By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
When she started with a single step of looking for victims of the Jos crisis and giving succour to those she could afford to cater for, not many took her seriously. In fact, in the heat of the killing and maiming of women, men and children by heartless men in Plateau State, Esther Ibanga, a woman, who voluntarily relinquished her high-paying job at the Central Bank of Nigeria, made it a point of duty to move from point to point rendering help to victims of the wanton mayhem in the state.
Apparently to stand on a more corporate platform in rendering help on a sustained basis to the needy, Mrs. Ibanga immediately set up a Non-Governmental Organisation, known as Women Without Walls Initiative, WOWWI, in 2010, which focused its attention on providing advocacy, relief for internally displaced families, training of women in peace building initiatives/activities, dialogues, developmental projects in forgotten communities, women and youth empowerment.
Through the WOWWI platform, she has made tremendous progress towards restoring the elusive peace between the Christian and Moslem communities in Plateau State. She has also used the same platform effectively in reaching out to women both nationally and internationally and encourage them to fight for and advance the cause of women-folk, youth and children, irrespective of ethnic, religious or political affiliation.
She did not stop there since it appeared as if the more effort she was putting in to restore peace to the warring communities, the more the malevolent elements stepped up their acts inflicting more injuries to the people.
In February 2010 she led a peaceful protest march in response to the Dogon-Nahawa ethno-religious crisis that shook Plateau State like a volcanic eruption. In that protest, Mrs. Ibanga led more than 100, 000 Christian women to express their anger against the destruction of lives and property by unknown persons under the guise of ethnic and religious differences. She did neither fear for her live nor the lives of the women she mobilised for the protest, which lasted for many days. These women, decked in black attires to drive home their grievances, marched the streets of Jos to the Government House, expressing their grief over the wanton loss of human lives especially those of women and children.
The protest brought women to the forefront of the call for peace and to put an end to violence in Plateau State.
In response to the protest march embarked upon by the Christian women in March 2010, the Muslim women, led by Hajiya Khadijat Hawaja, now WOWWI’s Financial Secretary, held their own peaceful protest demanding that the killings in Jos be stopped as they too had lost children and husbands to the violent killings.
It was on that premise that Pastor Esther Ibanga decided to reach out to the Muslim women, pleading with them to come together in the fight to eradicate ethno-religious violence. “For the sake of peace it is important to build a community of women with one purpose and work for the overall well-being of the people notwithstanding their religious and tribal affiliations,” she told the women in every gathering.
In order to fulfill its vision of “developing a non-violent and all inclusive approach to conflict resolution and peace building in Nigeria, through women who are natural agents of change”, Women Without Walls Initiative has over the years undertaken series of activities to achieve her goals. These activities include conferences (both locally and internationally), economic empowerment program for women, police-community dialogue, campaigns against electoral violence, rallies, etc.
Mrs. Ibanga loves to live her life for others. She is a true advocate of altruism and she is unapologetic about it. In 1995, her life took a major turn when she decided to leave her position as manager at the Central Bank of Nigeria, where she had worked for 16 years, to pioneer the first church ever to be led by a woman in the city of Jos.
It was a big sacrifice for her to have thrown in the towel at the time at the apex bank when she was due for a promotion to the position of senior manager. Today, the Jos Christian Mission International (JCMI), which she founded 20 years ago, is a place to remember by many, who have fellowship there.
Married to a renowned public health exponent, Dr. Iko Ibanga, who is the founder and Executive Director of Pro-Health International (PHI), Esther Ibanga can be described as one who has taken a cue from her husband in reaching the poor and the needy.
Her husband has used the PHI, an indigenous non-governmental organization, to provide medical care to more than 2.5 million women, men and children in many parts of Nigeria and Africa, without making noise about it. In all that she has been doing to advance the cause of humanity, Esther Ibanga remains a simple housewife, blessed with two children.
“My motivation and drive in life is God. I have a personal relationship with Him. And my hunger for the impossible quickens something in me to rise to the occasion and make it possible,”” she explains. Her parents had thought her about discipline and integrity as the focal point of success in life and she has been living her life in accordance with the teaching of her parents and her pastor, Tunde Bakare.
She says, “My father taught me integrity while my mother taught me to be industrious, hardworking and disciplined. My husband, Dr. Iko Ibanga, is another person who has taught me to strike a balance between my pioneering, result-oriented spirit and loving people sincerely. He is one man that brings beauty out of relationships.”