Nigeria’s Jews Are Getting Caught in a New Separatist War
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.
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.
Catholic Church Kicks against Rumours, urges Politicians to Respect Sacred Lines
The Catholic Diocese of Warri on Saturday, appealed to political actors in Delta to respect the sacred lines as they go about their campaigns.
The Parish Priest of St. Jude’s Catholic Church, Effurun, Delta, the Very Rev. Fr. Mark Ikeke made the appeal in a statement issued in Warri.
The church was responding to rumours that Sen.
Ikeke declared that Omo-Agege is not only a Christian, but a baptised, practicing and dedicated member of the Catholic Church.
“Our attention has been drawn to a rumour that one of our parishioners, Sen.Omo-Agege, the Deputy President of the Senate is not a Christian.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Sen. Omo-Agege is a baptised, practicing and dedicated member of the Roman Catholic Church.
“He is a member of and a communicant in St. Jude’s Catholic Church, Government Reservation Area, Effurun in Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta,’’ Ikeke said.
He added that the church recognises that this is an election season and encourages political leaders and their supporters to strive to uphold decorum, respect sacred lines and show love to all in their campaigns.
According to him, the sole purpose of the press statement is to encourage decorum and uphold the truth regarding Sen. Omo-Agege’s religious identity.
“We hope and pray that our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ should thoroughly guide our actions and inactions,’’ he added. (NAN)
Lent: Priest Preaches Forgiveness for Improved Christian Life
The Catholic Priest in charge of Holy Spirit Church, Onireke, Lagos, Rev. Fr. Anthony Okereke, has urged Christians to imbibe the spirit of forgiveness for spiritual growth.
Okereke, a Soul Revival and Healing Gospel Preacher, made the call while celebrating an early morning Lent Mass on Saturday.
He said the essence of the mass was to reposition Christian faithful to partake in the blessings of the Lent season.
The priest said the Lent seasons should be used by Christians to atone for their sins and be better positioned to communion with God.
Okereke said that the season was an important period in the life of every Christian, adding, ”it’s a time to make peace with God and humans”.
”The fasting and prayers that we undertake during Lent will be meaningless if we still harbour acrimonies against our neigbhours.
”If we expect God to forgive us of our misdeeds, we must first forgive those who have wronged us.
”We must remember that God created man in His own image and likeness, so we must begin to make peace with your fellow humans,” he said.
The catholic clergy further urged Christians not to relent in praying for national unity, peace and development.
”If there is a man to pray, there is God to answer. Let us use the Lent season to seek the face of God,” he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Lent is a 40-day period of fasting and prayer which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar.
The 2023 Lent season which began on Feb. 22, would end on April 6.(NAN)
Catholic Archbishop Tasks Christians on Unity, Cooperation
Catholic Archbishop of Calabar, Most Rev. Joseph Ekuwem, on Sunday at the FCT urged Christians to shun divisions in the body of Christ and embrace unity for national development.
Ekuwem made the call at the 2023 annual Lecture and Merit Award of the National Missionary Seminary of St.Paul in Gwagwalada.
The lecture was entitled: “Missionary Cooperation and Integral Development’’.
Ekuwem said the essence of the lecture was to reposition the Church and its members on its outreach and services to people within and outside the Church, especially in Nigeria.
According to him, the greatest achievement of the Church is not about structure and properties acquired, but consistent drive on evangelism and converting people to Christianity through words, prophetic impartation and counselling.
“Being Missionary implies bringing the good news of salvation to the people by preaching the proclamation among those who have not known Jesus Christ.
“People of God are expected to cooperate with one another in the exercise of missionary activities for an effective realisation of the mission of Christ entrusted to them.
“The aim is to examine the concept of mission and missionary cooperation and its theological and missiological ramifications, theological principles for missionary activities and apply them for integral development,’’ he said.
Missiology is the academic study of the Christian mission history and methodology. It began to be developed as an academic discipline in the 19th century.
Ekuwem enjoined Christian leaders and their congregations to always examine issues that promoted cooperation and better understanding among different denominations in Nigeria.
He noted that: “where there is unity there is progress’’ and stressed that Christians should walk together in love and purity as it would assist in national development.
In his address, Mr Hyacinth Ichoku of Veritas University, Abuja, said the Church, as an agent of peace, reconciliation and healing has to contribute in addressing the political, cultural, ethnic and other fractures within Nigeria.
He said theologians must begin to think of adopting the approach of social scientists, if they were to address fully, the limitations of human responses in the society.
Ichoku emphasised the need for denominations to jettison competition among themselves and embrace cooperation.
“We should emphasise things that will unite the Church and shun things that can divide us,’’ he stressed. (NAN)
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