The Kaduna State government and the Anglican Church (Church of Nigeria), Zaria Diocese may be heading for a showdown if plans to relocate St. George’s Cathedral, Sabon Gari, Zaria, founded in 1908 is not resolved amicably.
It was learnt that the Kaduna State government plans to relocate the Cathedral to facilitate the expansion of the Sabon Gari Market. Ironically the market was said to have illegally found its way into the vast piece of land belonging to the 108-year-old church.
Already the Cathedral and other church property such as the staff houses, school and shops are said to have been on the list of property marked for demolition to give way to the market.
Church members are said to have been upset about the development, questioning the rationale behind relocating the church from the piece of land it legally acquired to give way for the expansion of a market which illegally encroached on the church property.
THISDAY gathered that this is the second time the Kaduna State government had attempted to relocate the church to facilitate the expansion of the Sabon Gari, Zaria Market. In 2008, when former Vice President Namadi Sambo was the governor of the state, his administration attempted to relocate the church, to give way to the expansion of the market.
However the issue was amicably resolved when the Sambo administration after appraising the facts and the critical issues presented by the church rescinded its decision directing that St. George’s Cathedral be left at its location as a historical edifice.
In a letter from the Kaduna State Ministry of Commerce and Industry, dated January 7, 2010 and signed by the then commissioner in charge of the ministry, Mohammed Yero Farakwai, the commissioner said “His Excellency (Governor Namadi Sambo) has carefully appraised your submission and gave due consideration to the critical issues raised in your letter under reference and has directed that St. George’s Church should be left at its present location as a historical edifice.
“Consequently, you will be contacted in due course on arrangements to be effected for both the Church and the market to function harmoniously/simultaneously”.
Leaders of the church are wondering why an issue which they felt had been resolved by a previous government was being revisited again by the present administration.
At the meeting with government officials in Kaduna, the church leaders presented the site plan and the Certificate of Ownership (C of O) of the massive land which was issued in December 1, 1964 to prove that the market illegally found its way into the property of the church and therefore, it is the market that ought to be relocated and not the church which is the rightful owner of the land.
But government officials at the meeting, relying on the Land Use Act, were said to have argued that all lands belong to government and government can revoke the ownership of any at any time and reallocate it for public use.
According to the Chancellor of the Zaria Anglican Diocese, Barrister Anne Yellowe, the market is located on the land belonging to the church, stressing that over time, people started encroaching into the land because the church did not fence everything.
“The cause of this problem is that we didn’t fence the whole property, so people started encroaching gradually into the land, leading to the establishment of the market in question. We have our Survey Plan and C of O which covered the entire area.
“But government wants to relocate the church and we are saying that we are the owners of the place and the church have been there for many decades before the market came.
“The government wrote to the church to come for compensation meeting so that the church can be relocated to give way for the expansion of the market, we urged the government to look at the issue fairly, justly and dispassionately,” she said.
However, in a letter he wrote to Governor El-Rufai after the meeting with government officials, Bishop Bello drew the attention of the governor to the fact that the issue of St. George Cathedral had long been settled by a previous administration in the state.
The letter dated January 26, 2016 and copied to the Kaduna State Police Commissioner, the Emir of Zazzau, the Primate, Church of Nigeria, (Anglican Communion), Abuja, the Kaduna State Commissioners for Finance and the Commissioner of Commerce, Industry and Tourism among several others, called on the governor to drop the issue of compensation to St. George’s Cathedral since it will not be affected by the planned demolition exercise.
The letter reads: “Sequel to our receipt of the letter from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism with Ref: No S/GEN476/Vol: v/279, dated January 19, 2016 inviting us to a meeting on the payment of compensation to property owners affected by the redevelopment of Sabon Gari Market, Zaria, we, having attended the meeting on Thursday January 21, 2016 are compelled to state as follows;
“That we are favourably disposed to His Excellency’s good intention to foster the development of Zaria and its environs.
“We are taken aback by the information that our Cathedral (St. George) and other church property such as the staff houses, school and shops are on the list of the said property marked for demolition.
“We wish to observe that the church has neither received any written document nor engaged in verbal discussion on this matter with the present government for informed decision.
“Sir, for the avoidance of doubt and purposes of clarity on this subject matter, we wish to draw your attention to the following; that the church had received and entered into discussions on the above subject with previous government.
“That the Church had clearly made it known to the previous government of her possession of the Survey Plan and C of O to this property with No. NC2988 which covers the entire present day Sabon Gari Market, dated December 1, 1964.
“That after detailed and informed correspondence, discussions and negotiations on the issue, the previous government responded by approval in a letter dated January 7, 2010 to the Cathedral that St. George’s Church should be left at its present location as a historical edifice in Zaria…..Sir, in view of the above submissions, we humbly request your Excellency to note that Zaria Diocese (Anglican Communion) is peace loving, civil and law abiding.
“We wish to draw the attention of your ministry and agencies to the fact that the issue of St. George’s Church has long been settled and urged that the issue of compensation to St. George’s Church be dropped since our property will not be affected by the planned demolition exercise”.
The letter appealed to the governor to consider the re-location of the entire market to virgin land and restore the land belonging to the church as spelt out in the survey plan and C of O.
They pledged continued loyalty, support and prayers to the governor’s administration.
Although some government officials contacted over the issue declined to react on the matter, a senior official who pleaded to remained anonymous, said the matter would be resolved amicably.
According to him, the governor will not take any decision that is not in the best public interest, saying that the position of the church would be thoroughly appraised by the governor before taking a decision on the issue.
“I am aware of the need to relocate the Anglican Church in Sabon Gari, Zaria to allow for the expansion of the market in the area, I am aware that the church is not favourably disposed to the idea. All I can say is that consultations are going on and I believe that at the end of the day, the governor will resolve the issue amicably. That is all I can say on this.”
Since El-Rufai embarked on the recovery of school, hospital and government lands encroached upon by several individuals in Kaduna and Zaria, the policy has received both condemnation and commendation from members of the public.
Hundreds of houses illegally built on school lands have been demolished to allow for the expansion of the schools and ensure security. The latest of the land recovery exercise took place recently at the Millennium City where several houses said to have been illegally built in the area were demolished by the Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Agency (KASUPDA).
Handling the church issue requires dialogue, wisdom and tact in a state like Kaduna.