Bishops ask Nigerian president to pardon five men sentenced to death for killing Fulani herdsman

Men march along the truck carrying the coffins of people killed by the Fulani herdsmen, in Makurdi, Nigeria January 11, 2018. | Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

Bishops in Nigeria have sent a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari to ask for pardon for five men who were sentenced to death for killing a Fulani herdsman.

The five convicted men reportedly attacked three herdsmen in Kadamun village in Demsa Local Government Area in June last year in retaliation for several attacks in the area. The retaliatory attack has resulted in the death of a herdsman named Adamu Buba, whose body was reportedly thrown into a river.

The assailants were found guilty of criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide by a Yola High Court. Justice Abdul-Azeez Waziri said that the five convicts can file an appeal within 90 days from the date of their sentencing, which took place on June 11.

In a letter to Buhari, the Supreme Council of Bishops asserted that Nigeria "has suffered untold bloodshed from killings, maiming, traumatisation of innocent citizens around the north eastern, north central and Middle Belt states, as a result of the frequent attacks by the militia herdsmen times without number."

The bishops said that the council "totally condemns and disapproves vehemently" the sentence against the five convicts because there has been "no adequate justice" has been delivered to the victims of the herdsmen.

"[W]hat our nation Nigeria sues for now in our nascent democracy is peace and tranquility, and not otherwise," the bishops continued, as reported by The Guardian Nigeria.

The June 13 letter has also been sent to other high-ranking government officials including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Senate President Bukola Saraki; Chief Justice of the Federation Walter Samuel Onnoghen; and Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara.

Fulani militants have carried out multiple attacks against Christians and other civilians in the past few months.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Fulani gangs killed at least 71 people, including children, in a village in Kaduna state last month.

In the predominantly Muslim state of Zamfara, at least 20 civilians were killed in an attack carried out by Fulani herdsmen.

The Fulani militants have also been suspected of killing two priests and 17 parishioners during a mass at a church in Benue state in April. Many Christians in Nigeria have surmised that the attacks were aimed at territorial acquisition and the expansion of Islam.

Armed vigilante groups have been formed to ward off attacks by the Fulani militants. But the armed groups have also carried out retaliatory attacks as well, including a recent attack in which Fulanis say 50 of their members were killed.

Buhari has been accused of turning a blind eye to the attacks because he himself is of Fulani descent.

"Nigerians in their thousands have been gruesomely dispatched to the Great Beyond by armed Fulani herdsmen who are being protected by the powers that be," said Emmanuel Onwukibo, the coordinator of the Christian-dominated Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

The president has ordered the armed forces to restore order, but some have expressed doubts about a military response because the army is stretched thinly and the militants are well armed.