By Franca Ofili
Plans are underway by the Federal Government to create a database that would comprehensively capture the details of missing persons in the country.
The Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, made this known 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.
“We can no longer refer to only what’s happening in the Northeast. 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 concern for all of us representing one agency or the other.
“I also believe that we will soon begin to see ourselves the role 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,” he said.
Ojukwu said that the government has done a lot to attend to do some sort of tracing to find out what is happening because when you listen to families, and it is a good strategy to invite family of these persons.
Also speaking, Hajiya Sadiya Farouk, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development said that the latest figures showed that out of the 64,000 disappeared persons across Africa, Nigeria recorded 25,000 missing persons including over 14,000 children.
Farouk, represented by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Nasir Gwarzo said:”the federal government through the mandate of the Ministry shall establish a National Mechanism to raise awareness about the plight of the missing.
“Also, the needs of their families, establish a collaborative network between and among different stakeholders where methodologies in approaching the question of missing persons and their families, will be addressed,”’Farouk said.
She said that irregular migration by many Nigerians, including children through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety and better life contributed to great risk of disappearance.
”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 very understandable why Nigeria as a country and this Ministry in charge of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development is very concerned about this often-neglected and tragic humanitarian and social issue.” she said.
According to her, the ministry will rely on the capacity of Law Enforcement Agencies to investigate cases of the missing persons to bring closure to the families of the missing.
She said It was also important to address the root causes of the problem which often include poverty, discrimination and political instability.
Mr Yann Bonzon, head of ICRC Nigeria Delegation, said people are left with the anguish of not knowing the fate or whereabouts of a loved one
Bonzon said that at least 25,000 people reportedly missing in the country was likely to be a tip of the iceberg.
According to him, 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.
“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,” Bonzon said.
He said that the ICRC know that no fewer than 13,000 families in Nigeria are seeking missing loved ones.