The Nigerian security forces have been battling armed groups who frequently kidnap people for ransom / Photo: AA

The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, has called for the ‘’unconditional release’’ of dozens of women and children abducted in northern Nigeria.

About 80 hostages were seized by gunmen last weekend as they fetched firewood in a bush in the area of Tsafe in Zamfara state. The region has been badly affected by years of kidnappings for ransom by armed groups.

It is not yet clear whether the captors have made any demand. In a statement, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, says it ‘’roundly condemns this dastardly terrorist act on innocent children and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.”

The regional body also called on the Nigerian authorities to “hunt down” those responsible for the mass abduction and “bring them to justice.”

Soon after the kidnappings, the Nigerian police said security forces were trying to track down the gunmen and rescue the abductees.

Kidnappings for ransom by armed gangs are common in the West African country in recent years with rural communities, students and travelers on major highways frequently targeted. But the latest incident happened after months of relative peace.

President Muhammadu Buhari who is due to step down at the end of May after serving two terms had vowed to end the endemic crisis.

But the Nigerian authorities have been struggling to deal with the violence. Troops have recently stepped up air and ground operations against the kidnapping networks mainly hiding in forests.

The government has also recently attempted to implement a policy redesigning its currency and drastically limiting cash transactions.

One of the objectives was to block cash flows to armed kidnappers seeking ransom payments from victims or their families.

But the policy has since been reversed following a nationwide outcry over its wider economic implications on the citizens with many saying the implementation was poorly handled.

TRT Afrika