FG Plans Database for 25,000 Missing Nigerians

•ICRC: 14,000 children unaccounted for, 13,000 family members searching for missing loved ones

Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja

The federal government yesterday said plans were afoot to create a database that would comprehensively capture the details of missing persons within the country as a result of insecurity, armed conflict, among other factors.

The Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, disclosed this at a meeting of stakeholders involved in the compilation of missing persons in Nigeria.

The meeting was organised by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and NHRC.

Ojukwu, who was represented by the Director of Human Rights Institute, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwakama, stated that the family members of the missing persons had continued to seek answers from government on the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Speaking on plans by government to locate such persons in the country, the NHRC boss said: “Looking inward so to say, at the NHRC, we have always played a key role in this issue because when you talk about missing persons, there are human rights issues, there are humanitarian issues and there are overlap between when you talk about missing persons.

“Before this issue even became a topic in Nigeria, the NHRC has always received cases or complaints of persons who disappear in the custody of the state agents like the police for instance, the military and the rest of them, and that falls under what’s called enforced disappearance, so we always handled it in the human rights way,” she said.

“Down the line, we now started witnessing increasing incidence of conflicts, crises here and there. We can no longer refer to only what’s happening in the North-east. Where is it not happening? It is happening all over the country.

“One of the issues it throws up is the issue of displacement, issue of family separation and the issue of people not being accounted for, and no responsible government would leave this matter without addressing it. So, it is a matter that should be a source of concerns for all of us representing one agency or the other,” she explained.

“I also believe that we will soon begin to see ourselves (agencies) and the roles that we can play in bringing this to fruition to the extent that we will get to that stage where we will have a proper database, so that Nigerians will come out with confidence and say the number of missing persons between this period and this period is this.

“This is what the government has done to attend to do some sort of tracing to find out what is happening. When you listen to families, it is really sad going through this type of trauma,” he said.

Earlier, the Head of ICRC Nigeria Delegation, Yann Bonzon, said people were left with the anguish of not knowing the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones, adding that at least 25,000 people were missing in the country and that the amount was likely to be a tip of the iceberg.

“Behind every missing person is a family. People that are left with the anguish of not knowing the fate or whereabouts of a loved one. In Nigeria, we know that there are at least 25,000 people missing, the vast majority in relation to conflict in the North-east.

“These are the numbers of cases that have been registered with the ICRC and Nigerian Red Cross Society. We know that this number is likely just a tip on of the iceberg.

“But what this number also represents is many thousands of people – thousands more than the number of people missing itself – who are impacted by that absence. In fact, we know that at least 13,000 families in Nigeria are seeking missing loved ones,” he said.

In her remarks, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouk, stated that irregular migration by many Nigerians, including children through cross borders, the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety and a better life each year, often contributed to the great risk of disappearance.

Farouk, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Nasir Sani Gwarzo, added that, “the latest figures show that out of the 64,000 disappeared persons across Africa, Nigeria is recording over 25,000 missing persons including over 14,000 children.

“To-date there is no reliable national data on the number of missing persons in Nigeria because there is no official register. Currently the country has no National structure or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to address the humanitarian consequences of disappearances.

“It is, therefore, very understandable why Nigeria as a country and this Ministry in charge of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development is concerned about this often-neglected and tragic humanitarian and social issue.”

The stakeholders involved in the filing of missing persons in Nigeria include representatives of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Nigerian Navy, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nigerian Correctional Services and the Police.

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