best of Nigeria
26 views

Anthony Joshua Knocks Out Alexander Povetkin After Seven Rounds

PH - September 23, 2018

Britain’s Anthony Joshua knocks out Alexander Povetkin in the seventh round at Wembley Stadium on Saturday and retain his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO world heavyweight championship…

Why Lil Kesh Didn’t Promote Gasky’s Video Despite Being Paid – Manager
Entertainment
23 views
Entertainment
23 views

Why Lil Kesh Didn’t Promote Gasky’s Video Despite Being Paid – Manager

PH - September 23, 2018

An upcoming artiste, Gasky, has accused indigenous rapper Lil Kesh of not helping with the promotion of a song he did with the rapper despite paying him…

Why Rivers Surpassed Lagos As Top Investment Destination – Governor Wike
Business
26 views
Business
26 views

Why Rivers Surpassed Lagos As Top Investment Destination – Governor Wike

PH - September 23, 2018

The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has hailed the emergence of the state as Nigeria’s top investment destination. The governor was reacting to a recent investment profile…

9 Things You Need To Know About MBGN 2018 Winner, Anita Ukah
Best of Nigeria
77 views
Best of Nigeria
77 views

9 Things You Need To Know About MBGN 2018 Winner, Anita Ukah

PH - September 22, 2018

The 10 days of activities leading to the crowning of the 2018 MBGN has come to a thrilling end with Miss Imo, Anita Ukah announced as WINNER.…

CBN Revokes License of Skye Bank, Changes Name to Polaris Bank
Business
69 views
Business
69 views

CBN Revokes License of Skye Bank, Changes Name to Polaris Bank

PH - September 22, 2018

The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, at a press conference in Lagos announced that the apex bank has revoked operating licence of…

Nigeria Lands 48th Spot On FIFA World Ranking
Sports
66 views
Sports
66 views

Nigeria Lands 48th Spot On FIFA World Ranking

PH - September 22, 2018

Nigeria has taken a step up the FIFA Football Ranking List. In the newly released list, the Super Eagles rose to 1415 points to finish 48th in…

WATCH Inspiring Story of this Young Woman from Makoko Who’s Defying All Odds to Get an Education
Inspiring
66 views
Inspiring
66 views

WATCH Inspiring Story of this Young Woman from Makoko Who’s Defying All Odds to Get an Education

PH - September 22, 2018

The story is the same in virtually all slums or rural areas – as a young girl, you’re expected to get pregnant/married as soon as you meet…

Nigerian-American Actress, Yvonne Orji Talks New Book in an Interview with Vanity Fair
Best of Nigeria
63 views
Best of Nigeria
63 views

Nigerian-American Actress, Yvonne Orji Talks New Book in an Interview with Vanity Fair

PH - September 22, 2018

2018 is unarguably one of the best years for Nigerian-American actress and comedian Yvonne Orji. From having her face stamped on billboards to branching out of HBO’s series Insecure, to…

How I Found N106,000 Cash By the Road Side in Ilorin — Nigerian Guy Narrates (Photos)
Inspiring
51 views
Inspiring
51 views

How I Found N106,000 Cash By the Road Side in Ilorin — Nigerian Guy Narrates (Photos)

MT - September 22, 2018

A University student in Ilorin has narrated how he saw N106,000 on the roadside.. Narrating how it went down on Nairaland, he wrote: Quote Good evening here…

Here are the Biggest Moments from the #MBGN2018
Best of Nigeria
58 views
Best of Nigeria
58 views

Here are the Biggest Moments from the #MBGN2018

PH - September 22, 2018

Every year the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) pageant sneaks up on us, its 37 contestants suddenly appearing everywhere on our social media. Of course, from…

2017/2018 Top 10 Less Handsome Musicians In Nigeria – Male & Female
Entertainment
1153 views
Entertainment
1153 views

2017/2018 Top 10 Less Handsome Musicians In Nigeria – Male & Female

MT - September 22, 2018

Today, we’ll be looking at the 15 less handsome and beautiful musicians in Nigeria. We’ve carefully arraigned them accordingly from the beautiful to the less beautiful musicians…

Checkout Top 10 Signs That You Are At Risk Of A Stroke
Food and Health
370 views
Food and Health
370 views

Checkout Top 10 Signs That You Are At Risk Of A Stroke

MT - September 22, 2018

If you are above 40, you must read this. If you had seen anybody, with even a mild stroke, you will understand that this is not an…

U-Live Africa Set to Host Major Lazer for the First Time in Nigeria
Entertainment
54 views
Entertainment
54 views

U-Live Africa Set to Host Major Lazer for the First Time in Nigeria

PH - September 22, 2018

Music lovers and party revellers from around Nigeria will witness a one of a kind rave headlined by Major Lazer, the genre-blending DJ group which includes record…

Top 10 Notable Nigerian Artistes Who Run Their Own Record Labels
Best of Nigeria
369 views
Best of Nigeria
369 views

Top 10 Notable Nigerian Artistes Who Run Their Own Record Labels

MT - September 22, 2018

Some Nigeria music artistes did not simply stop at being artistes but rather have gone further to dispatch their own particular record mark in an offer to…

Throwback Photos of Anita Ukah (Miss Imo), Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria 2018 Winner
Best of Nigeria
48 views
Best of Nigeria
48 views

Throwback Photos of Anita Ukah (Miss Imo), Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria 2018 Winner

MT - September 22, 2018

Miss Imo, Anita Ukah emerged as the MBGN 2018 winner at the seriously contested Most Beautiful girl in Nigeria 2018 pageant in Bayelsa last night. Anita is…

Application for Free Stalls at the 2018 GTBank Fashion Weekend is now Open
Business
53 views
Business
53 views

Application for Free Stalls at the 2018 GTBank Fashion Weekend is now Open

PH - September 22, 2018

Do you make or sell fabulous fashion apparels and accessories? Can your fashion brand stand out at the biggest fashion event in Africa? Then, the 2018 GTBank Weekend is…

Bedroom Photos of Ex-BBNaija Star, Cee-c and Strange Man Surface Online
Entertainment
78 views
Entertainment
78 views

Bedroom Photos of Ex-BBNaija Star, Cee-c and Strange Man Surface Online

MT - September 22, 2018

The ex-Big Brother Naija reality show star recently released some romantic pictures on her instagram page to promote a particular hair company. Cynthia Nwadiora aka Cee-C teamed…

Miss Imo, Anita Ukah Emerges Winner of MBGN 2018
Best of Nigeria
42 views
Best of Nigeria
42 views

Miss Imo, Anita Ukah Emerges Winner of MBGN 2018

PH - September 22, 2018

Miss Imo Anita Ukah has emerged MBGN 2018 winner. Anita beat 36 other contestants at the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria beauty pageant that held tonight in…

Loading...