COMMUNIQUE ISSUED AT THE END OF THE NATIONAL DIALOGUE TO COMMEMORATE THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE VICTIMS OF ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES ON THURSDAY AUGUST 31, 2023
Theme: ” Strengthening the Accountability of State and Non-State Actors in Charting a New Directions in Search of Missing Persons in Nigeria.
CLEEN Foundation convened a virtual session to commemorate with the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearance. In CLEEN’s quest to ensure that the wheels of justice turn smoothly, it is paramount that those who are entrusted with upholding the law and preventive mechanisms for enforced disappearance are equipped with the latest tools, knowledge, and insights. The session embodied that ethos – a dynamic platform where experiences, expertise, and perspectives converge to pave the way for enhanced practices and outcomes in the accountability of missing person’s landscape.
Nigeria has a plethora of current cases of missing persons that exceed all the other countries on the African continent. 22,000 reported cases of missing persons in Nigeria for over a decade makes it the highest number in Africa. Prior to 2020, the most public of the cases happened in 2014 when 276 girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. In addressing the crisis related to missing persons in the country, Nigeria has adopted different techniques and strategies, such as on the ground searches involving multi-sectoral coordination, the tracing of mobile lines and digital footprints in collaboration with telecommunication providers and, in some cases, security agencies conducting physical searches to locate missing persons. Despite these efforts, and because investigators often lack access to locations where violence takes place and when abductions happen, they are increasingly turning to satellite and other digital images such as geospatial satellite imagery, mobile phone photos, video, and text messaging warning signals. These new developments are presenting opportunities and challenges for addressing the security issues in Nigeria today.
- There are three critical elements of enforced disappearance which have to do with the deprivation of liberty of the person; the involvement of government officials by way of consent; and the refusal to acknowledge the whereabouts of the missing person.
- The issue of missing persons in Nigeria has become a major concern to both individuals and organizations across Nigeria.
- That armed conflicts, human rights violation related issues and the absence of reliable data for identification have aggravated the issue of missing persons in Nigeria.
- Nigeria has the worst-case environment for missing persons because it is replete with all kinds of conflict such as terrorism, insurgency, banditry, herdsmen/farmers conflict and conflict of interest.
- Government has made effort to respond to the issue of missing persons in Nigeria through setting up truth, justice and peace committee, panel of enquiry to investigate the cases of missing persons police investigation, and launching of missing persons register in Nigeria. This was the case during the ENDSARS protest where the government commissioned panels to investigate the grievances of relatives of the victims of such extrajudicial operations leading to enforced disappearances. However, the people waited endlessly to get justice, and nothing happened. Also, police investigation on the issue of missing persons is usually endless especially when it has to do with a case where there is deep interest. For instance, where a government critic is missing, and the matter is reported to the police, the investigations go on endlessly until the case is forgotten.
- Nigeria has ratified some specific international treaties on addressing missing persons. They include. International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from enforced disappearances (ICPPED) ratified July 27, 2009; the convention against torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CAT) ratified 28th June 2001; the optional protocol of the convention against torture (CAT-OP) ratified July 27, 2009, and the international covenant on civil and political rights (CCPR) ratified July 29, 1993.
- Despite the ratification of various international protocols, conventions and treaties, Nigeria still does not have accurate data/register of missing persons. However, in 2001, the National Human Right Commission launched the missing persons register.
- While Nigeria has these regulations in place, the issue of missing person continues to ignite due to limitations such as corruption, sabotage, lack of trust, inadequate in formation and data sharing system.
- Non-governmental organizations like the CLEEN Foundation have continued to make proactive efforts towards responding to the crises of missing persons in Nigeria. One such effort is this national dialogue to brainstorm and unravel the matters that need to be addressed. However, the lackadaisical nature of government response will always be a barrier, especially because it is the mandate of government institutions to address the issue of missing persons.
In the light of the observations the following multi-level recommendations were made.
- Creation of a national agency to coordinate the response to missing persons is very necessary. There is need to escalate whatever desk established in this regard by the NHRC for collection of data.
- Increase resources for search and recovery activities, as well as improving communication and coordination among actors involved in the search for missing persons including their relatives.
- Identify areas of best practice in other countries and domesticate same
- The establishment of a centralized digital base reporting mechanism; and specialized direct response unit
- Enhancement of inter-agency collaboration and putting in place resource sharing.
- Creating a platform for engaging members of the parliament at state and federal levels around policy formulation or regulations for addressing the issue of missing persons.
- Develop a dedicated localized framework to prosecute violators of this protocol at all levels of governance.
- Continuous strengthening of policy and legal instruments for punishing offenders
- Prompt report to the relevant security agencies and local media as well as the social media
- Communities should visit different cells, police stations and hospitals when there are issues of missing persons at the community level.
- Prompt reporting to community-based organizations or civil society organizations all cases of missing persons
- Community engagement and the involvement of neighborhood watch programs and engagement of local communities in recovery efforts
- Community awareness campaign to enlighten the people.
- Constantly update family members or close relatives of one’s whereabouts.
- Always move with one’s valid means of identification and including having well-charged phones.
- Hiring private investigators where necessary so that such can help to augment the work of the police and where police seem to be compromising evidence from the private investigators will help to compel the police to do their duty.
- Avoiding secluded and compromised places and being security conscious. There is always the need to be conscious of the environment.
- Media to ensure that the people are sensitized and well informed about the issue of enforced disappearance.
- Ensure that information about offenders is widely circulated to serve as a form of deterrent to others.
Documented cases of missing persons are on the rise; and actual figures may be much higher if right policies are not put in place by the Nigerian government to ameliorate the trend. However, for this trend to be nipped in the board there needs to be deliberate effort by both state and non-state actors towards documenting and deliberately following up on missing persons. The Federal and state government must stride to stop the rising insecurity across all regions of the Federation and also stride to account for the totality of Nigerians at all times.