The authorities could do more to end the anxiety of relatives

Nigeria, last Thursday, joined the rest of the world to honour the disappeared and missing. The National Technical Committee on the Establishment and Management of Missing Persons Database in Nigeria (NTC) also used the occasion to renew the call on the authorities in the 36 states and other stakeholders to “now, more than ever, work together to ensure that identities of those missing are not lost forever”.

We must commend the NTC for helping 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 missing relative can be a most traumatic experience. And at a time the nation is grappling with the challenge of human trafficking, it is worrisome that many Nigerians are leaving their homes and workplaces without coming back.

Available records indeed revealed 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 whether they are dead or still alive.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian and human rights crises resulting from activities of criminal gangs, insurgents, political unrest, communal and religious conflict, kidnappings, have continued to pose challenges to government at all levels in Nigeria. Many of these activities have led to some senseless killings with monumental casualties among the civil populace aside the forced displacement and disappearance of people leading to numerous cases of unaccounted and missing persons. In addition, there are hundreds of unknown victims lying in our mortuaries, hospitals and detention centres while their relatives continue to search for them.

The foregoing situation has been compounded by insufficient or lack of national database of persons in Nigeria, making it nearly impossible to trace and reunite displaced and missing persons in the country. As a result, many persons are unaccounted for, with loved ones and family members unable to confirm their status and therefore unable to have the much-needed closure.

In a bid to create a platform for addressing this challenge, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in collaboration with other government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and civil society organisations, has commenced the process for the establishment and management of missing persons’ database.  The committee is expected to establish a platform for public engagement, as well as come up with a comprehensive database registry of missing and unaccounted-for persons in Nigeria. The idea is to enable integration with existing data, 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 while engaging with relevant stakeholders for appropriate measures to be taken in resolving cases of missing and unaccounted for 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.

However, the establishment of a National Database of Missing Persons in Nigeria does not attempt to attribute responsibility for the deaths or the disappearance of any missing person, nor would it make findings as to the cause of such incident. It is, rather, an independent humanitarian mechanism that aims at responding to the rights of the families to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives, a need often considered by the families as priority, if it can provide them with meaningful answers.