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Nigeria’s Jews Are Getting Caught in a New Separatist War

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By Orji Sunday

The tapping noise from Ima Nwachukwu’s footsteps breaks the solemn silence as the 49-year-old rabbi walks among worshippers draped in white robes, prayer shawls and yarmulkes at a synagogue in Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s third-largest city.

“Remember you are not the only one persecuted. Jews all over the world are,” she tells them.
She bows before the Star of David — ringed by a ribbon of blue light — at the end of a long sermon in which politics, persecution and purification all mingle.

It’s a sermon rooted in a sharpening battle for survival that Nigeria’s small but fast-growing Jewish community faces. Africa’s most populous nation has seen its Jewish population double over the past five years to an estimated 10,000 people.

Synagogues in the country have also doubled in this period, from fewer than 10 to at least 20 today. But now, the community finds itself increasingly caught in a violent battle between Nigerian authorities and a revived secessionist movement for the creation of Biafra, which briefly existed as a separate nation in the 1960s.

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the separatist movement that’s a successor to the earlier Biafra campaign, is led by Nnamdi Kanu, a British-Nigerian political activist who is Jewish. Most of Nigeria’s Jews are from the country’s southeast, which is also the home of the Biafra movement. They largely belong to the Igbo, Nigeria’s third-largest ethnic community, which has formed the base for the separatist campaign since the 1960s. Jewish Nigerian protesters have joined peaceful marches seeking a separate state. And though IPOB doesn’t directly link its demand for a new country to Judaism, Kanu resurfaced in Israel late last year, a year after going underground following raids at his home.

All that has set the stage for increasingly targeted attacks by Nigerian agencies against the Jewish community and its places of worship. More than 50 Jewish worshippers were arrested last December in the southeast state of Abia after they called for a separate Biafra. In January last year, Nigerian police forces raided a synagogue, also in Abia, and arrested two people over alleged links to the IPOB. But according to upset worshippers, they also took away the synagogue’s Torah and the Tanakh. Police raided another synagogue in the state in February. In 2016, an Amnesty International investigation showed that Nigerian forces had killed more than 150 pro-Biafra activists that year.

Nigerian authorities deny any religious-based persecution, insisting that they’re only targeting a terrorist group, the IPOB. But at least 28 Jews were among those killed in 2016, some of them taken from — or shot at in — synagogues and Kanu’s home. The walls of Nwachukwu’s synagogue are pockmarked with bullet holes. And the growing violence against Jews could lead to a chilling effect on the religion’s growth in Nigeria, some leaders fear.

“The synagogue is one of the riskiest places to stay,” says Yermeyahu Chukwukadibi, a Hebrew teacher and rabbi who heads a synagogue in Port Harcourt, in the southeastern River state. “People are afraid of identifying with Jews because of the persecution.”

The origins of Nigeria’s Jews are disputed. Many within the community believe they’re one of Israel’s “lost tribes.” Ancient Jewish scripts suggest communities that existed in North Africa may have spread to West Africa — and Nigeria — several centuries ago, some historians say. “We are not Jews by adoption,” says Abah Enage, a storyteller who is widely considered a custodian of the Jewish tradition in Nigeria. Many non-Jewish members of the Igbo community believe their ancestors too were Jewish and were converted to Christianity during British colonial rule.

Others disagree and suggest that Judaism in Nigeria is a relatively recent 20th-century phenomenon. Paul Obi-Ani, a history professor who is himself Igbo and teaches at the University of Nigeria in the southeast city of Nsukka, says Igbo Jews and the ancient Israelites share “cultural trait resemblances” but that there’s little “established historical evidence” of ancient links.

Where there’s unanimity, though, is over the rapid growth of Nigeria’s Jewish community in recent years — and how that expansion and the Biafra movement have fed into each other. Kanu is a practicing Jew who wears his religion publicly, in his appearances, speeches and public prayers. That, combined with the perceived support he enjoys from Israel — the country hasn’t publicly backed IPOB but didn’t bar Kanu from staying there in exile either — have helped Judaism’s popularity among the Igbo community at a time the Biafra movement has picked up again. Nwachukwu, in fact, appeals to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for help against Nigerian authorities. “He is our leader,” she said. “Let him not forget the seed of his people abroad. We shall — one day — return to Jerusalem, our motherland, one day.”

A comradeship over a shared sense of persecution with Jews — over their history, and not just in Nigeria — also makes the religion attractive to many in the Igbo community as it fights for a separate land, say some analysts. “When you persecute minorities, you give them the opportunity to grow, to become known and to gather sympathies,” says Chikodiri Nwangwu, a political scientist at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Nigeria’s Jews, he says, deserve better. “They are citizens of Nigeria and deserve full right to practice their religion.”

So far, Nigerian authorities have shown no intent to change their approach. In fact, Jewish community leaders say attacks have been getting worse — they point out that there’s been a discernible uptick since U.S. President Donald Trump moved the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2018. Also, authorization requests for peaceful protests are being turned down, they say. Government officials claim that’s to avoid potentially violent clashes, but critics say it’s a way to stop Nigerian Jews from articulating concerns publicly.

Either way, those worries aren’t going anywhere. Not while Nigeria’s Jews are in the crosshairs of authorities battling a separatist movement.

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Faith

Niger Coup: CAN States Position on Military Intervention

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….Position on Military Intervention

Laide Akinboade, Abuja

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has urged the Economic Community Of West Africa States (ECOWAS) not to use military intervention to resolve the current crisis in Niger.

In a recent statement signed by the CAN President, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, the apex Christian association commended President Ahmed Tinubu, and other heads of ECOWAS for their unwavering commitment to discouraging coups d’état and the forceful takeover of power.

“We also applaud their commendable efforts in resolving the crisis currently faced by our neighbours in the Republic of Niger.

“CAN fully recognizes the gravity of the situation in Niger and the importance of upholding democratic principles, peace, and stability within the West African region. We believe that the peaceful resolution of conflicts is vital for the progress and well-being of our nations and our people.

Read Also: Niger Coup: Activate Standby Force, ECOWAS Orders Defence Chiefs  

“We applaud President Ahmed Tinubu for adopting a diplomatic approach in addressing the crisis by sending a high-level delegation, led by the eminent statesman General Abdulsalam Abubakar, to engage with the Nigerien authorities. This diplomatic overture demonstrates President Tinubu’s commitment to peaceful dialogue and his belief in the power of constructive engagement to foster understanding and resolve conflicts.

“Furthermore, we commend the inclusion of the esteemed Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, in the delegation. This representation showcases the unity of purpose and the collaborative spirit of Nigerian leaders, transcending religious and ethnic boundaries to jointly pursue peace in our region.

“CAN also commends the notable efforts of other prominent leaders, who have engaged with the Nigerien authorities in their personal capacities, leveraging private contacts. Their wisdom, experience, and counsel will undoubtedly contribute to the resolution of the crisis in Niger and the restoration of peace and stability in the region

“As an organization deeply committed to promoting justice, peace, and harmony, CAN urges Tinubu, to remain on the path of dialogue and avoid any form of military intervention or measures that would create enmity between the good people of Nigeria and Niger. We firmly believe that the path to lasting peace lies in upholding democratic processes, respecting the sovereignty of nations, and engaging in peaceful dialogue to address grievances and resolve conflicts.

“We implore all stakeholders involved in this matter to embrace peaceful negotiations, exercise restraint, and tirelessly work towards a sustainable resolution of the crisis in Niger. It is crucial to remember that peace is a collective responsibility, and only through joint efforts and unwavering commitment can we build a future of progress, stability, and prosperity for our nations, the statement read.

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Faith

Cleric Urges Tinubu to Ensure Even Resource Distribution

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Tony Obiechina, Abuja

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been urged to inclusively involve all segments of the country in his administration and ensure the equitable distribution of resources to address the citizens’ plight.

Reverend Babatunde Idowu, the District Overseer of Foursquare Gospel Church in Wuse, Abuja, gave this advice during the Church’s 10th District Anniversary.

He emphasized that directing resources appropriately would also help alleviate economic challenges and address the country’s infrastructural decay.

Reverend Idowu acknowledged that the current administration’s economic policy is commendable, but stressed the importance of appointing the right individuals to manage the proceeds from fuel subsidy removal.

He stated that only Nigerians who fear God and are committed to serving the nation should be engaged for such responsibilities.

The Cleric believes that when both leaders and the public act responsibly, divine intervention will lead to the country’s transformation.

Assistant Pastor of Foursquare Utako, Abuja, Mrs. Stella Eniola Huthman, appealed to women to fulfill their responsibilities, set examples, and foster peaceful households.

Pastor Stella Eniola attributed the current moral decline in society to the failure of some women in fulfilling their roles, urging them to contribute positively to building a better nation.

Deacon Samson Olorunda, Chairman of the anniversary committee, stated that the church would persistently pray for divine intervention to address the country’s challenges.

He assured that the church would remain dedicated to promoting peace and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The theme for the week-long program was “Much More Than This,” derived from the book of 2 Chronicles 25:9-10.

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Faith

CAN Raises the Alarm Over Extreme Hardship Faced by Nigerians

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By Laide Akinboade, Abuja

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said that the increasing hardship faced by the majority of Nigerians due to recent hikes in fuel prices, school fees, and other essential expenses ignites worries.

In a statement issued by CAN President, Daniel Okoh, over the weekend, he urged the Federal Government to take immediate measures to alleviate the suffering in the country.

“While we acknowledge the complexities and difficult decisions taken by the government to manage the nation’s economy, there is an urgent need to prioritize measures that will alleviate, rather than exacerbate, the existing poverty level and hardships of Nigerians.

“The recent price hikes have placed an enormous burden on the already struggling masses, making it extremely difficult for them to afford the basic necessities of life,” the CAN President remarked.

He further advised the Federal Government to engage with critical stakeholders in meaningful dialogue to explore sustainable solutions to the current situation.

As part of the recommendations, Okoh stressed the importance of developing comprehensive economic policies that promote inclusive growth, job creation, and social well-being. He urged the government to focus on diversifying the economy, reducing dependency on volatile commodities, and promoting investments in sectors with the potential to create sustainable employment opportunities. These measures, according to him, would not only bolster economic resilience but also enhance the overall well-being of citizens.

“The fuel subsidy palliatives being considered by the government should go beyond cash transfers and should include the introduction of mass transport across states to reduce the cost of transportation. The multiplier effect of this will be profound,” Okoh emphasized.

Additionally, the CAN President called for measures to reduce the price of fuel, including the removal of unnecessary levies and taxes on imported petroleum products, stabilization of the foreign exchange market, and the restoration of local refineries to functional and effective use.

“While we understand that there is no gain without pain, the pain must not be unbearable,” he added.

Appealing to Nigerians to exercise patience with the government, Okoh urged everyone to work together to build an inclusive and resilient economy that offers opportunities for every Nigerian to thrive.

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