Zaria bishop arraigned on defamation charges

Abiodun Ogunyemi

The Kaduna state government last week filed charges of criminal defamation against the Bishop of Zaria, the Rt. Rev. Abiodun Ogunyemi, for allegedly making false claims against the governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.

The arraignment in criminal court on 4 August 2020 follows a February 2020 dressing down of Bishop Ogunyemi by the outgoing primate of the Church of Nigieria, the most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, for the bishop’s criticisms of the governor, his provincial archbishop and the secretary of the Anglican Consultative Council — for criticizing the Anglican leaders for allegedly loyalty to Muslim politicians over loyalty to the Church of Nigeria.

In a statement posted on its diocesan website last year Bishop Ogunyemi said the Most Rev. Ali Buba Lamido, Archbishop of Kaduna Province and Bishop of Wusasa “is known to always compromise christian standards and the truth.” He condemned Archbishop Lamido, and the former Archbishop of Kaduna and current ACC leader, Dr. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, for their intrigues with the Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State, a presumed candidate for election as president of Nigerian in 2023.

His remarks followed a dispute over the attempted seizure by the Kaduna State government of St George’s Cathedral in Zaria. On 20 Sept 2019 the Church of Nigeria’s Diocese of Zaria reported it had received a notice to vacate the 110 year old cathedral within seven days by order of Governor El-Rufai. The Kaduna State Urban Planning Development Agency (KASUPDA) said it would use the historic church land to expand the Sabo market.

However, following protests by the diocese and the Christian Association of Nigeria the state backed down from its plans. Sources in Kaduna State told Anglican Ink five years ago the governor attempted to seize the cathedral to expand the regional market, but backed down as it was an election year, and he risked alienating Christian voters. Political pressure to respect the rights of Christians appears to have lessened, speculated our source, as the ruling party “think they control this country and all levels of power.” 

However on 12 Nov 2019 the Nigerian Tribune reported Archbishop Lamido had apologized to Governor El-Rufai for the criticism of the diocese and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). It said the archbishop “has apologised to Governor Nasir El Rufai for the social media campaigns that tried to turn the issue of the redevelopment of Sabon-Garin Zaria market into a religious matter.”

The archbishop’s apology drew an immediate response from the Bishop of Zaria. 

“The bishop and the people of Zaria diocese are not surprised about the views and apologies expressed by Archbishop Lamido at the Governor’s office yesterday … because Bishop Lamido is known to always compromise christian standards and the truth.”

The diocesan statement claimed the archbishop was corrupt. He had “sold three very precious landed properties of Wusasa diocese to some Muslims. These properties were acquired by missionaries in the late 1800s. These great legacies have been lost forever by the Wusasa community.”

The statement further claimed: “Bishop Lamido brought a Muslim governorship candidates with money to bribe the House of Bishops to vote for this man against Governor El Rufai. His antecedents when it comes to standing for the church speak volumes.”

Bishop Ogunyemi went on to say that what lay behind these “visits and apologies” was a plan by bishops Lamido and Idowu-Fearon “to score a political point for the Governor because he is being prepared for 2023 elections.”

The Bishop of Zaria went on to say: “The governor should know that he will never be president of Nigeria.

On 5 February 2020, Archbishop Okoh released a statement defending Archbishop Lamido’s integrity. The allegations raised by Bishop Ogunyemi were “not true and should be disregarded.”

Following questioning by the police last month about his claims against the governor, Bishop Ogunyemi was arraigned by the public prosecutor, and after pleading not guilty was released on bail. Speaking in court, the public prosecutor stated that there were “ongoing consultations” between the governor’s office and the bishop which could lead to a peaceful resolution of the case. 

The Kaduna magistrate adjourned the case until 28 Oct 2020 to permit the parties to settle the dispute.

The Attack on the Person of the Most Rev’d Dr Ali Buba by George Conger on Scribd