Nigerian officials have denied widespread reports this weekend the 317 schoolgirls abducted in the northwest of the country had been set free by their captors and were returning home.
Yusuf Idris, spokesman for Zamfara State governor Bello Matawalle, has refuted local newspaper reports that the girls had been released, stating that the schoolgirls kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe are still in the custody of their captors.
News reports emanating from Nigeria Sunday declared that the girls were safe and had been taken to the palace of the Emir of Anka to await transport to Gusau, the state capital.
Vatican News reported that a Nigerian government official had confirmed reports of the girls’ release on national television following information furnished by Naija News, while other news services — including the BBC — denied the reports.
The Zamfara governor met over the weekend with traditional rulers in the state in an effort to move towards ensuring the safe return of the students.
“The state government is committed for safe return of the students sooner or later, we should please exercise patience,” said his spokesman.
“I want to call the attention of the good people of Zamfara State, they should disregard any fake news regarding the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe by one national daily. It’s not true,” said Abutu Yaro, the state commissioner of police.
On Sunday, Pope Francis condemned the “vile abduction” of the schoolgirls, promising prayers and closeness to them and their families.
“I join my voice with that of the Bishops of Nigeria to condemn the vile abduction of 317 girls, taken away from their school, to Jangebe, in the northwest of the country,” the pope said after his weekly Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square.
“I pray for these girls, that they may return home soon,” the pontiff said. “I am close to their families and to the girls themselves.”
The pope concluded by entrusting the safekeeping of the kidnapped girls to the Virgin Mary, inviting the pilgrims present in the square to join him in praying a Hail Mary for their safe return.