Nigerian lawyer and mediator Zannah Mustapha has been chosen as this year’s winner for his inspirational work helping Nigerian children access education and for negotiating the release of the Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram.

A school for peace

In 2007, Zannah Mustapha founded the Future Prowess School in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno State, a region wracked by the violence of Boko Haram. The school caters for children orphaned by conflict as well as those born to women kidnapped by militants, who are often ostracised by society.

Mustapha’s vision for healing through peaceful coexistence is the foundation for bringing these two groups together. A second campus opened last year to accommodate growing demand, and Mustapha’s schools now provide education for 628 children, of whom just over half are girls.

Each student receives free food, uniforms and psychotherapy as part of their enrolment.

“There is no way a child will learn with an empty stomach,” Mustapha says. “We have to provide everything, but thanks to our many supporters we have been able to do this.”

“This is the place where every child matters, no matter what religion, background or culture… Our aim is make positive changes in their lives.”

Zannah Mustapha has been awarded UNHCR’s 2017 Nansen Refugee Award for his work in Nigeria. 

© UNHCR/ R. Gambo


In 2016, Mustapha played a crucial role mediating between the Nigerian Government and Boko Haram for the release of abducted Chibok schoolgirls

That year, he personally supervised the release of 21 young women, bravely walking ahead of the humanitarian envoy to escort the girls to waiting trucks.

An additional 82 captives have since been freed with Mustapha’s assistance. He described this experience as “the highest point in [his] life.”

Australia for UNHCR congratulates Zannah Mustapha on his well-deserved win of the 2017 Nansen Refugee Award.
Do you know a hero making a difference to the lives of families forced to flee their homes? UNHCR is searching for the 2018 winner of the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

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