Updated: March 01, 2021 08:23 AM GMT
A deserted dormitory at the Government Girls' Secondary School, the day after the abduction of over 300 schoolgirls by gunmen in Jangebe, a village in Nigeria's Zamfara state, on Feb. 27. (Photo: AFP)
Pope Francis has joined bishops in Nigeria in seeking the release of 317 schoolgirls abducted in northwest Nigeria on Feb. 26.
At the Sunday Angelus on Feb. 28, the pope condemned the “vile kidnapping of 317 girls” in Zamfara state and urged the faithful to pray for their safe return home.
“I am near to their families and to them. Let us pray that Our Lady might keep them safe.”
The teenagers were abducted after unidentified gunmen entered Jangebe Government Girls’ Secondary School around midnight, firing sporadically.
The state’s information commissioner said they took away the girls in vehicles. The police have launched a search.
In another kidnapping in February, one student was killed and 42 people were spirited off in the north-central state of Niger from a boarding school. They were freed on Feb. 28, the state governor said.
The Catholic bishops of Nigeria have expressed concern over the deteriorating law and order situation in the African country.
In a Feb. 23 statement following the Niger boarding school kidnapping, they said, “We are really on the brink of a looming collapse, from which we must do all we can to pull back before the worst overcomes the nation.”
“The very survival of the nation” is in danger, the statement noted.
They called on the government to address the challenges posed by armed groups.
The statement listed a host of crises like “assassinations, Covid-19, kidnappings, murders, banditry and armed robberies” afflicting Nigerians.
“We, of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, with members from all parts of Nigeria, are very highly disturbed about the present state of instability in the land,” read the statement. “This must not be allowed to continue to fester and degenerate.”
Police and the military have launched a joint mission to save the girls.
One parent, Nasiru Abdullahi, whose daughters aged 10 and 13 are among the abducted, told The Associated Press: "It is disappointing that even though the military has a strong presence near the school, they were unable to protect the girls."
Several armed groups, termed bandits by the government, operate in Nigeria. They kidnap for ransom and to push for the release of their jailed accomplices.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said the government was trying to ensure the girls were safe and unharmed.
Nigeria has seen witnessed several dramatic kidnappings over the years, notably the mass abduction of 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok in Borno state in April 2014 by Boko Haram, a jihadist group. More than 100 of the girls have still not been traced.