Nigerian Columbia College pre-med student takes a stand against intolerance.
The armed mob was coming straight at Ambima Hammer Buzhyason. There was no room for escape and no doubting the mob's intent; he was Christian and they another faith, and they were out for blood.
"If I ran, I would have shown fear," says Buzhyason, a Columbia College sophomore from Nigeria who is far more articulate than most American students. He is small in stature but his eloquence fills the room. "Then they might have attacked. I had no fear. I say running is no safety."
Buzhyason walked straight toward the mob. He realized to his shock he knew some of them, and that that would be no safety.
They parted around him and kept going.
"I was not scared because no man can take my life if I do not stray from the path of righteousness," Buzhyason says. "God has ordained how long I will be on this earth, and no man can change that."
The pre-med sophomore from Bogoro, a mountainous, mainly Christian enclave, carries a portentous name. Ambima means innocent in the tongue of his people, the Zaar, or Sayanci; Hammer is not a nickname but the name of his father; his grandfather, a spindly youth, became a blacksmith and the strongest, tallest man in the village, a buzha.
If God didn't like variety, we wouldn't all be here.How he came to placid Columbia College to study biology and chemistry with minors in philosophy and international relations is a long story, but suffice it to say that the local functionaries were not pleased that a Christian boy was awarded a scholarship. While they hemmed and hawed, hinting that a little money might grease the wheels, the American embassy called to offer to guide him through the application process to American universities, and to pay for his ticket to the States.
Buzhyason was accepted by several schools. Columbia College wasn't his first choice; a large private college in Philadelphia was until he realized the scholarship wouldn't even cover half his expenses. He says he knows he made the right choice.
"I feel I am in a place where I can be heard by all. I get personal attention. I can be included, not excluded – in [the private Philadelphia college], I would be one of 540, 550 in the larger classes, so big they have to hold them in amphitheaters! There would no personal time at all with the teacher."
Buzhyason now lives with a host family near Ashland, Mo., just south of Columbia, and appreciates mid-Missouri's low cost of living and tranquility. In the summer that just ended, he didn't party and loaf like many students but read, sometimes up to 10 hours a day. "I like to work ahead of the teacher," he says in his quiet animated voice. "I don't have much time for novels -- politics, science, biology, philosophy, that's what I study. Knowledge never ceases."
He says he needs to study so hard to help his native land. Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with almost 100 million people comprising well over 200 ethnic groups speaking more than 400 dialects in a country more than two and half times the size of California. It has enormous wealth, mostly oil and natural gas, but much of the profits have been diverted to the pockets of the few while the majority suffer in poverty. The military junta was voted out and democracy restored in 1999, but there is still endemic corruption and very little accountability in Nigeria.
Buzhyason is frank about instigating change in Nigeria, and is very active on the Internet -- he has 1,550 Facebook friends. He has also started a peace club at Columbia College. "We will teach nonviolence, harness these new technologies, and reach a wider audience while we prepare students for leadership roles," he says. "I want to get people from different places, different cultures that have seen war, incorporate their worldview and get a philosophical discussion going... To work, think, sleep, anything in life, you need peace. You just can’t function without peace."
Hatred, he says, only creates more hatred. And running away solves nothing, so he is determined to make a difference. He bears no grudges against anyone, he says, prays and tries to model peace every day at church, at home with his host family and on campus.
Today, he says, is important. "What we do today we will be remembered by," he says. "We must learn to share love and peace."