By Sam Eyoboka
OVER the weekend, Nigerians in the Diaspora went agog with pride and jubilation as the Nigerian flag flew in honour of a survivor of Boko Haram terrorists who bagged a Bachelor of Science degree in a Californian university.
At the capacity-filled invitation-only event, a US Congresswoman, Representative Grace Napolitano representing California, was also awarded an honorary doctorate for 30 years of public service.
Congresswoman Napolitano who was the special guest speaker at the graduation described her ordeal growing up poor after her birth in 1936 and early marriage at 18 and birthing five children by the time she was 23.
She commended the graduating class of 2019 for “the strength of character and courageous spirit that brought you to this day.”
The congresswoman said that she herself had “no degree” due to discrimination in her childhood but “I congratulate you” for earning degrees.
“Without a degree,” she continued, “I am representing you in the Congress, proving that America still remains the greatest symbol of Hope the world has ever seen.”
Congresswoman Napolitano, however, warned about “foreign attacks on our constitution” which she called Constitutional constipation and the return of the Demons of discrimination she faced in her childhood.
She charged the graduands to show gratitude. “You have been beneficiaries of someone. Be grateful for the blessing” of education.
She noted that almost half of the class of 2019 “are the first to graduate in their family” and the university was “fifth for social mobility” of all universities in a recent US ranking.
After her inspirational speech, certificates were presented to graduands by the university’s president. When the survivor of a Boko Haram attack, Zion Umar, was called to the podium amidst cheers and applause by her Nigerian and American guests, the president of the university went out of her way to hug her.
Ms Zion Umar had come a long way from terror-ravaged North- Eastern Nigeria. In May 2013, as a secondary school girl, terror unveiled its ugly head when dreaded Islamist terrorists broke into her family home in Maiduguri and grabbed her pastor father.
As she pleaded with the gunman for her father’s life, they warned her to enter the house or be killed. Before she could do so, they opened fire, killing her father while a bullet lodged in her head.
After two months of searing headaches, Ms Zion Umar underwent successful surgery to extract the bullet from her head.
Two years later in 2015, an international human rights lawyer, Emmanuel Ogebe flew her to the US to join other Chibok girls whom he had sponsored to school in the US in 2014, in honour of her late father who had taken care of orphans of numerous pastors also killed in Maiduguri.
Upon her arrival, Zion distinguished herself academically and soon entered university with one Chibok girl and another survivor in early 2016. She graduated from the Community College with an Associate Degree in Science Magna Cum Laude (High Honors) in 2018 transferring and obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in Science from the California university last weekend.
Her Chibok colleague had herself graduated also with an associate degree in Science from the Community College two weeks earlier and transferred for further studies.
At the stadium to honour Ms Zion Umar were several eminent Nigerians in Diaspora including a one-time Attorney-General of Fiji and his wife, a former World Bank Auditor and his wife and international human rights lawyer, Emmanuel Ogebe and his wife.
Each of them had known Ms Zion’s father, the late Rev. Umar Pama.
In an interesting turn of events, the Nigerian guests included people from the North-East, South-South, North-Central and South-West, giving the contingent a pan-Nigerian colouration.
Also in attendance were an American lawyer, doctor, pastor and retired professor who had all supported Zion in her schooling in California. Incidentally, the retired professor had taught in Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War in the 60s and the pastor had herself been born in Nigeria.
At the end of the ceremony, they lined up next to the Nigerian flag specially hoisted in honour of Zion for photographs.
According to human rights lawyer, Emmanuel Ogebe, “Zion’s feat is historic as the first victim of Boko Haram to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in America.
More amazing is the fact that she did this despite undergoing surgery to her head.
“Boko Haram generally does not directly kill women. While I have seen male victims of gunshots to the head, she’s the first and only female victim I have seen with this type of experience. Yet, from her amazing smile, you could never tell what horrors she’s been through.
“To overcome this and excel academically while adjusting to a foreign country showcases her resilience and is a true manifestation of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.
“For me personally, this day is special because I recall that three years ago on May 30, the Nigerian Embassy sent agents to disrupt the end-of-term activities of the Chibok girls I placed in a school in Washington and took two of them away from the school.
“Till date, those two girls have been unable to achieve even secondary school certificate after three years. But on May 31, 2019, another girl is graduating with a bachelor’s degree,” he said, adding that the Nigerian Government snatched failure from the jaws of success.
“When God wants to vindicate you, he makes a distinction between the children of Israel and the people of Egypt. In three years, the Muhammadu Buhari regime replicated failure while in the same three years, these girls reproduced success.
“I urge people to pray for the girls in the government’s failed programme who are recycling failure that they will not continue to do so throughout Buhari’s tenure and that they will not end up without certificates after all the millions of dollars squandered on them.
“I thank God that the vision he gave me to give them an opportunity to perform in a global space has come to fruition today. The Nigerian government’s effort to steal and sabotage my vision has failed,” Ogebe opined.
According to him, the good book says my people perish for lack of vision “as you can clearly see in the Buhari regime. May those girls be delivered from a visionless and purposeless administration that has held them captive to mediocrity. Money cannot buy brains but nurture, mentorship and a teachable spirit will perform wonders.
“I believe it is a special sign of God’s divine favour and grace that Zion lived with my family and me for the majority of her time in the US. We ate the same food and drank the same water.
“She bonded with my children and my wife helped answer her questions and provided guidance on navigating life in America. My son provided tech support for their computers. For the last girl to come to America to be the first to graduate with a full degree, is a fulfilment of scripture that ‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first.’
“That she lives with me is an added honour from the Lord that we produce champions, not failures. We return all glory to God and appreciate all who helped see her through.
“The season of harvest has come. We sowed in tears and are reaping in joy as we go from glory to glory with one graduation after the other while the non-performing government does what it does best—lies and propaganda. You can’t argue against results!
“My only regret is that no family member from Nigeria was here to witness this glorious day due to visa denial by the US Embassy.
“However, that Zion and a United States Congresswoman shared the same stage to obtain degrees on the same day was a fitting divine blessing for a hardworking, responsible and conscientious young lady,” he noted.
Interestingly, Zion, who was Vice-President of the Honors Society in her community college became a Professor’s assistant in the university and was even grading exams of first-year students.
The university had offered her a postgraduate sponsorship and employment as a lecturer but she declined due to her desire to pursue a medical-related course that would benefit others in the future.
Already, she has been offered admission for postgraduate studies but is evaluating her options.
Mr Ogebe said: “I am thankful that today she has a better education than her peers at home and abroad with a degree that is marketable globally. She has the opportunity and ability to work and earn a living or continue schooling. Zion is a worthy ambassador of her late father who was a senior CAN official in Borno State. Her parents inculcated in her the discipline and work ethic for success.
“As I receive reports of continuing attacks by Boko Haram in Borno, I am glad I made the right choice to provide her with an opportunity in the United States,” Mr Ogebe stated.