YOLA, NIGERIA - A close encounter with violent Nigerian insurgent group Boko Haram could not stop 26-year-old Abubakar Umar from graduating last week at his university.
The scars on Umar’s arms distinguish him among this year’s graduating class of the American University of Nigeria, where he studied petroleum chemistry..
A nighttime road trip from the campus in the northeastern city of Yola to the northern metropolis of Kano to visit family nearly turned deadly for Umar when he ran into a band of fighters from the Boko Haram insurgent group. The extremists repeatedly have bombed schools and killed students in their six-year quest to impose strict Islamic law.
As Umar neared Potiskum, a city frequently targeted by Boko Haram in the war-torn Yobe State, other motorists warned him against taking his planned route because of the danger of attack. He had turned onto an alternate road when it happened.
“And that was when I heard the gunshot. Actually I slowed down because there was a pothole; the road was very, very bad," said Umar. "I think I was driving at about 60 or 40 kilometers per hour. And that was when I just saw these people coming out from the bush, and they were screaming ‘Allahu Akbar’ and they were screaming at my car.”
As Umar accelerated, a bullet hit his right arm; further down the road, a second attack happened and a second bullet hit his left arm. He pulled over only when he reached a town and changed clothes so he would look like a local.
He received no aid. An old man told him the town was under Boko Haram control and that anyone helping him would be killed. Eventually, a family allowed him to hide in their outhouse overnight. The next morning, the homeowner gave Umar a phone so he could call his friends to pick him up.
Before he could leave, though, the good Samaritan insisted he adopt a disguise.
“If I am going to go out the following morning, I have to disguise myself, so I do not look like the same person that entered into his house," Urmar said. "So I have to put mud and chicken dung on my head and I might look like a madman with my shoes in my pocket, and that was how I decided to disguise myself.”
At a commencement dinner last Friday, the university gave Umar an award for courage. He managed to complete his studies, even though he could not use his right hand for 14 weeks.
“I should have died on that day. I could have died on that day; because I lost so much blood, I passed out. There was not any medication that [I] could take ... the next morning. But somehow, I think the Lord kept me alive for a special reason and one of those reasons is for me to be here to complete my degree,” he said.
Umar is not done with school; he wants to continue to get a master's degree in his field.