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Leader of Nigerian Women's Peace Movement to Receive 32nd Niwano Peace Prize

February 2015

The chairperson of the Niwano Peace Foundation, Dr. Hiroshi M. Niwano, announced on February 24 that Rev. Esther Abimiku Ibanga, a Pentecostal pastor in Jos, Nigeria, and founder of the Women Without Walls Initiative, will receive the 32nd Niwano Peace Prize.The chairperson of the Niwano Peace Foundation, Dr. Hiroshi M. Niwano, announced on February 24 that Rev. Esther Abimiku Ibanga, a Pentecostal pastor in Jos, Nigeria, and founder of the Women Without Walls Initiative (WOWWI), will receive the 32nd Niwano Peace Prize. He made the announcement at a news conference in Kyoto. The presentation will take place in Tokyo on May 14. In addition to an award certificate, Rev. Ibanga will receive a medal and 20 million Japanese yen.

Rev. Ibanga founded WOWWI in 2010 to put an end to the violent and senseless killings of women and children in the Plateau State of Nigeria. She has worked extensively to foster and facilitate dialogue and mediation between warring religious and tribal communities in her country, advocated for the rights of the socially vulnerable, and promoted women's empowerment through skills acquisition. By uniting the voices of women arising from their individual religious faiths, she has encouraged and guided women's actions to build peace not only in Nigeria but all over the world.

Rev. Ibanga was born in 1961 in the Nassarama State of Nigeria. She graduated from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, and received her master's degree in business administration at the University of Jos, Nigeria. She worked for 16 years in the Central Bank of Nigeria, as a senior supervisor of its headquarters' Branch Operations Department; as an assistant manager of the Foreign Operations Department; and as a manager of banking operations in Jos. She voluntarily retired in 2001. In 1995, while serving as the Jos city manager, she founded Jos Christian Missions International, pioneering Nigeria's first church with a woman pastor. As its senior pastor she worked to take care of the poor and underprivileged, reaching out to young people, widows, and orphans.

Nigeria achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. It is inhabited by around 250 different ethnic groups. Regarding religion, the country is divided roughly in half between Christians, who live mostly in the southern and central regions, and Muslims, mostly concentrated in the northern and southwestern regions. Since 2001, the country has seen sectarian clashes in many places of the religiously mixed central region. Jos, the capital of the Plateau State, was at the center of some of the worst violence, in 2010, when around 1,000 people were killed in a series of massacres. Most of the victims were women and children.

WOWWI's vision, which Rev. Ibanga has pushed tirelessly to realize, is to develop a creative, nonviolent, and all-inclusive approach to conflict resolution and transformation in Nigeria through women. The organization has many goals, including forming strong national and international coalitions of women's groups across all forms of divide, to partner with one another in different spheres of influence and create an awareness of women's important role in peace building, expand training programs specifically designed to empower women politically and economically, and train women and civil society organizations in gender awareness, conflict resolution, and peace building. WOWWI also strives to ensure the protection of women's and children's rights, pushing for legislation that would protect them especially in conflict zones.

The Niwano Peace Prize is awarded annually to an individual or group that has notably contributed to world peace by fostering interreligious cooperation. The Niwano Peace Prize International Selection Committee carefully chooses recipients from nominations submitted by some 600 scholars and religious leaders, representing 125 countries. The committee is made up 11 religious leaders and scholars from around the world who are involved in work for peace and interreligious cooperation.

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