Updated: March 4, 2021
In his first televised interview in Israel where he resurfaced after he disappeared in 2017, the leader of the Indigenous People’s of Biafra, a separatist movement in Southeastern Nigeria, Mr Nnamdi Kanu, has told an Israeli television that there are 50 million Igbos who all practice Judaism.
Kanu told the television host that all Igbos are Jews and are actively practicing Judaism. He put that figure at 50 million.
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He said the fear for many people is to see Igbos fully return to Judaism. He said with the arrival of Christianity, the Igbo Jewish heritage was “suppressed” and Igbos were made to feel ashamed of their Jewish heritage.
Asked what he wanted for his people, he said he wanted an independent Jewish state for the Igbo nation.
Some of his declarations may shock many people who live and work with Igbos every day and might never have noticed any Jews amongst them.
There was a civil war between 1967 and 1970 when the Igbo ethnic group tried to secede from Nigeria, citing injustices. At least one million Igbos are said to have died, mainly from starvation.
The Igbos lost the war but in recent years, Nnamdi Kanu launched a radical online radio station and named it radio Biafra, calling for independence.
Igbos have said their independent country is known as the Republic of Biafra.
Radio Biafra station gained popularity in 2014 and 2015, and Mr Kanu traveled from his base in London to Nigeria to lead the break up following grievances that saw Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner lose the presidency to Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner.
Kanu and his followers staged many protests in Igboland and security forces reacted ruthlessly.
After some Igbo activists took up arms against the state and formed their own paramilitary forces, President Buhari sent the military to reestablish law and order.
The family compound of Kanu was raided and several people were said to have been killed. At first, it seemed as if Kanu was also dead, but after a silent year away, he reemerged in Israel last month praying.
Some of the information he gave the television host seemed to be a bit exaggerated. In Igboland, most people seem to be Christian and Catholic not Jews.
Igbos are often called the Jews of Africa because of their hard work, creativity and ability to survive difficult situations, and not because they practice Judaism.
Sunday in Igboland and other parts of Nigeria is a day spent in Catholic parishes for millions of Igbo.
Nnamdi Kanu has been trying to seek help from the Israeli government, but Nigeria had warned that his continued presence in Istael may endanger diplomatic relations between both countries.
Igbo is Southeastern Nigeria had long complained about injustices done to them by various Nigerian administrations, but the rest of the country has argued that Igbos were even better off than them.