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A Nigerian Catholic archbishop has voluntarily offered to die in place of a Muslim woman who has been condemned to death by stoning by an Islamic court for the crime of adultery.

Dr Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, the Catholic archbishop of the Lagos Archdiocese in south-western Nigeria, has offered to pay the sentence recently imposed on the woman in the northern state of Sokoto in a case which has created an international outcry. The man has been allowed to go free.

The woman, Safiya Hussaini Tungar-tudu, is appealing the conviction; the next hearing has been set for March 18.

In a statement released to the news media by the archdiocese earlier this week, Archbishop Okogie explained that he decided to make the offer as a protest of the Nigerian Catholic Church against the Islamic Shari'ah legal system.

The archbishop accused the system of deliberately persecuting Christians and the poor of northern Nigeria. He called on religious leaders vested with responsibility for administering and interpreting the Islamic legal code to do so in the fear of God and with humility, taking human considerations into account.

The archbishop warned the nation's political leaders that unless checked, policies in certain Nigerian states could isolate the entire nation from the international community.

Under the strict Shari'ah law applied in Sokoto, adultery carries a mandatory death sentence.

Hussaini, a nursing mother whose one-year-old baby girl is at the center of the case, was convicted of having had an illicit sexual affair with a man out of wedlock.

Her lawyers were preparing to appeal the verdict on the grounds that Hussaini was raped. But Hussaini, who is divorced, has since claimed that her former husband is the father of the child, which would ...

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