Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
Roundtable Meeting on Justice for Missing Persons in the North-east has called on the federal government to probe the counter-insurgency operations in the North-east following the missing of 22,000 persons in the zone.
A roundtable meeting which brought together human rights activists, media practitioners, participants from non-governmental organisations, government security agencies, as well as representatives of government (including the National Assembly, ministries, departments, and agencies) to deliberate on what could be done to improve the conditions of residents of violence-stricken regions in the country, particularly the North-east, who have gone missing or have been abducted.
A communiqué from the Roundtable Meeting held in Abuja last week also recommended that rules of warfare, which required that the government must account for the missing and the dead, should be upheld.
The Roundtable Meeting on Justice for Missing Persons in the North-east, organised by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) with sponsorship from the Ford Foundation, also recommended that there should be a database with the government covering people who are being incarcerated to match against allegations of persons going missing or being extra-judicially killed.
The International Committee on Red Cross (ICRC) had claimed that nearly 22,000 Nigerians had been reported missing in the ongoing crisis in the North-east.
This figure, according to the ICRC, represented the highest number of missing persons registered with the ICRC in any country.
It also claimed that nearly 60 per cent of the reported missing persons were minors at the time they went missing, meaning thousands of parents did not know where their children are, whether they are alive or not.
Other recommendations included empowerment of the media with funding and other resources so that it could continue to fostering accountability and transparency in governance as well as bringing touching issues affecting people in the North-east to the front burner through investigative reporting.
“Governments at all levels needs to start recognising citizens as real people and not just numbers.
“We need to compile some of the incidences of disappearance and file a formal complaint against Nigeria at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“The women in the North-east should be empowered by government and other stakeholders as this will have a ripple effect on the larger society. They should also be organised to speak up about the issues affecting them,” said the communiqué.
The Roundtable equally recommended that: “There is the need to create awareness on the problem of missing persons in Nigeria, especially using the opportunity created by various international days.
“The problem should not only be seen as a human rights issue but as an issue closely linked to the government’s fundamental responsibility to the people as enshrined under section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.”
It was suggested that it was not enough to account for missing persons, but “justice must also be done through the provision of adequate assistance in form of basic amenities, economic empowerment, basic infrastructural development, psycho-social and basic healthcare, among others and the missing persons should be returned to their communities and reunited with their family members.”
It was also suggested that the serving military officers, for instance those identified in the recently released documentary and other published investigative reports to have allegedly killed numerous people in the North-east, including Col. Cyril Ofurumazi should be probed and made to answer for his actions, while others who were not mentioned but are guilty of similar criminal conduct should likewise be investigated.
Other recommendations include: “Well-meaning persons and organisations should engage and partner with relevant stakeholders, interest groups, such as Jire Dole, and other affected persons.
“The government should empower former missing persons economically and also create shelters, possibly makeshift, where they can feel safe following their rescue or escape.
“The government should implement the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which it has signed and ratified, by first setting up and mandating a commission to supervise this task.
“The Nigerian military should publicise the number of persons who have been arrested in connection to the insurgency in the North-east, the number of those who have died in Giwa Barracks and other detention facilities, as well as the exact locations where those who have been arrested are being kept.
“The release of detained innocent persons should be prioritised while those suspected to have committed crime or to be members of Boko Haram should be investigated and tried.
“A motion should be drafted and introduced at the National Assembly to push government to initiate a missing persons’ register and work towards getting social justice for the victims.
“The government should set up a Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Committee that will facilitate the venting of grievances, acknowledgement of atrocities, and compensation of victims.
“We should put in place a process of repentance, remorse, and reintegration back to the society.”
The Roundtable suggested that its recommendations should be implemented on a community by community or state by state basis, and then extended to other affected places.