The Zebras of Northern Nigeria

The guy in the picture is Abubakar Suleiman, a 15 year-old Boston student whose hobbies apparently include taking condescending local reporters for a ride. When one of the more august organs of the American press, the Boston Globe (founded 1872), came calling this week at his school in Boston’s suburbs (“thousands of miles from the beautiful, ruthless place where he was born”in Nigeria) in order to tell his story, he was only too happy to provide them with some quite remarkable copy. They had clearly come for the whole Coming to America schtick, and that’s exactly what they got. The profile begins in unforgettable style:

Five years ago, Abubakar Suleiman was hunting zebras with spears and trying to avoid antagonizing cheetahs.

He went on to explain to reporter Yvonne Abraham that his childhood spent  hunting zebras in Northern Nigeria had given him the edge in his new school’s javelin competition, in which he had triumphed.

Something didn’t quite add up. A sharp-eyed AIAC reader Bob Blewett got to what we think is the bottom of the mystery on his blog:

Yep, being a spear-chucking, zebra-hunting African gave him a leg up in Massachusetts and now he is at the top of his age group in the javelin.

Problem?  There are no zebra in the wild in Nigeria. (There are zebra on Nigerian postage stamps but that is about selling stamps to collectors, not zebra habitat.)  While it is possible for a cheetah to exist in the savannas of northern Nigeria, this is extremely rare. Humans would frighten, not antagonize, any wild cheetah there.  Besides, hunting is about accuracy; javelin is about distance.

UPDATE: Bob alerted us to the discussion on Yvonne Abraham’s column on Metafilter as well as this correction by Abraham in the Boston Globe today:

After this column ran, I received several notes from readers saying there are no zebras in the Nigerian wild. They’re right. I spoke to the Abubakar Suleiman, and he admitted that the hunting escapades he told me about, stories he told friends and teachers since arriving at the age of 10, were tales he’d heard from an uncle, and not his own. But in conversations with his mother and teachers, the rest of his story checks out. His many remarkable accomplishments in Boston stand.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Novelist Zakes Mda has weighed in on his twitter account. “He’s giving gullible Americans the exotic narrative they crave,” Zakes reckons.



Elliot Ross

Elliot Ross is senior editor at Africa is a Country. He tweets at @africasacountry and @futbolsacountry

  1. I too hunted for food with spears and stone knives in the concrete jungle called Lagos…now I’m in Canada pushing buttons on the soundboard, clearly I possess that hunter’s instinct lacking in most of my colleagues here….hahahaha

  2. surely you could say more about this! what are the youth’s everyday social experiences in school? has he developed this way of responding as a way to resist racist narratives? is he simply a humorist in the making? does he engage in both humor and resistance, or is this something entirely different? this is a great opportunity to shed light on African youths’ experiences in the US and the way they respond to stereotypes. thanks for reading

      1. You did a good job of showing the Boston journalist doesn’t care about that, but we come to this blog because we think you do… Just a friendly suggestion, thanks!

    1. Seriously? Is this the first time you’ve heard of an African immigrant or something? It was a very cool joke, and he sounds like a cool kid. If he’d like to write an autobiography later, I’d read it, OTOH. But don’t gawk, lol!

      1. Wait, I may have misunderstood! I’m American, and I’m responding to the story as an American, so I should say that, lol. Cool kid. I’m sure his friends got a huge kick out of it here :) It’s very funny, and the journalist should have known better if she knows boys that age!

  3. Lol someone did not do their research before publishing a story. Of course the boy was being cheeky and providing the tales craved by the society in which he found himself. Am surprised living in a thatched hut or a tree and rearing cows were not mentioned.

    I can only hope that this furor does not cause trouble at school for the boy, if indeed these tales were already told to his classmates, perhaps these tales were his way of finding a niche for himself and/or standing out? Human beings particularly at his age are very quick to mete out punishment for this sort of silliness in the form of ostracism or bullying. I hope he is alright now that the “lies” are out.

    1. I bet his friends loved it! American 40-year-old here who knows kids (in the Southeast/ Mid-Atlantic states, anyway). That sort of sense of humor will make him very popular in the US. The teachers might not like it, lol. And I’m sure the New England journalist was quite angry. Hee hee. It’s very funny! He sounds lovely.

  4. “Problem? There are no zebra in the wild in Nigeria.” …Not anymore there isn’t ;-) (rimshot)

Mailing List

Sign up for email updates!


Not the continent with 54 countries

©Africa is a Country, 2016