ALI NDUME, the lawmaker representing the Borno South senatorial district, has vowed to sponsor a bill at the National Assembly that will lead to the creation of a missing persons’ register in Nigeria, with help from the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, and other stakeholders.
He made this declaration on Wednesday at the round-table meeting on Justice for Missing Persons in the North-East held by The ICIR in Abuja and added that this is one of the steps that must be taken in getting social justice for the victims of forced disappearances in the region.
In his reaction to a question from Abdul Mahmud, a lawyer and human rights activist, alongside a comment from Hamsatu Allamin, executive director of Jire Dole, a misty-eyed Ndume agreed it is important to establish a desk to account for missing persons.
“As we leave here, we will do a motion. I’ll take a look at it and raise it on the floor of the House. I will talk to the Speaker if there is a need for that to make sure that the resolution is passed on the floor of the House of Representatives for government to initiate it,” he said.
“Right now, there are about 4000 or 6000 people in detention in Giwa Barracks. Some of them have been there for nearly 10 years, from the beginning of the crisis in 2009 to the height of the crisis in 2014. These people are under detention; we can’t say they are missing. But to their families, they have not been accounted for. Now, here we are, let us start from there.”
He said the desk to be created will work with the Nigerian Army to identify and document persons who are kept at Giwa Barracks and other detention centres. Those who are cleared as innocent will be released while others found suspicious will be further interrogated and possibly prosecuted.
The senator cautioned against antagonising the government and insisting that it should be held responsible as that will result in “spoiling the case”.
“So let us join hands with the government to solve this problem,” he said.
“Let us join the government and then do what we want to achieve. From there, if an innocent man is detained for 10 years and is released and asked to go home; then he has a right to go to court and say you detained me for 10 years and I want damages, N10 million, N5 million. That way you are right.
“But if you say, if you release me from here, I’m taking you to court, I assure you you’ll be there in that detention, and the government will be looking for something to hang on your neck so by the time you go out you’ll be thinking of how to keep yourself safe.”
Ndume noted that it is impossible to quantify exactly how many people are missing in the northeast partly because the population of the various communities is not known. He urged Nigerians to put pressure on the government to do more.
“For now, I don’t think anything is being done about missing persons,” he added.
“This kind of roundtable meeting will now serve as a triggering point for the government to do something about the missing persons, to even know where they are. Then we talk about justice for them… But let me conclude that what you see is just a tip of what we are going through in Borno in terms of the humanitarian crisis, but we are happy and we appreciate your concern.”
The round-table meeting was also attended by Abiodun Baiyewu, executive director of Global Rights; Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development; and Bukky Shonibare, founder of Girl Child Africa and coordinator of Adopt-A-Camp.
In a communique released after the event, participants recommended that “there should be a database with the government covering people who are being incarcerated to match against allegations of persons going missing or being extrajudicially killed.”
Among other things, they also urged that more awareness is created around the problems, investigative journalism is strengthened, women in the northeastern region are empowered, and the government implements the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Nigeria has signed and ratified.