Modern-Day Moses: Nnami Kanu

A prisoner of conscience

Nnami Kanu is the Jewish leader of a Nigerian separatist movement that aims to create an independent state of Biafra where Jews and other religious minorities in Africa can live freely. For his relentless activism on behalf of his tribe, he has been locked in a dungeon in horrific conditions for almost a year.

Nnami Kanu’s activist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), calls for independence for the Igbo tribe in Nigeria. Biafra is a territory in SE Nigeria that seceded in 1967 and for three years was a sovereign nation. Biafra was recognized by some countries in Africa and Europe, and received aid from multiple organizations. In response to Biafra’s declaration of independence, the Nigerian government instituted a complete blockade, which caused mass starvation and the death of almost 2 million Biafran civilians (3/4 of them small children.) Biafra sits on a huge oil reserve, which is why Nigeria is so determined to prevent the area from seceding.

Most Igbo are Christian, but there is a sizable minority, incluing Nnami’s family, who practice Judaism and consider themselves descendants of one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Nnami was born to royal lineage in Umuahia, Nigeria in 1967, and attended the University of Nigeria, where he studied political economics. Before graduating he moved to the UK where he focused on activism and advocacy for the Biafrans. He started Radio Biafra in 2009 and, broadcasting from London, raised awareness for the cause. Nnamdi’s goal is an independent republic for the Igbo people where Jews and other religious minorities can worship freely.

Nnamdi founded IPOB in 2014. The next year he was a featured speaker at the World Igbo Congress held in Los Angeles. He delivered a fiery speech urging the Igbo to take up arms against the oppressive Nigerian government. When he returned to Nigeria, he was abducted by the secret police and arraigned on charges of “criminal conspiracy, intimidation and membership in an illegal organization.” His detention sparked protests throughout Igbo areas of Nigeria, and he was granted bail for unspecified health reasons. Many believe he was released to end the disruptive public protests, but persecution of IPOB activists intensified. Nigerian security forces conducted a horrific campaign against Igbo who had attended the protests in support of Nnamdi. Extrajudicial executions took the lives of over 150 peaceful protestors between August 2015 and August 2016, including 60 people killed within two days.

Igbo Jews call Nnamdi a “modern-day Moses.” He is determined to keep fighting until Biafra becomes an independent Jewish state. The current flag features a blue Magen David (Jewish star.) Inspired by the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi, Nnamdi said “I hope that what we are looking for can be achieved peacefully. I am an advocate of passive resistance” to achieve the “restoration of Biafra.”

Nnamdi’s home was raided by the military in 2017 and 28 Igbo were murdered that day. Their leader was not seen publicly for a year, with rumors flying that he was abducted by the government. He resurfaced in Israel and over the next few years continued his advocacy on behalf of Igbo freedom and a Jewish state in Biafra. He organized a paramilitary organization to defend the Igbo against bandits, and the Nigerian government used this as an excuse to label the IPOB a “terrorist organization.” Nnamdi was kidnapped in Kenya in June 2021 and extradited to Nigeria, where he stood trial for “terrorism, treason, involvement with a banned separatist movement, inciting public violence through radio broadcasts, and defamation of Nigerian authorities through broadcasts.” He pled not guilty.

Despite widespread protests, Nnamdi was convicted by a kangaroo court and thrown into a Nigerian dungeon, where he remains to this day. In almost a year he has not been given a change of clothes, medical treatment or sufficient food. Equally painful to him is the spiritual persecution; he has not been allowed to pray with a yarmulke, tallis (prayer shawl) or siddur (prayer book.) He has no release date, and it’s been difficult for him to communicate with the outside world. We pray that Nnamdi Kanu will be released very soon, and may he find success in his mission of making Biafra a free Jewish state.

You can help stop this ongoing atrocity by writing to your legislator, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, or any human rights organization. Most people know nothing about this tragic situation so let’s help get the word out!

For his brave activism on behalf of his tribe, we honor Nnamdi Kanu as this week’s Thursday Hero.

Meet other inspiring heroes!

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