As Nigeria’s military and the police on Sunday intensified the search for 317 abducted pupils of Government Girls’ Science Secondary School, Jangebe in Talata Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara State, Pope Francis has prayed for their safe return.

“Let us pray that Our Lady might keep them safe,” the Pope said at the Angelus prayer on Sunday, calling the bandits’ action, vile.

The Pontiff invited everyone to pray for the girls who were kidnapped on Friday in the north-western Nigeria, so that they might return home soon.

“I am near to their families and to them,” said the Pope as he led the faithful in the recitation of the Hail Mary.

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“I join my voice to that of the Bishops of Nigeria to condemn the vile kidnapping of the 317 girls, taken away from their school in Jangebe. I am praying for these girls so they might return home soon. I am near to their families,” he wrote.

Gunmen had invaded the Jangebe community on Friday, attacked some houses along their way, and raided the school where they abducted 317 students.

The girls have now been in captivity for three days, and efforts to secure their release are ongoing.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) had also condemned the kidnapping on Friday, calling it a gross violation of children’s rights.

The Jangebe attack comes barely two weeks after scores of children were abducted by bandits from Government Science College (GSC), Kagara in Niger State.

The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr. Jamilu Iliyasu, told THISDAY that the military and the police were still combing the forests in search of the victims so as to rescue them from the bandits.

He, however, refuted a report that had gone viral on Sunday that the victims had been released and they were on their way to Gusau to be received by Governor Bello Matawalle.

To quicken the recovery of the schoolgirls, Matawalle has also promised to use repentant bandits to secure their release.

However, the federal government has committed itself to take all necessary steps to prevent a reoccurrence of schoolchildren’s abduction.

Reacting to the report that the schoolgirls had been released and were in the palace of the Emir of Anka waiting for transportation to Gusau, Iliyasu told THISDAY that even the Emir of Anka and 16 other emirs were at the Government House, Gusau, together with a federal government delegation, to commiserate with the governor on the abduction.

“I have read the report and I do not know where it came from; the Emir of Anka is here in Gusau; we have just received a delegation from the federal government who came to commiserate with the governor. The military and the police are still combing the forests, searching for the students,” he stated.

Also, Iliyasu in a statement quoted the governor as saying that efforts are still ongoing to secure the release of the abductees.

“Gov. Bello Mohammed Matawalle Maradun and his aides have since Friday when the girls were abducted by gunmen not rested but been working round the clock making frantic efforts that will lead to the safe release of the victims.

“We are not happy that someone who does not know the details of the situation will try to further hurt the victims’ parents, government and the security by ridiculing the effort with falsehood,” he said.

The statement added that the state government would be happy to announce the release of the schoolgirls as soon as they are freed.

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