Greatness is not in shouting and blowing your trumpet, it is in walking the path of purpose where your consistent heartfelt effort to add value to humanity is suddenly amplified by life itself. Many have been deceived into believing that life is all about having. But only a few have discovered that the secret to having is not in chasing after things, but in becoming someone who attracts things. Rather than chasing after greatness, create a magnetic field that attracts it. Build virtues that great men have, do things that great men do and greatness will gravitate towards you. If there is anyone that typifies this statement, it is none other person than Pastor Mrs. Esther Ibanga.
Pastor Esther Ibanga is an African leader who believes that change is possible when you start with your self, and then extend to the person next to you and they extend to the person next to them. She believes that her country, Nigeria, and the continent of Africa is an embodiment of solutions that the world needs. Her daily life exemplifies that of a seer who has seen the future of a thing and in faith tenaciously decides to pursue it, believing that one day (very soon), it will become a reality. Just like gold disguised with the roughness and façade that gold ore presents, she believes that the true beauty and value of the continent of Africa will present itself when refined through the unrelenting efforts of great leaders like her.
For Africa she sees prosperity instead of poverty. She sees peace instead of wars, violence, crisis and kidnappings. She sees a continent void of volatile inter religious and ethnocentric squabbles; a place where people can live like a family, bonded by love, not because they are of the same religion, tribe or race, but because there is an unflinching unity of purpose. That purpose being that Africa to rise and become great when we work together hand in hand. Her dream is to live in a continent where almost everyone is healthy, both in mind and body.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Esther Ibanga was born into the family of late Mr. Abumadga Auta Abimiku and Mrs. Mariamu Abimiku on March 31, 1961. She is the seventh of ten children (Eight females and two males). She is from Kagbu; Nasarawa Eggon Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, Nigeria. Her father was a policeman who won many awards for his bravery and honesty way back in the sixties. By his spiritual inclination he was a great man of God who imbibed the culture of prayer into her. She says of him, “My father was a praying man and a prophet. We were born and raised into an atmosphere of prayer. He named me Baban Meche which means great woman.” Her mother Mrs Mariamu Abimiku was a dedicated housewife and industrious trader who is also popularly known as “mama mission” due to her dedicated involvement with her church women fellowship (Zumantan mata) and the regular mission trips she embarked on. She is said to be the disciplinarian of the family.
Pastor Esther started her education at St. Paul’s Primary School, Kasuwan Kaji in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State from 1968 to 1973. She had her secondary school education at St. Louis College Jos, Plateau State Nigeria, from 1973 to 1978. Between 1978 and 1979, she enrolled for an advanced level program at the School of Basic Studies Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria where she obtained an Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) Certificate. Her passion for business led her to obtain a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration at the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria from 1979 to 1983. In 2001, she obtained a Masters Degree in Business Administration from the University of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.
Pastor Ibanga started her work experience in Nation Plan Consortium where she served her country in the compulsory one year National Youth Service Corps program as a young graduate. After her NYSC, she got a job with Jos Steel Rolling Mills where she worked as a Marketing Officer. Her quest for greater opportunities and higher challenges landed her a job with Central Bank of Nigeria as a Senior Supervisor where she rose to the rank of a Manager.
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 sixteen years, to pioneer the first church ever to be led by a female in the city of Jos. She left at the time when she was due for a promotion to the position of senior manager. Jos Christian Mission International (JCMI), the church she started 20 years ago, has the vision “to raise a vibrant apostolic community of believers, totally committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and impacting our world and the nations of the earth with our doctrine which is Christ in us the hope of glory.” They are committed to raising, equipping and releasing transformational armies for the kingdom of God.
Over the years, she has led the church to build a remarkable place of worship and a recreation centre for the community. In appreciation of this the community chiefs gave her a title named “ARNAP” in the Afizere language, which means “daughter of the house”. The Church had been taking care of rural pastors, the poor and underprivileged, reaching out to youths, widows and orphans.
Pastor Esther is also the host of a Television teaching program, “This Present Truth” and a family based radio program “Home front”. Over time, she has led the church to become a household name in Plateau State and it environs.
Lending her voice to the building of powerful families is a value she has been adding for the past fourteen years. Her family oriented radio program introduced and anchored by her is geared towards uniting, strengthening, building and resolving conflicts at the family level with the hope it gives to society at large. Home Front is broken into 8 different segments that touch on all aspects of life in the family and society at large. These segments cover the following topics: “Youth ablaze”, “Myth or truth”, “A New Nigeria”, “Medical desk”, “Legal desk”, “Yester-years”, “Family issues”, and “When did it happen”; while her television program, “This Present Truth”, has been used as a tool to counter religion and tradition present in the church and challenging Christians to live the word of God.
One of Esther’s remarkable strengths is found in her ability to recognize societal needs. Her entrepreneurial spirit and ability to decipher problems have resulted to the birth of several businesses on which she sits as founder and Chief Executive Officer. Her ability to head multiple organizations and at the same time maintain the balance of career and family is a gift few people have. Not only does she maintain this balance, she is a strong advocate of family values and her passions have driven her to create numerous platforms through which she is changing her world. Her tenacity to see a better world has put her at the fore front of many worthwhile visions ranging from the fight to stop violence and restore peace in Nigeria, to women empowerment, poverty alleviation, health care/sector development, helping couples build happy homes, leadership development through the creation of mentoring programs for younger people, and pioneering a church to raise world changers. It is apparent that her pioneer spirit is one inspired by a fire within to purify Africa and make it a better place than what it is today.
Pastor Mrs. Esther Ibanga in her church
WOMEN WITHOUT WALLS INITIATIVE
Pastor Mrs. Esther Ibanga is the President and Founder of Women Without Walls Initiative (WOWWI). A non-governmental, non-sectarian, all-inclusive organization comprised of progressive Nigerian women from every facet of life. WOWWI was established in April 2010, borne out of a need to respond to the incessant crises that rocked Plateau State Nigeria for over a decade. The organization focuses on six thematic areas: Advocacy, Provision of relief to internally displaced persons and the needy, Training of women in peace building initiatives/activities, dialogues and mediation between warring parties; Developmental projects in under-privileged communities with grievances that became drivers of violence, and women and youth empowerment. Through this platform she has made tremendous progress in restoring peace between the Christian and Moslem communities especially in Jos North; a flash point and volatile community within Plateau State, Nigeria. The idea is to reach out to women, both nationally and internationally, and empower them to fight for, and advance the cause of women-folk, youth and children, irrespective of ethnic, religious or political affiliation.
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. In February 2010 she led a peaceful protest march, in response to the Dogon Nahawa ethno-religious crisis that took place in Plateau State Nigeria. Pastor Esther Ibanga led 100, 000 Christian women in that protest. These women marched the streets of Jos to the Government house dressed in black, expressing their grief over the wanton loss of human lives especially that 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 done 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 this premise that Pastor Esther Ibanga decided to reach out to the Muslim women enjoining them to come together as one body in the fight for the cause against ethno-religious violence. For the sake of peace it was important to build a community of women with one purpose, which is to advocate for and influence the peaceful co-existence of people among the Christian and Moslem communities.
Lending her voice to the voices of many others worldwide, in 2014, WOWWI joined the Bring Back our Girls campaign. In partnership with other women leaders on the Plateau, women from both faiths were mobilized and a protest rally was held, calling on the Nigerian government to expedite the search and secure release of abducted Chibok girls. She also participated in same rally in Istanbul Turkey during an international conference.
It is very apparent that this woman is an advocate and activist for a better world. Her actions have shown that she is not relenting on that, not now, and not even in the near future. She has not stopped on campaigning for the release of the Chibok girls. She uses every platform she has as a public speaker in conferences, seminars and workshops, within Nigeria and around the world to advocate for the release of those girls.
Pastor Esther is married to Dr. Iko Ibanga, a medical doctor and the founder and Executive Director of Pro-Health International (PHI). PHI is an indigenous non-governmental organization that takes free health care to the poor and less privileged people in the rural areas of Africa with the love of Christ. It has affected over 2.5milions lives since its inception in 1991. Due to her relentless effort to improve the health of Africa’s people, PHI has been to over 25 countries in Africa. Dr. Iko believes that the best investment you can make in life is to invest in the lives of other people. He was bestowed with the prestigious national award of member of the Order of the Niger (OON) under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR).
Pastor Esther Ibanga is an integral part of this organization. Her business management/administration skills have helped to grow the organization, alongside her husband, into the best indigenous NGO in Nigeria. She serves as the Director of Finance and Supplies of the organization and has engineered setting up and organizing the Accounts and Finance Department of Pro Health International and managing funds from donors such as Centre for Disease Control (CDC), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), T .Y. Danjuma Foundation, state and local governments, etc. Imagine what the union of this powerful couple has brought to the world. Not only has their coming together produced remarkable results and made great contributions to humanity, the union is also blessed with two beautiful and amazing children.
Pastor Mrs. Esther Ibanga and her family
When asked what her motivation and drive has been she responds, “My motivation and drive in life has been God. I have a personal relationship with Him. And my desire to please Him quickens something in me to rise to the occasion and make it possible. Just don’t tell me that I can’t do, be or have anything. That is when I will step into the game and make it happen in your eyes. For with God all things are possible” This great life she has built wouldn’t be complete without the great people who have been a powerful influence in her life. “My parents were a great influence in my life,” 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. He is a people person and that is an asset I have learnt to develop over time. The list will not be complete without mentioning my spiritual mentor, Pastor Tunde Bakare, who trained me like a soldier. He taught me to always live within the confines of the word of God. My Siblings love cannot be quantified.”
FUTURE LEADERS INC.
Leaving a lasting legacy is one thing that is very dear to her heart. She believes that all of the things she has done and will ever do will not be complete if the spirit behind it is not transferred to the next generation. This led her and her husband in May 2012 to establish an organization- Future Leaders Inc.- for mentoring young leaders. They have organized four teenage conference camps in three years. Ever since, Future Leaders Inc. has increased in impact both in Jos and its surrounding states. Her mission, which is, “to raise an army of youths that will emerge as instruments of transformation. A generation of people equipped to stand out as great leaders, models and world changers” is expressed daily through the lives of the impacted youths. In future Leaders Inc. it is believed that “the future starts today.” Every great leader knows that the technology for staying immortal lies in pouring yourself into the next generation. And this is something Esther Ibanga doesn’t take for granted. She and her husband have put in their time, resources and energy to make this work every year. They have made sure that the conferences are free and the participants are housed in the best accommodations with an excellent learning environment, fed with the best meals and most importantly, taught by facilitators who are worthy role models making great impact in their world.
Younger generations empowered to become great leaders of tomorrow
In recognition of her courageous contribution to the development of humanity and her fight for world peace, Pastor Esther Ibanga has been a recipient of many awards including:
December 13, 2014, The Christian Association of Nigeria, Women’s Wing Plateau State (WOWWICAN) recognized her work with an award of a Christian Woman Ambassador.
September 27, 2014, a student association called PYAM Students Association of Nigeria (PSAN) gave her an Award of Excellence as an Icon of Inspiration to the world, especially to the younger generation.
June 4, 2014, Islamic Counseling Initiative of Nigeria (ICIN) honoured her with Pacesetters Merit Award, in recognition of her support and contribution to education in the Plateau.
June 18, 2013, Student Union Government University of Jos, Plateau State Chapter recognized WOWWI with an award for her enormous contribution to peace-building and youth empowerment in Plateau State.
December 14, 2012, The Leadership institute of Jos honoured her in recognition of her outstanding contribution to women and youth empowerment and peace-building in Plateau State through Women Without Walls Initiative.
December 2, 2012, NINERELA gave her an award for her outstanding job in fight against HIV and AIDS spread and representing health issues through her radio program.
September 9, 2012, Plateau State Government gave her an award in recognition of her outstanding contribution to Peace building on the Plateau.
May 15, 2012, an award was given to honour her in recognition of her leadership role on the Plateau, by Plateau Dream Life Achievers.
May 29, 2012, Plateau Dream presented an award to her in recognition of her landmark contribution to the promotion of sustainable peace and women and youth empowerment in Plateau State.
November 4, 2011, a lifetime achievement award was given to her for her visionary leadership in the areas of Peace, women and youth empowerment. This was given by Foundation for Peace and Non-Violence in Nigeria.
June 17, 2011, The award as an “Icon on the Plateau” was given to her for her numerous contributions to the cause of youths. The House of Parliament University of Jos, Plateau State, presented this award to her.
April 11, 2011, Queen Shalom Beauty Pageant recognized her with an award for her outstanding performance in propagating Christ through Television program “This Present Truth”
NIWANO PEACE PRIZE
On February 24, 2015, the Niwano Peace Foundation made a press release announcing Pastor Esther Ibanga as the recipient of the Niwano Peace Prize worth $170, 000. This is the 32nd year this award has been given and she happens to be the first African woman to win the prize. The Niwano Peace Foundation established the Niwano Peace Prize to honor and encourage individuals and organizations that have contributed significantly to inter-religious cooperation, thereby furthering the cause of world peace, and to make their achievements known as widely as possible. The Foundation hopes in this way both to enhance inter-religious understanding and cooperation and to encourage the emergence of still more persons devoted to working for world peace. The Prize is named in honor of the founder and first president of the lay Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai, Nikkyo Niwano.
The Niwano Peace Foundation was chartered in 1978 to contribute to the realization of world peace and the enhancement of a culture of peace. The Foundation promotes research and other activities based on a religious spirit and serve the cause of peace in such fields as education, science, religion and philosophy. In selecting her as a recipient for 2015, the Peace Prize Committee said her work, “Wowwi has brought to the fore the power of women’s voices and created an opportunity for an organised platform for women to play an active role in peace building.” Another member of the committee also said of her, “A courageous and dedicated religious leader who has worked extensively on fostering cooperation and understanding amongst religious groups. Takes a firm and decisive stand regarding the empowerment of women and has been vocal on the Boko Haram kidnappings.”
Esther Ibanga’s life is an example of sheer determination, consistency to purpose and an aggressive love for her country and the African continent. She has been the recipient of multiple awards in recognition of her active role in peace building as well as her tremendous contributions to the development humanity. Her life’s journey speaks of a leader who will not stop until her world is transformed into the picture of greatness. None of all these came to her on a platter of gold. She has worked hard, she has faced many challenges, she has faced oppositions, and she has taken many life-threatening risks in order to make her own contribution to the development of mankind and to world peace. Truly she has earned this award. Her work has inspired many young leaders to believe that greatness is possible. She has taught many that the surest route to greatness is through heartfelt committed service. She has clearly modeled the fact that what you do in secret without any accolade will surely speak for you and launch you into a global audience. Consistency, tenacity, passion and vision describe this great leader of our time. She has gone down into the history books as a woman of relentless service to humanity in ensuring world peace. Generations after will surely speak of this woman because she is indeed a 24Karats leader.