All around the world, people go missing every day. Research has shown that Africa has the highest number of registered missing persons in the world nearly half of whom are children. And Nigeria accounts for the highest number of missing persons on the continent out of the 44,000 reported cases. So, it is only right that on August 30 every year, the International Day of the Disappeared, a day set aside to draw attention to the plight of missing persons, Nigeria participates actively.
Non-governmental organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are at the forefront of finding and reuniting missing persons with their loved ones and works hand-in-hand with governments across the globe to achieve this. Though the ICRC, in collaboration with the Nigerian Red Cross, has recorded some progress in reuniting missing persons with their families in Nigeria, the authorities need to do more to support their work.
The ICRC records state that “nearly 22,000 Nigerians have been reported as missing to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during a decade of conflict in northeast Nigeria, the highest number of missing persons registered with the ICRC in any country.” With the alarming increase in the number of missing persons in Nigeria, it is expected that the government creates a database of missing persons that will help tackle this issue as part of its responsibility of protecting the lives of citizens. But, what do we have?
According to the Human Rights Watch, “in 2015, Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission announced that a database for missing persons would be established, but five years later the database is still not operational. As a party to core international human rights and humanitarian law treaties, including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Geneva Conventions, Nigeria has obligations to provide information on suspects in custody and open inquiries on the fate of missing persons.”
Many families in Nigeria are reliving the painful experiences of losing loved ones who have disappeared without a trace; the hardest hit being North-Eastern Nigeria where insurgents ‘pick’ people every other month. Some others have disappeared due to unlawful arrests.
Last year, Fatima Hassan, a 55-year-old woman from Maiduguri, narrated her story to the Human Rights Watch, saying said she had not seen or heard from her two sons, Ibrahim, 35, and Musa, 30, since soldiers took them for “questioning” during a neighbourhood raid in September 2012. “I have been to all the detention centres I know to look for them,” she said. “But nobody provides information. I don’t know if they are dead or alive.”
Individuals and NGOs have called on the Nigerian government to help relieve people like Fatima Hassan of the psychological and emotional trauma they suffer from the disappearance of their loved ones.
“As families remember missing loved ones on this International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Nigerian authorities should provide information on their fate or whereabouts, release suspects in government detention facilities who have not been charged, and increase efforts to locate and return those in Boko Haram custody.” – Human Rights Watch.
Anyone can understand the grief and desolation felt when a loved one dies. But what about the crushing hurt and uncertainty when somebody just disappears?
On this International Day of the Disappeared, it does matter that we acknowledge that disappearances are still happening around the world and it does matter that we remember that there are families and communities who are waiting for answers.
If Nigerian leaders had any iota of political will to ensure missing persons are reunited with their families, this is an opportunity to make this possible. But, we cannot be sure how this will work with a government that ‘kidnaps’ its citizens because they criticised or antagonised certain policies.