Nigeria’s next government needs to have the political will to act decisively against the Boko Haram extremist group, said Pastor Esther Abimiku Ibanga ahead of the country’s March 28 presidential election. Ibanga, a civil society leader from northern Nigeria’s Plateau state, was recently awarded the prestigious Niwano Peace Prize, which honors significant contributions to inter-religious cooperation, for her efforts to promote women’s empowerment and peace.
Pastor Ibanga, a Christian, is the founder and president of the Women Without Walls Initiative, which brings together women from diverse religions and ethnicities to advocate for peace. Ibanga and the initiative have pressured the government of Nigeria to take a more committed, effective and proactive approach to combatting Boko Haram. They also coordinate with police services to improve community security and work with youth to help them resist extremist influences.
In this interview with Susan Hayward, the interim director of USIP’s Religion and Peacebuilding center, Ibanga says religious leaders should “step out into the dark arenas” where extremism thrives. She also discusses the challenges facing female clergy, why engaging with young people is the greatest part of her ministry, the top priorities for Nigeria’s next government, and what she has learned from other women leaders who are also working to counter violent extremism.
Ibanga has participated in USIP’s Women Preventing Extremist Violence project for the last two years, and was at the institute as part of a three-day symposium for the program in March.