In his book, The Trouble With Nigeria, Chinua Achebe concluded that “the only trouble with Nigeria is a failure of leadership.” This is as true today as it was 40 years ago when it was first published.
Yesterday, the question on everyone’s lips was, how many people need to die before the government does something about the avoidable accidents on Ojuelegba bridge? Today, the question is, where are Nigeria’s missing people?
Nigeria has the highest number of missing persons in Africa
Regardless of who you cite as a source, the number of missing people in Nigeria is alarming. According to Beacon Consulting, which runs the Nigeria Security Incidents Tracker, 7222 Nigerians were killed between January and July 2022; 3,823 people were kidnapped in that period.
In August 2022, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said Nigeria had the highest number of missing persons in Africa. It noted that 25,000 out of 64,000 missing persons reported are from Nigeria. The whereabouts of 14,000 Nigerian children remain a mystery.
This number only accounts for those reported missing, as others go unreported, and the actual figures could be much higher.
One way to look at this is: out of every ten people reported missing in Africa, four are from Nigeria.
[Family members of the kidnapped Nigerian Chibok girls, Nigeria, October 18, 2016. AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga]
What is government action towards solving this issue?
Nigeria has a leadership crisis and it’s why, despite the numbers, the government has no official database of missing persons. What it has though are agencies like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) whose purview includes fighting for the rights of missing people.
In 2021, the Nigerian police in partnership with a tech company, developed an app, Missing Persons Platform. It’s supposed to help citizens report cases of missing people. However, this isn’t an exhaustive database. It’s also not clear how effective it is. No one knows how many missing persons have been found using the app.
Only last week, the federal government said “plans were afoot” to create a national database.
What else has been done about missing persons?
Organisations ranging from nongovernmental organisations (NGO) to the media have taken active steps towards addressing the issue of missing persons. Enough is Enough (EiE), a Nigerian NGO, has partnered with intelligence agencies like SBM to compile a database of missing persons. Similarly, HumAngle media has a dedicated dashboard for persons missing primarily due to extremism in the northern part of Nigeria.
[Dashboard screenshot of missing persons. HumAngle media]
HumAngle has also extensively reported missing persons in Borno state. In Borno, missing persons by gender are in the ratio of 43.5% to 56.5%, male to female. Its report noted that men are often forcefully conscripted by nonstate actors while women are frequent victims of abductions by terrorists. Still, the responsibility of safeguarding lives lies with the government and so far it’s not lived up to expectations.
What can you do?
Section 90 of the Nigeria Police Act says you have a duty to report a missing person to the police within 24 hours. However, the steady rise in missing persons suggests that reporting isn’t the issue but finding the missing.
Online, a petition has started urging the government to stop paying lip service to the matter and build a national database for missing people. You could lend your support to the cause. We’ve also written about how to stay safe in Nigeria; you can read more about it here.
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