Nigeria: The 17,000 Missing Nigerians

(file photo).
13 August 2018

The report last week by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) detailing how no fewer than 17,000 Nigerians were missing is quite disturbing. Tagged "Facts and Figures Report: January to June 2018", the report attributed the unfortunate development to rampant incidents of the Boko Haram insurgency and other sundry acts of violence in various parts of the country. Recalling how the country witnessed increased cases of violence in states such as Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba since January this year, the group reported that such violent acts claimed and injured several lives, thus forcing thousands of others to flee their homes and take refuge in makeshift camps.

More disturbing is that of the 17,000 individuals that are reportedly missing, over 7,100 of them are children. "In the North-east, where the armed conflict is now in its ninth year, violence continues to claim civilian lives and destroy property. Hundreds of thousands of the displaced persons still live in overcrowded camps in the regional centres and depend almost entirely on humanitarian assistance", according to the ICRC report.

We must commend the ICRC for helping to draw attention to the people within our various communities whose whereabouts remain unknown. For the affected families, living through the ordeal of having a relation missing 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 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 whether they are dead or still alive.

However, we must express our disappointment with the seeming indifference from Nigerian authorities to such a disturbing revelation of this magnitude. It only underscores the current trend in Nigeria where little or no value is placed on human life. There is no country in the world whose authorities place premium on the lives of its citizens that will hear that 17,000 persons are declared missing without losing sleep. Yet, we are sure the number is actually higher.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian and human rights crisis 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.

Against this backdrop, we challenge both the federal and state governments not to treat this ICRC report with levity. We enjoin the authorities at all levels to deploy relevant forces in collaboration with the Red Cross with a view to finding these missing Nigerians and reuniting them with their families. Doing so will not only save several families the ordeal of missing their loved ones, it will also be in compliance with Section 14(2) of the constitution that the security and welfare of citizens shall be the primary responsibilities of government.

About two years ago, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in collaboration with other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and civil society organisations, commenced the process for the establishment and management of missing persons' database. We hope the idea has not been jettisoned. It is important for families to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives, if only to ensure a much-needed closure.

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