ABUJA – The Department of State Services (DSS) kept mum up till yesterday evening over the alleged arrest and detention of three Israeli filmmakers by its operatives in Anambra State on July 9.
The Israelis, Rudy Rochman, a Zionist activist; filmmaker Noam Leibman; and French-Israeli journalist E. David Benaym, were reportedly arrested over allegations of supporting the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The Times of Israel reported that they took off from Ben Gurion Airport on July 5 and landed in Nigeria the next day.
It reported that according to locals, the crew was detained at a synagogue during Friday night services in the village of Ogidi and flown to Abuja where they have been detained since then.
Messages sent to the DSS spokesman, Dr Peter Afunanya, for his response on the matter had not been replied to at the time of filing this report.
Benyam, it was learnt, was temporarily released from police custody on Tuesday evening and handed over to the French Embassy in Abuja for unspecified medical reasons.
The Times of Israel reported that they were shooting a documentary when they were arrested. The paper said this was confirmed by the Foreign Ministry.
According to the Israeli paper, family members of one of the men stressed that the allegations were entirely unfounded, and that separatist social media accounts took advantage of the Israelis’ trip to claim that the three were supporting Biafran separatist groups.
The Israelis were in Nigeria to film “We Were Never Lost,” a documentary exploring Jewish communities in African countries such as Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda and Nigeria.
The paper reported that relatives of the filmmakers said the gifting of a Torah scroll to the local community was “twisted” by local political actors to imply political backing for separatist political ambitions.
In their statement, the families explained that the filmmakers had brought gifts for the communities hosting them.
“The filmmaking crew thought it would be a nice gesture to bring several gifts with cultural symbolism to the communities it planned to visit,” the families said in their statement, adding that one of the gifts was the Torah scroll.
“Unfortunately, members of non-state political groups have hijacked for their own purposes images of the filmmakers gifting a Torah to a local community.
“These individuals are distorting the intentions of the filmmakers in an effort to manufacture a connection to local political matters when no such connection exists.
“These politically motivated actors have taken a simple gesture of kindness and twisted it in an attempt to create an alternate meaning.
“The documentary series is designed to educate viewers about the religious and cultural experiences of lesser-known Jewish communities. Their goal is to interview members of Jewish communities across multiple African countries, along with Jewish communities in China, India, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
“This documentary is not intended to make any political statements about the countries in which filming will take place, nor does the filmmaking team endorse any political movements. The filmmaking crew acts as a guest visiting the country and its various communities – there are no political overtones.
“We are working diligently with the US, Israeli and French Embassies on the matter, and we greatly appreciate the attention they have given to the situation. Their involvement has helped to improve the conditions of the filmmakers while in custody – including the delivery of kosher meals prepared by the local Chabad.
“We hope that the DSS will quickly conclude what the facts support – that the filmmaking team has no political motives and that the team should be released from custody as soon as possible,” the families said.
The newspaper quoted an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying on Wednesday that one of the detainees, Benaym, was temporarily released from police custody on Tuesday and handed over to the French Embassy in Abuja for unspecified medical reasons.
It reported: “The families confirmed the details, stating that ‘as a sign of appeasement, the DSS allowed the French Embassy to host Edouard David Benaym on Tuesday night to receive some medical attention, with the intention of having him return to DSS custody the next day to continue the investigation.
“While a family friend of one of the detainees told The Times of Israel that former Israeli minister Ayoub Kara had flown to Nigeria to assist in the talks, the ministry spokesman said Kara happened to already be in Nigeria and was not involved in the diplomatic effort. Kara did not respond to a request for comment.”
Stop linking me to Nnamdi Kanu’s re-arrest, Ngige tells IPOB
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, yesterday asked the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) to stop linking him to the re-arrest of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
Ngige said as the Chief Labour Officer of the country, he lacked the time to meddle in security and diplomatic matters, which clearly fall within the mandate of the Nigerian Security and National Intelligence agencies.
According to a statement issued by his media office in Abuja, the minister described the statement by the IPOB spokesman, Emma Powerful, attempting to link him with the arrest of Kanu as deceitful, mischievous, malicious and wicked.
The minister said both IPOB and its spokesperson know him (Ngige) very well as a man who calls “a spade a spade” and has no room for “equivocation or speaking from both sides of the mouth” since his days as governor in Anambra State.
The statements reads: “The attention of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has been drawn to series of fictitious reports in the social media linking him to the arrest of the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
“The first of such reports alleged that Senator Ngige and the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, visited the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mrs Catriona Laing, to discuss the affairs of IPOB, as supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“As if this was not enough, the same merchants of disinformation have besieged the social media and this time, the Sahara Reporters, with another fabricated, nauseating and vexatious report, alleging that Sen. Ngige, Governor Willie Obiano, Governor Nyesom Wike and Sir Emeka Offor, conspired and betrayed Nnamdi Kanu and assisted in his arrest.
“Going through the news item, whereas they alleged that Governors Obiano and Wike funded the operation and that Sir Emeka Offor offered to set up a parallel Radio Biafra, no role was ascribed to the Honourable Minister at all. So, this so-called IPOB intelligence Unit-M Branch report is nothing but massive tissues of lies from the pit of hell, as it concerns the Minister.
“Consequently, we wish to use this medium to set the records straight for the benefit of unsuspecting members of the public who may have been deceived by the wicked lies being circulated in the social media by unscrupulous and mischievous characters whose intent is to malign the person of the Honourable Minister and through that, put him in disrepute.
“Firstly, Ngige did not at any time pay a visit to the British High Commissioner to Nigeria to discuss the affairs of IPOB. It happened that on May 13, 2021, the Minister was returning from an official meeting of the Economic Sustainability Committee held in the Presidential Villa and passing by, paid a courtesy visit to his brother and friend, the Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, whose home is within the vicinity of the Villa Pilot Gate.
“Coincidentally, Kalu had some guests in his house at the same time. Sen. Kalu introduced his guests, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria and her officials and the Minister exchanged pleasantries with them, stayed briefly and left after a group photograph.
“During this ‘chance encounter’, there was never a time the affairs of the proscribed IPOB came up. Senator Kalu had also debunked this report in an earlier statement through his media aide, stating this same account. Mischievously, it was this photograph that had been earlier published in The Sun newspaper that these evil minded persons are now circulating in order to get even with the Minister and Senator Kalu.
“Secondly, the report by IPOB, posted in Sahara Reporters, alleging that Ngige, Willie Obiano, Nyesom Wike and Emeka Offor conspired and betrayed Nnamdi Kanu, is a figment of the imagination of the writers and the spokesman of the IPOB, Mr. Emma Powerful and his likes, who thrive in mischief, brainwashing and deceit.
“Everybody knows that the Labour Ministry is one of the busiest ministries in the country today because of the numerous industrial disputes arising from the deleterious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and by extension, on the earning powers of employees and employers, necessitating continued bickering and re-negotiations of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) all over the public and private sectors.
“Ngige is occupied, involved and engrossed with his duties as the Labour and Employment Minister, member of Federal Cabinet Committee for Economic Recovery and member of the Economic Sustainability Committee constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari, which is headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, with the mandate to tackle the challenges and fallouts of COVID-19 and post COVID-19 era.
“Most recently, he was appointed as a member of the National Steering Committee (NSC) of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy (NPRGS) to work assiduously to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.
“All these are besides other demanding engagements of the Minister of Labour and Employment, playing supervisory role over several federal parastatals under his Ministry.
“On these assignments, the Minister is putting all his energy and wealth of experience in order not to disappoint all Nigerians.
“It is therefore unthinkable that somebody with grey matter in his brain, except if he is hallucinating like the IPOB spokesman, could accuse a very busy Minister like Senator Ngige of being part of a ‘conspiracy’ for the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu.
“The Minister, being somebody with long standing experience in the public service, knows the bounds of his office and does not have the time to meddle into Foreign Affairs of Extradition and security matters that clearly fall within the mandate of the Nigerian Diplomatic Missions, national intelligence agencies.
“Ngige is neither the Minister of Police Affairs, Justice, Foreign Affairs nor the National Security Adviser to start discussing issues of extradition or arrest of a fugitive outside Nigeria’s territory, which are clearly outside his mandate.”
The statement added: “If these false reports are targeted at coaxing Ngige into lending his voice to the discordant voices condemning or hailing Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest or calling for his unconditional release, then the propagators have failed because he has long decided not to make any comment for or against Kanu as he is already standing trial in a competent court of law for treasonable felony.
“Ngige is somebody who believes in the Rule of Law and will rather allow the law to take its course than get involved in the discussion of any issue which neither adds nor subtract any value to the trial process. Hence, the Minister has not and will not at this time of the country’s history, waste his precious time discussing such matters or any issue pertaining to IPOB.
“The minister’s earlier views on the ill-advised violent secessionist agitations are well known and can be seen online in his interview with Channels Television aired on Monday June 14, 2021. He is a patriot and firm believer in a united and indivisible Nigeria based on Justice, Equity and Fair-play. His position has not changed and is unlikely to change in the near or distant future. He saw and participated in the war and up till today, describes war as ‘evil’ and an ‘ill wind’ that blows no side any good.”
Kanu in cheery mood, says lawyer
Special counsel to Nnamdi Kanu, Aloy Ejimakor, said yesterday that his client in DSS custody in Abuja was cheery.
Ejimakor said he met with Kanu yesterday and they spent nearly four hours together.
Ejimakor in a tweet on his handle @AloyEjimakor on Saturday evening said: “UPDATE: Today, I met with Onyendu at the DSS. We spent nearly 4 hours.
“My interaction with him was fulfilling. He’s cheery & looks forward to overcoming this predicament sooner than later.
“Again, he stressed UNITY and tolerance on all sides. He has you all in his thoughts.” (The Nation)