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Tackling incidents of missing people – Thisday

By The Citizen
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There is an encouraging signal from the authorities, but more may be needed

James Olomo, a professor of Nuclear Physics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, left his work place for Eket, Akwa Ibom State since October 18, 2013. 'It was on his return journey to Lagos the next day through Calabar, Cross River State, that something went amiss. I am very sure about that,' one of his friends said. Three years later, his whereabouts is still unknown. Last month, the family and the university community turned the heat on security agencies to find him.

Olomo's case highlights the often overlooked plight of people in different parts of the country who cannot be accounted for. But it is important to draw attention to all the people within our families and 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. The anxiety generated in such situation is far worse than in established cases of kidnapping, wherein the release of victims could be conditioned on the possibility of reaching a deal with the abductors. 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 returning. Indeed, the sheer numbers of hitherto unaccounted for people emerging from territories reclaimed from the insurgents in the North -east is a pointer to the gravity of the situation.

Available records revealed 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: Were they kidnapped or involved in road accidents? Were they victims of rituals? Did they suddenly miss their way? Did they step into a dangerous drain hole? Are they dead? Are they alive?

However, it is reassuring that the relevant authorities are finally paying attention to this growing challenge of missing persons in our society. The federal government, under the auspices of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), recently established the National Technical Committee on Missing/Abducted Persons Database in Nigeria headed by Mrs. Maryam Uwais, Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments. The committee comprises representatives from the Nigeria Police, Office of the National Security Adviser, National Information Technology Development Agency, National Identity Management Commission, National Population Commission, Nigerian Red Cross Society, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, National Orientation Agency, the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) coalition, National Bureau of Statistics and the International Committee of the Red Cross, with the NHRC serving as the Secretariat.

The committee is expected, among other things, to establish a platform for public engagement, as well as come up with a comprehensive database registry of missing and unaccounted-for persons in Nigeria. The idea is to enable integration with existing data, continuous updating, as well as for the collection, verification and sharing of useful information aimed at bringing relief and closure to families and the missing persons, in conformity with the standards on the protection of personal and sensitive information.

The committee is also expected to carry out other measures necessary to investigate and verify pertinent information, including the recovery and identification of human remains; engage with relevant stakeholders for appropriate measures to be taken in resolving cases of missing and unaccounted for persons. That would necessitate follow up, assessment and clarification, as well as providing information to the relevant enquirers (families or authorities) relating to the fate of missing persons and, if found dead, the location of the human remains.

Meanwhile, for the managers of the database, their core mandate would be to come up with preventive mechanisms and practical measures, in order to reduce the likelihood that people would continue to go missing in our country. But beyond this commendable initiative, it is important for every citizen to be their brother's keeper. We must come together to ensure that citizens who remain unaccounted for are never forgotten!