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.
Goodwill Messages as Benue Speaker Takes Wife to Altar
From David Torough, Makurdi
The Speaker, Benue State House of Assembly and the Gubernatorial Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) for next year’s election, Engr Titus Uba on Saturday took his wife, Paulina to the Altar of God at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, Sachi in Makurdi, the state Capital.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom in a goodwill message at the wedding reception in honour of the couple said Uba has the capacity to effectively Govern the state.
He stated that the PDP candidate’s humility was a virtue that all great leaders possess.
The Governor explained that Engineer Uba has excelled in his professional career and as a politician, having presided over one of the most successful assembly across the states of the federation, would replicate his performance as Governor of Benue.
He congratulated Engineer Uba and his wife, Pauline for consummating their union in the Lord and called on the people to pray for them as well as other marriages to succeed.
The Governor who prayed God to bless the union also asked Him to grant their heart desires and ambitions, adding that as a humble couple, God will lift them to the exalted position of the number one family of the state.
Chairman of the occasion, Senator Gabriel Suswam and the Head of Service, Mrs. Veronica Onyeke who served as the Chairlady, urged the couple to stick to the vows they made to each other and always look unto God for solutions to their challenges to have a successful union.
In their goodwill messages, wife of the Governor, Dr. Eunice Ortom, represented by Mrs. Monica Ugela, wife of PDP National Chairman, Mrs. Iyorchia Ayu, Wife of the Tor Tiv, HRM, Felicia Ayatse and Tor Jechira, Chief Clement Uganden, advised the couple to imbibe the spirit of forgiveness to have a blissful marriage.
The State Deputy Governor, Engineer Benson Abounu, other members of the state executive and security councils, leadership of the PDP at both the state, zonal and national levels as well as other dignitaries across the state witnessed the wedding ceremony.
Pastor Who Anointed me in 1992 to be Governor Rejected New Car Gift from me-Ortom
From Vincent Nyinongu, Makurdi
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom has recounted how Rev Samuel Alaha, who annointed him in 1992 to be governor of the state rejected a car gift from him when he eventually became governor.
Governor Ortom made this disclosure Sunday, January 23, 2022 as the guest preacher at Faithway Gospel Ministries, Gboko, with the theme, ‘Help from Above.
The Governor explained that after the prophecy by Rev. Alaha had been fulfilled and he became Governor in 2015, he visited the pastor and presented the new car in appreciation.
According to the Governor, even though Rev Alaha received the gift on the spot, “he called after few days to inform him that he appreciated the offer but begged to return it because he did not find it necessary.”
Governor Ortom described Rev Alaha as a committed and true man of God whom he knew since 1980 for his zeal and commitment in service to God, pointing out that as Governor, he is determined to executing God’s counsel to people of the state at all times.
Governor Ortom who took his text from Thessalonians 5:18 and Philippians 4:6, enjoined the congregation to be thankful for the air they breathe, stressing that whatever one passes through is a route to greatness.
He admonished the congregation to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and assured that “all other things will be added onto you.”
Governor Ortom also called on Christians to go back to the time when there was love towards one another “as it used to be in the past when we became Christians. True brotherly love is lacking today that is why there seems to be conflict all the times.”
Touching on the unity in the family, the governor told couples to begin to show love towards one another to celebrate accommodation, tolerance and faith in God.
Guest Speaker at the occasion and member representing Gboko-Tarka at the House of Representatives, Rt Hon John Dyegh appreciated Governor Ortom for being kind to Gboko saying he has done for Gboko what no governor had done since the creation of Benue.
The Federal Lawmaker testified that in 1993 after serving as Council Chairman of Guma, Governor Ortom gave out his only car and house to God, an action that generated much pressure from close family members and the Church decided to return his house to him.
During the Church service, the General Overseer of Faithway Prophetic Ministries, Rev Samuel Alaha and other ministers of God prayed for the Governor, the state and all political aspirants in Benue.
Crossover Night: FCT Imposes 50 Per cent Hall Capacity for Churches, Nightclubs
By Laide Akinboade, Abuja
The Federal Capital Territory Administration ( FCTA) on Wednesday, insisted that all religious and social gatherings must be limited to 50 per cent of the hall capacity and urged all worship centres planning an elaborate New Year eve religious rituals, popularly known as ” Crossover Night ” to obey instituted authorities and adhere strictly to the recommended preventive measures and health guidelines.
In an interview with newsmen in Abuja, the Senior Special Assistant to the FCT Minister on Monitoring, Inspection and Enforcement Ikharo Attah, said the surge in new cases of COVID-19 was alarming, and the administration would not fold it’s arms and watch the situation go from bad to worse.
He also said that the ban on nightclubs and other social gatherings where physical distancing and non-pharmaceutical protocols cannot be achieved, remained in force.
He further disclosed that on December 26 alone the city recorded an alarmingly disturbing 806 new cases, while on the December 27 the new cases were 57.
Attah noted that on Tuesday December 28, 80 new cases were recorded in the nation’s capital, and that there must be government and all stakeholders’ effective collaboration to tackle the pandemic.
According to him, FCT ministers had at different occasions met with religious leaders and other stakeholders, creating synergy against the deadly pandemic, and also reiterating their commitments to keeping Abuja safe and secured.
While he appealed to religious leaders and residents to ensure complete compliance with all the Covid-19 guidelines issued by the Health and Human Services Secretariat last week, he noted that enforcement team would be mobilized to track down violators who will be made to face the laws of the land.
He added that the administration will continue to do everything necessary to have a healthy and prosperous capital city that is free from diseases and all manners of anti-social elements in the New Year.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control (NCDC) disclosed yesterday that Delta State topped the country’s daily COVID-19 chart on Tuesday with 194 out of the 599 cases recorded. The NCDC made this known on website on Wednesday morning.
The centre said the 194 cases were recorded from December 13 to December 27.
The Centre said the 599 cases on Tuesday showed another decline from the 859 registered on Monday.
The NCDC also said that Lagos State reported three COVID deaths, raising its death toll from 757 to 760.
The agency also said Lagos reported 35 cases on Tuesday while Ondo has 23.
Others are Edo-94, FCT-80,Kaduna – 48, Kano (21), Rivers (20), Kwara (20), Ogun (18), Plateau (12), Abia (8), Cross River (8), Ekiti (6), and Bauchi (3).
The NCDC noted that the pandemic has claimed 3,027 lives across the country since the outbreak in 2020.
It added that Nigeria now has 239,010 COVID-19 cases.
The NCDC stated that 213,180 have so far been treated and discharged.
The agency said that as of Tuesday , the number of active cases in the country increased to 22, 803, from 22,586 on Monday.
The NCDC said that 3,823,309 people have been tested for the virus.
It added that a multi-sectoral national emergency operations centre, activated at Level II, continues to coordinate the national response activities. NAN
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