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Alarming growth of missing persons

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said last week it was in search of over 10,000 persons declared missing across states. The ICRC…

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said last week it was in search of over 10,000 persons declared missing across states. The ICRC raised this alarm, as Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark the International Day of the disappeared. August 30 of every year is set aside by the United Nations to commemorate the International Day of Missing Persons – those who disappeared and/or imprisoned due to conflicts, violence, natural disasters, forced migration…without the knowledge of their relatives.

The Head of Delegation of the ICRC in Nigeria, Eloi Fillion, made the disclosure in Abuja at an event  organised by the National Technical Committee on the Establishment and Management of Database of Missing Persons in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). He lamented that in spite of the worrisome figure of missing persons, adequate measures have not been put in place to prevent disappearances or provide vital information on missing persons.

“Together with the Red Cross Societies in neighbouring countries, the ICRC is searching for 10,480 persons, most of them children. This year alone, over 4,000 ‘tracing requests’ have been made to the Red Cross by families seeking information about the fate of missing relatives,” he said.

In Nigeria, the number of missing persons is definitely more than the 10,000 which the ICRC is searching for. Many persons disappear mysteriously every day in Nigeria, most of which are not reported to the police or to other law enforcement agencies by their relatives. In rural areas and semi-urban centres, relatives are not well enlightened to follow through the security procedure for reporting the disappearance of their loves ones. They carry out private investigations, and when they hit the cul-de-sac, they surrender to providence.  

The ICRC said so far, it had been able to locate 746 people out of which 580 had been reunited with their families. Fillion said the ICRC was supporting the decision of the government to establish a Temporary Mechanism on missing persons. The Chairperson of the National Technical Committee on the Establishment and Management of a Database of Missing Persons, Maryam Uwais, said the Federal Government was about to embark on a pilot project of the Temporary Mechanism in three states of Borno, Rivers and Benue. She said the database, apart from providing documentation on missing persons, was expected to throw more light on the fate and whereabouts of those missing as well as extend support to their family members.

Ritual killings, kidnappings, abductions play a significant role in the disappearances of persons, leading to many people not knowing the fate of their loved ones – whether they are alive or dead. Therefore, we support the establishment of the Temporary Mechanism to properly deal with the issue, but let the measure be expanded to more states even at this pilot stage.

Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that the missing link is the lack of reliable data on citizens, data that contain the profile of every Nigerian citizen. Unfortunately, noble efforts to harvest such data have been bungled on the threshold of corruption.  After 30 years of diverse attempts, Nigeria cannot get it right on National Identity Card, which is a sad commentary. With a national identification card, photographs and biometrics concerning missing persons could be extracted and publicized all over the country so that law enforcement agents and other citizens who come across such persons could lodge their findings to the police. Unfortunately, in spite of the financial commitment to the ID card project, the majority of Nigerians are yet to be registered under the scheme. Without this data, not only the search for missing persons, but fighting the growing ramifications of crimes and criminal networks, will be frustrating.  

We urgently need a database on Nigerians. Other less developed and neighbouring countries like Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Ghana and Benin Republic have done it successfully. It is not rocket science. 

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