Nigeria’s Mysterious Igbo Population

There are a number of positive things that could be reported about Nigeria that rarely makes international headlines.

Last year marked their 20th anniversary under their current Constitution, which was the 4th to come along following independence. It was not expected to last more than 3 years, yet almost no western news agencies mentioned the remarkable continuation of democratic government in Nigeria.

Since their independence from Britain, those 4 Constitutions do not include much of what happened prior to 1999. As an article in New African pointed out in 2013, at a time when there were discussions about creating another Constitution, “During those 29 years, various military juntas simply dispensed with the national constitutions… civilian politicians who ruled during the 24 years of democracy… number of constitutions that they either used or tried to write has broken the world record, an average of one constitution for every three years in government”

Nigerian President Buhari is a strong supporter of their national space agency, which launched its first satellite into space in 2003, is on track to launch a Nigerian into space within the next 10 years. Their accomplishments to reach this point have been largely ignored by much of the western press.

About a decade ago, Nigeria surpassed South Africa as the country with the highest GDP in all of Africa. It was written off as a fluke and would never be able to continue the trend. 2019 showed Nigeria had 60 billion in US dollars GDP than South Africa, which remains in second place. South Africa never came close to retaking the lead from Nigeria.

Among all the positives that I could focus on, the one that draws my attention the most is the Igbo people. Among the Igbo people are a group of Jews who have been living there for at least 1500 years. The oral traditions of the origin have them living in Nigeria considerably longer.

Oral tradition of the Igbo people states they originated from a divine man by the name of Eri. Igbo Jewish tradition states Eri was the son of Gad, who was one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Others claim they descended from Asher, Dan and Naphtali as well as Gad.

It is possible they are descended from one of the lost tribes, most likely Gad. When the Assyrians scattered the 10 tribes, the odds were great that they would have been sent in different directions. The likelihood of more than 1 tribe reaching the land that would eventually become Nigeria, is highly unlikely to have happened.

There is something even more striking beyond the possibility of a lost tribe living in Nigeria, which is an amazing thing to consider in and of itself. They are the fastest growing Jewish population in all of Africa.

In June of 2019, the Jerusalem Post reported, “thousands of Nigerian Jews constitute the fastest growing Jewish community on the continent, with new synagogues regularly sprouting up to join the dozens already thriving.” When most people think of Jews in Africa, they do not think of terms like thriving communities.

They represent about 18% of the Nigerian population, making them the third largest ethnic group in the country. They are respected far more under the current government than any of the previous ones that existed prior to 1999. Jewish synagogues can be found in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. There is a Chabad House in Abuja and do not hide their location out of fear. 50 years ago, no Igbo would have ever believed it was possible.

In 1965, the Igbo people represented 25% of the population of Nigeria. Between 1966 – 1970, an attempted genocide took place resulted in atrocities reminiscent of what the National Socialists had attempted to do to the Jews. An article by Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe that appeared in Pambazuka News in 2012 marked just how similar it was, “Its military officers, the police, Hausa-Fulani emirs, Muslim clerics and intellectuals, civil servants, journalists, politicians and other public figures planned and executed the Igbo genocide… Africa’s most devastating genocide of the 20th century… 3.1 million Igbo people, a quarter of this nation’s population at the time, were murdered.”

50 years ago, Nigeria was a very different country than it is today. There was no Israeli Embassy, just as there were no Synagogues. Anti-Semitism ran rampant throughout the country.

One does not need to go back 50 years to find a Nigerian government less than friendly towards Israel for being a Jewish state. The two countries may have had some relations without an Embassy in either country, but Nigeria severed all ties, no matter how limited, with Israel following the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

It would not be until 1992 that formal relations became a reality. The following year is when both countries opened Embassies. There has not been a return of hostility towards Israel or the Jewish, including Igbo, people since.

More than 50 Israeli companies have invested in infrastructure projects in Nigeria, while Nigeria has become one of the top 20 countries to import Israeli goods. Boko Haram is a common enemy of both Nigeria and Israel, which should have strengthened ties. Nigeria’s recent history has shown support for Israel in the United Nations yet voted against Israel and the United States when joining the majority in claiming moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem would lead to violence.

The Nigerian government could have shown courage by not just voting with the United States and Israel, but been among the first to move their Embassy to Jerusalem. Their Embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

The Igbo people experienced their own diaspora 50 years ago. Those people have gone on to become doctors, engineers, scientists, etc. throughout the world. Igbo scientists can be found in NASA and the European Space Agency. For a Nigerian to be sent into space within 10 years, it must come from the help of the Igbo people who can fill much of the brain drain Nigeria is experiencing today.

Conditions have improved for the Igbo, both Jewish and gentile, but there are other steps that can be taken to continue to drive Nigeria into the future. Bringing Igbo scientists and engineers from other countries back to Nigeria would signal a bright future for all Nigerians.

About the Author
Bob Ryan is a science-fiction author and believes the key to understanding the future is to understand the past. As any writer can attest, he spends a great deal of time researching numerous subjects. He is someone who seeks to strip away emotion in search of reason, since emotion clouds judgement. Bob is an American with an MBA in Business Administration. He is a gentile who supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
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