Bruce Mayrock and the Hebrew Roots of the Free Biafra Movement

Bruce Mayrock

When 20-year-old Bruce Mayrock set himself on fire in front of the UN Building on the 30th of May 1969 to protest the world’s silence in relation to the Biafran genocide, little did he know he would be the most publicized non-Igbo activist to be killed during the 3 year Biafran struggle for independence from Nigeria.  The struggle ended in loss. Millions of Biafrans, mostly Igbo were systematically killed at the hands of their enemies.   Women and children were raped, tortured, killed, and starved to death. Nigeria was aided by the British and the Americans through a blockade, which prevented needed supplies from reaching Biafra.

It is doubtful that Mayrock attached a Jewish connection between himself and the Biafran struggle. In those days the Hebrew roots of the Igbo were fairly unknown in the West.  Mayrock was doing as a Jew what he felt was right. But like all things there are some cosmic connection to Bruce Mayrock’s immolation.

We now know that before the British and other European countries colonised, enslaved, and missionized the West Coast of Africa, tribes like the Igbo had a plethora of Hebrew practices and still retain obviously Jewish practices. Many of these have surfaced in recent years: brit milah (circumcision), chupah (wedding canopy), ritual slaughter, separation of meat and milk, day of rest, and many more. Many practices were forcibly suppressed by European missionaries, with those same missionaries telling the Igbo that they were pagans.

The Biafra struggle has many facets to it.  One of the most fascinating is the struggle has awoken the ancient connection of the Igbo and many of the other smaller tribes around them to their connection the people of Israel.  The free Biafra movement is as much about spiritual and cultural freedom as it is about political independence.

Understanding for a moment that 60% of African-American have Igbo ancestry, it is not by accident that the power structure in America wanted to drive a wedge between the civil rights movment and the Jewish community.

As the awareness is spreading that the Igbo and Jews are actually long-lost brethren, both enslaved and abused by European and Arab cultures, the immolation of Bruce Mayrock takes on a far more powerful iconic symbol than ever. Understanding for a moment that 60% of African-American have Igbo ancestry, it is not by accident that the power structure in America wanted to drive a wedge between the civil rights movement and the Jewish community. These forces are essentially the same forces that have created separate narratives between the Igbos and Jews keeping the first from recovering the roots stolen from them and the latter from embracing their lost brothers and sisters. These lost brothers and sisters in America may just be some of the very same African-American neighbors Jews regarded as outside of the Hebrew National consciousness.

Bruce Mayrock maybe have killed himself, but his immolation revealed the deep despair that was occurring in his heart, witnessing another genocide of a Hebrew people, so shortly after the European Holocaust.  Freeing Biafra and the Igbo from their cultural, spiritual, and political occupation is a cause the Jewish world must take on themselves both as a rectification of the past and a need to restore a more complete Israelite and Jewish nation.

How Israel can help stop the genocide of the Igbo in Nigeria

By mid-1945 when the Allied Forces had helped to liberate the last vestiges of the German occupation of Europe and end the atrocious concentration camps and gas chambers in Auschwitz and other locations, more than 6 million European Jews had been murdered in the genocide which became known as the Holocaust or the Shoah. The extent and ramifications of this evil boggled the mind of every decent and civilized person and society around the world. But the deed had been done and the only reasonable option left for our collective humanity was this all-important resolve: “Never Again.” The international community resolved from then onwards that as a collective and as individual nations, societies and peoples around the world, we can all make efforts and contribute all we can to help prevent, stop and punish all crimes against humanity, including genocides anywhere it is taking place in the world. Today 2016, there is an ongoing genocide of Igbo people in Nigeria. And it is the responsibility of all people everywhere to help stop it and punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime.

Since the last 15 years the agitation for the reestablishment of the State of Biafra has gained traction. For most observers who remember the events that led to the declaration of an independent State of Biafra on May 30, 1967, almost fifty years ago, this current agitation does not come to them as a surprise. It has always been expected. Frederick Forsyth, the British author who witnessed the Nigerian genocide of the Igbo in the 1960s made this observation in his 1968 book on the subject; The Biafra Story: The Making of an African Legend:

What had started as a belief was transmuted to total conviction; that they could never again live with Nigerians. From this stems the primordial political reality of the present situation. Biafra cannot be killed by anything short of total eradication of the people who make her. For even under total occupation Biafra would sooner with or without Colonel Ojukwu, rise up again.” (Emeka Ojukwu led the Biafran resistance against genocide and the often reminisced Biafran revolution.)

By the time the Igbo Genocide ended in 1970, 3.5 million Biafrans of which 3.1 million were Igbo, had been murdered by Nigerians with help from the Arab League as spearheaded by Egypt which supplied, pro bono the pilots who bombed only civilian targets in Biafra. The British government and USSR (today’s Russia being the successor state) supplied the bomber jets, the speed boats and other arms that enabled the genocidal Nigerian state to carry out an effective blocked of Biafra during the siege. Of the total deaths, more than 2 million died from starvation resulting from the economic blocked.

While the atrocity against the Igbo was going on in the west coast of Africa; in faraway New York in the United States, in the Spring of 1968, a particularly significant lone-conscientious protest of the evil took place. On the first anniversary of the Biafran resistance a young orthodox Jewish student of the Columbia University, Bruce Mayrock after writing hundreds of letters to world leaders to help stop the genocide to no avail, then chose to set himself afire on the premises of the United Nations protesting the genocide of Biafrans. He died a few hours later at the hospital from the wounds he sustained from the fire. The sign he had with him at the UN compound read: “Please help stop the genocide of 9 million Biafrans.” That sign is as current today 2016 as it was half a century ago when Mayrock first displayed it.

With the persistent state murders of Igbo people in Nigeria by government agents, the State of Israel and its citizens and other humanitarian minded people around the world today can still help to stop the continued genocide of the Igbo in Nigeria. As this is being written the government of the State of Israel continues to do business with the genocidal Nigerian state; cooperating closely with Nigeria’s security agencies as well as in other sectors of its economy. The government and policy makers in Israel can help stop the ongoing genocide of the Igbo today by boycotting all dealings with the Nigerian government. For a democratic and progressive state like Israel doing business with a genocidal state like Nigeria is nothing different from the state sponsorship of state terrorism, human rights violation and genocide. On another hand, it can be compared to any responsible or civilized state in the 1930s and early 40s aiding, abating and being complicit with Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany.

An independent State of Biafra became inevitable in mid-1967 because of the ethnic and religious cleansing of the Igbo population in 1966 by the people and government of Nigeria. The massacre in which 100,000 Igbo and other easterners were killed between May 29, 1966 and May 30, 1967, is also known as the 1966 Pogrom. It was a government organized and executed purge of the Nigerian country through massacres, looting and expulsion of its Igbo population. This systematic elimination of a people based on their ethnic and religious classification by a national government was led by the Nigeria military dictator Yakubu Gowon. It was aimed at cleansing the Nigerian society of all traces of Igbo people whom the others had come to hate and loath for being “too enterprising, dominating all aspects of the society and unwilling to adopt the Islamic way of worship.”

After the Igbo and other easterners had been expelled from Nigeria, more than 3 million of them were displaced. They went back to their ancestral homeland, and in an effort to protect and preserve what was left of their battered lives, they chose the path of Self Determination and independence. They unilaterally declared a sovereign independent state which they called Republic of Biafra. Upon this declaration, the Nigerian state wedged a war of aggression against the Biafran state. The Nigerian state had two clearly declared intentions on embarking on that misadventure of aggression. One, they wanted to capture Biafra land for the Islamic caliphate of Sokoto and convert the oil wealth in the Biafran homeland. Secondly, they wanted to exterminate the entire adult population of Biafra and convert Igbo children to Islam.    

It was these and other factors that led states like Tanzania to choose to stand by Biafrans’ decision to choose to die fighting for their freedom. After Biafra was declared independent, the State of Tanzania clearly understood that it was only an independent sovereign state, separate from Nigeria that could help stop the genocide of Biafrans. Tanzania quickly recognized and advocated for Biafra’s right to self-determination and independence. In April of 1968 the Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere declared his country’s support for Igbo survival in these immutable and timeless indisputable words:


“Tanzania has recognized the State of Israel and will continue to do so because of its belief that every people must have some place in the world where they are not liable to be rejected by their fellow citizens. But the Biafrans have now suffered the same kind of rejection within their state that the Jews of Germany experienced. Fortunately, they already had a homeland.

“They have retreated to it for their own protection, and for the same reason – after all other efforts had failed – they have declared it to be an independent state. In the light of these circumstances, Tanzania feels obliged to recognize the setback to African unity which has occurred. We therefore recognize the State of Biafra as an independent sovereign entity, and as a member of the community of nations. Only by this act of recognition can we remain true to our conviction that the purpose of society, and of all political organization, is the service of Man.”

With the current political and social events in Nigeria, and with the renewed mass killings of the Igbo by Nigerian state agents, Nyerere’s words could have been spoken in April of 2016. An independent state of Biafra is still as valid in 2016 as it was in 1966. For some Biafrans like Col. Joe Achuzia, Biafra was defeated in 1970 but was not surrendered. Achuzia as part of Biafrans who negotiated peace with the Nigerian authority at the end of the war, insists that Biafrans did not submit to Nigeria any instrument of surrender or any such thing like Biafra’s insignia and symbols. The import of Achuzia’s claims is that what Biafrans negotiated with Nigeria in 1970 was cessation of hostilities or an armistice but not the sovereignty, the right to independence and the right to self-determination of the people of Biafra.

After fifty years and with the continuation of the systematic elimination and marginalization of Igbo people in Nigeria, the time is now ripe for the Biafran people – the Igbo, to reclaim their sovereignty and independence from Nigeria. Therefore, it is necessary to note that in this renewed all-important life and death effort, the Igbo will appreciate the help and support of all well-meaning individuals and states like Israel which had gone through the same genocidal experience such as the Igbo are going through today in Nigeria. The truth is that since on the 29th day of May, 1966 the ceased forever to be Nigerians.