Government, at last, seems determined to address the challenge of missing people

On July 31 this year, Mojeed Kola Animashaun, a 54-year-old father left his Ikorodu, Lagos residence. He is yet to return. Mr. Hope Ejerovbo was last seen much earlier on July 5 at a restaurant on the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos before he was declared missing. These are just two of the several cases of Nigerians who leave home every day without returning. As the world marks the International Day of the Disappeared today, it is important for us to draw attention to all the people within our various communities whose whereabouts remain unknown.

For the affected families, living through the ordeal of having a relative missing can be a most traumatic experience. The anxiety generated in such situation is far worse than in established cases of kidnapping, wherein the release of victims could be conditioned on the possibility of reaching a deal with the abductors. At a time the nation is grappling with the challenge of human trafficking, it is worrying that many Nigerians are leaving their homes and workplaces without coming back. Indeed, the sheer numbers of hitherto unaccounted for people emerging from territories reclaimed from the insurgents in the North-east is a pointer to the gravity of the situation.

Available records reveal that while some missing persons have been found after some days, weeks or months, sometimes in locations far away from home, others are never found, thus prolonging the anxiety of their family members who would forever wonder: were they kidnapped or involved in road accidents? Were they victims of rituals? Did they suddenly miss their way? Did they step into a dangerous drain hole? Are they dead? Are they alive?

However, it is reassuring that the relevant authorities are finally paying attention to this growing challenge of missing persons in our society. The federal government, under the auspices of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), recently established the National Technical Committee on Missing/Abducted Persons Database in Nigeria headed by Mrs. Maryam Uwais, Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments. The committee comprises representatives from the Nigeria Police, Office of the National Security Adviser, National Information Technology Development Agency, National Identity Management Commission, National Population Commission, Nigerian Red Cross Society, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, National Orientation Agency, the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) coalition, National Bureau of Statistics and the International Committee of the Red Cross, with the NHRC serving as the secretariat.

The committee is expected, among other things, to establish a platform for public engagements, as well as come up with a comprehensive a database registry of missing and unaccounted for persons in Nigeria. The idea is to enable integration with the existing database, continuous updating, as well as for the collection, verification and sharing of useful information aimed at bringing relief and closure to families and the missing persons, in conformity with the standards on the protection of personal and sensitive information.

The committee is also expected to carry out other measures necessary to investigate and verify pertinent information, including the recovery and identification of human remains; and engage with relevant stakeholders for appropriate measures to be taken in resolving cases of missing persons. That would necessitate follow up, assessment and clarification, as well as providing information to the relevant enquirers (families or authorities) relating to the fate of missing persons and, if found dead, the location of the human remains.

Meanwhile, for the managers of the database, their core mandate would be to come up with preventive mechanisms and practical measures, in order to reduce the likelihood that people would continue to go missing in our country. But beyond this commendable initiative, it is important for every citizen to be their brother’s keeper. On a day such as this, we must come together to ensure that citizens who remain unaccounted for, are never forgotten!