Nigerian soldiers razed at least six synagogues run by Jewish adherents of the local Igbo ethnic tribe last week in southern Rivers State, located in Nigeria’s Biafra region, the Jerusalem Post reported on November 14.
Members of the Nigerian Army bulldozed the houses of worship as part of a crackdown on Jewish adherents in the region ordered by Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, the Israeli newspaper reported, citing a 9Africa report from November 7.
“Campaigning for the secession of the former Easter region of Nigeria is a group called the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which is led by an exiled activist named Nnamdi Kanu, who identifies as Jewish. The group has been outlawed,” the Post explained.
The majority of Biafra is populated by members of the Igbo ethnic group, most of whom are Christians. A minority of Igbo identify as Jews. Many of these Jewish adherents are affiliated with the IPOB. The Nigerian government has designated the IPOB an illegal separatist group. Rivers State Governor Wike referred to the IPOB and its affiliates as “terrorists” when ordering the latest crackdown on them earlier this month, according to 9Africa.
“Igbo Jewish adherents who escaped the attack confirmed that two were arrested by the soldiers who besieged Oyigbo, Etche, Iriebe and Eleme, killing at least 50 people after violence erupted in the areas as a result of a youth protest demanding an end to police brutality in Nigeria,” 9Africa reported, referring to Nigeria’s recent “#EndSARS” protests, calling for the shutdown of a police unit widely perceived to be oppressive.
“According to an eyewitness, the two people were arrested on Saturday [November 7] at a synagogue in Iriebe Okpulor for ‘wearing Kippah [Jewish head covering] & Magen [Star of David],” the report stated.
The “#EndSARS” protests began in early October and originally called for the disbandment of the Nigerian Federal Police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) after it was accused of power abuses. The Nigerian government dissolved the SARS unit on October 11, but the protest continued. In several instances, the protests have since given way to violent rioting and looting in cities across Nigeria, stoking pre-existing tensions between various ethnic and religious groups.
IPOB’s leader, Kanu, “called for the release of the two who were arrested, and condemned the attack on the Jewish adherents,” according to 9Africa. Kanu condemned the razing of half a dozen Igbo synagogues in a Twitter statement on November 12, vowing “dire” and “swift” consequences for the act.
— Mazi Nnamdi Kanu (@MaziNnamdiKanu) November 12, 2020
Nigeria’s Biafra region has a volatile history. Under the rule of Igbo nationalists, the secessionist state of Biafra declared independence in 1967, leading to a three-year civil war fought against the Nigerian government. The Nigerian Civil War ended in 1970 following Biafra’s surrender. The conflict killed over a million people.