Pope Francis has condemned the spate of killings and kidnappings in northern Nigeria and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to guarantee the safety of all Nigerian citizens.
Francis expressed his solidarity with Nigerians after 34 people were killed in villages in the north-western state of Kaduna on Sunday.
“I pray for those who have died, for the injured and for the entire Nigerian population. Pope Francis said during his Wednesday’s General Audience at the Vatican City.
The head of the Catholic church described the attacks as senseless killings of Nigerians by suspected jihadists and noted that massacres were not only happening in southern Kaduna, but all over the country.
“I learnt with pain the news of the armed attacks that took place last Sunday against the villages of Madamai Abun in northern Nigeria…I hope that the country always guarantees the safety of all its citizens,” he said.
Nigeria is in the grip of insecurity across parts of the country with an increase in kidnappings for ransom and continued attacks by terrorist group Boko Haram.
The Pope’s comments came as a prominent Nigerian doctor was ambushed and assassinated in the southeast of the country in Anambra State on Tuesday.
Chike Akunliyi was the husband of Dora Akunliyi, a former civil servant and head of the country’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
President Buhari has vowed to bring his killers to justice.
Sunday’s attack in Kaduna took place in the village of Madamai, in the Kaura district, where “unidentified gunmen” killed 34 people and injured seven others, according to a statement from the security chief of Kaduna State, Samuel Aruwan.
Soldiers were sent to the scene, where gunfire was exchanged with the attackers before they retreated.
A second attack was carried out by militants in an alleged retaliation, in the village of Kacecere, where a further eight people were killed, six were injured, and several houses were destroyed, Aruwan said in the statement.
Criminal gangs, locally known as “bandits,” have carried out violence in north-western and Central Nigeria for years.
They raid and loot villages, steal livestock and carry out kidnappings for ransom.
In September, the Nigerian military began an anti-bandit campaign in the Zamfara State and some northern states have imposed restrictions on movement and trade and also carried out a telecoms blackout to try to control the gunmen.