29 October 2018
Nnamdi Kanu, the fugitive leader of separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was interviewed on Kan 11, Israel’s state-owned TV station yesterday, and he had a few things to say that may not go down well among his Igbo brethren that he claims he wants to liberate from Nigeria.
Kanu, who has been missing since the army raided his compound in Afaraukwu, Abia State in September last year, told his interviewer that there are about 70m Biafrans scattered all over the world. This could well be true, but no one can say for sure. He then said about 50m of those Biafrans identify with their “Jewish heritage”. This is a very questionable claim. There is no evidence that a majority of Igbos, who make up the bulk of the area Kanu claims should be Biafra self-identify as Jews or believe they have anything to do with Israel.
Watch the interview below:
Kanu went on to claim that a “significant number of them practise Judaism”. Again, this doesn’t reflect reality. Igbos of the Jewish faith are a fringe group and an educated guess would put them in the low thousands. The overwhelming majority of Igbos are of the Christian faith – which Kanu put down, rightly, to British colonial conquest. But the claim that they were practising Judaism before the British arrived is tenuous, to say the least.
Some Igbo customs and traditional religious practices such as male circumcision mirror Jewish traditions, but many other African cultures also circumcised male children. Kanu claimed that in “Arochukwu, where we come from”, there is evidence of the practice of Judaism. There would be similarities, but the majority of Igbo subgroups viewed the Aros in pre-colonial times as “foreigners” from present-day Cross River State. As Kenneth Dike and Felicia Ekejiuba noted in their book, The Aro of South-eastern Nigeria, 1650-1980: A Study of Socio-Economic Formation and Transformation in Nigeria, “Even though the Aro are now considered Igbo ethnically and administratively they have not always been so regarded”. Kanu may ancestrally be an Aro, but he shouldn’t claim that was where the Igbos came from.
Kanu then argued that many Israelis may not consider Biafrans as Jews for fear that 70m of them would want to move to Israel for a better life. He said Biafrans were seeking their own homeland to return there and not move to Israel. They wanted to establish an “independent Jewish state in Africa”. The trouble with this claim is that many Igbos, perhaps the majority, do not want to be Jews and no intention of becoming Jews. Unless Kanu had forced conversions in mind.
He then told the story of how he escaped the military attack of his home that he claimed intended to kill him, but killed 28 other people in and around his compound. He said he was “evacuated and smuggled out of Nigeria”. He needed time to recover from injuries sustained and then “make my way” to Israel.
Kanu also claimed that he was “relieved” to be in Israel because it was the only place he could “feel safe in the whole world”. He didn’t feel it was safe for him to return to Britain. He is a dual Nigerian and British national and lived in London before he was arrested during a visit to Nigeria in October 2015.
When questioned what he wanted from the Israeli government, he responded that they should “live up to the obligations to defend Judaism and the Jewish faith”. He then added that Israel had a “moral responsibility to make sure Biafra stands as an independent entity in Africa”.
As he signed off, the interviewer thanked Kanu and inadvertently showed that he wasn’t convinced by the person that claimed to be a Jew. Kanu was referred to as “Nnamdi Kanu from the Igbo people in Biafra”. Perhaps the interviewer felt that, if it looks like an Igbo, talks like an Igbo, it can’t possibly be a Jew.