By Maria Famakinwa
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 is a pointer to the gravity of the situation. 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. Perhaps no case highlights the plight of missing persons in the country more than the affected families who are still hopeful of seeing their lost ones. The affected families have since joined several others in Nigeria who cannot account for the whereabouts of their father, mother, daughters, sons, uncles and other loved ones.
In January this year, a nine-year-old girl, Chisom Ezeonyiwara was declared missing in Rivers State, according to the report, the girl was last seen at about 6pm on Wednesday, January 18, 2023.A family friend said Chisom left the house with their house help at Rukpokwu in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of the state to buy something, and hasn’t returned. Another 15-year-old girl, Chidimma Nwanneka, was also reported missing since May 2023 after she was drooped off at her school in Jakande, Eti-Osa Local Government in Lagos State by a woman who employed her as her domestic help. Another 18-year-old lady, Christianah Ologun, was declared missing in June this year after boarding a taxi through a popular ride-hailing app in Abuja.
Family source said she was last seen in the Jabi area of Abuja on 14 June, 2023.
Last month, Ekiti State Police Command declared a 23-year-old female student of the State University (EKSU) Helen Eberechukwu Okorie missing. According to the report, the lady who live at No.15, Ayoba Quarters, Behind Sadiat Hotel Irona Area, Ado Ekiti, left home on 13/09/2023 at about 0800HRS to an unknown destination and never returned. The Ekiti state police said: “She is chocolate in complexion, speaks English and Igbo languages fluently, and has no tribal mark. She is a 500-level student of the university.” While the families of those declared missing still have their faith hanging, came a devastating report that the corpse of a 26-year-old female student of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Blessing Karami, who was earlier declared missing on September 11, has been found.
The rising cases of missing girls in the country gives credence to the disclosure by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that Nigeria has the highest number of missing persons ever registered by the organisation in Africa. According to Leonard Blazeby, the ICRC’s head of programme and prevention, 25,000 out of 64,000 missing persons reported are from Nigeria. “This includes more than the 2000 cases that were registered after January 2021. The number of missing persons continues to rise every day, yet the ICRC knows that these figures represent a fraction of a wider undocumented humanitarian tragedy,” Blazeby said.
Available records reveal that some missing persons have been found after some days, weeks or months, sometimes in locations far away from home. But 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? Security experts who spoke with The Hope proffer solutions to reducing the increase rate of missing girls in the country.
A security expert, Mr Adam Abuh, who linked the cases of missing girls to criminal activities like ritualists in the guise of yahoo boys blamed parents for lacking in their parental roles. The man who maintained that security agents or government cannot win the fight alone without the support of parents warned parents to monitor their children especially the girls so as not to be lured by wrong company.
His words: “Cases of missing girls are on the rise because female gender is most vulnerable. Ritualists as well as yahoo boys see females as their raw materials to be rich. Instead of girls to be careful with yahoo boys, they still prefer them as solution to their financial problems. Some ladies while traveling prefer to stand by the road sides for men who will give them free ride. How can the safety of such ladies be guaranteed?
“At times, I shook my head when I see underage girls going to school alone without their parents or an adult leading them which is very risky. How can parents be so busy to jeopardize the safety of their children? To address the rising cases of missing girls, religion leaders and parents must support security officials in the fight. Let clerics preach more of morals and parents should train their children in the right way. They must know the friends their children keep and take urgent steps to correct them when necessary. It won’t be out of place if parents can constantly remind their female children of yahoo boys antics to use girls for money rituals. This will create serious fear in them and help them to be mindful of the company they keep,” he said.
A social commentator, Mr Folajogun Michael, who described the disappearance of people as a painful experience added that it is better to see a dead body and bury it than to have to wait probably all your life for a missing relative. The man who blamed harsh economy for social vices across the country appealed to parents to be more alive to their responsibilities because the day is evil. “The economy is so harsh that people’s memory have been regressed to the point of killing fellow human for money rituals.
“The cases of missing persons is a serious national security issue. The uncertainty of families of missing persons is heightened by a feeling of hopelessness and despair, especially when there is no official place to which they can receive succour. In other societies, the realisation that the country provides a platform for reporting and tracking missing persons offers a sense of hope, perhaps of possible tracing and eventual reunification. The obligation to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons arise from the fact that their relatives have specific needs. These include administrative, economic, psychological and psychosocial support and the need to have their suffering acknowledged.
“Beyond reporting to the police, there must be other avenues by which the families can seek public support with the assurance that the lives of their loved ones whose whereabouts cannot be accounted for matter. Besides, Government should initiate human friendly policies that will turn people’s lives around. If the economy is buoyant, social vices will be curbed. Ministry of National Orientation Agency (NOA) should intensify efforts at sensitizing the general public against the idea of get-rich-quick syndrome, the ministry should as well sensitive girls against accepting friendship offers from social media friends. Parents should talk to their females against following yahoo boys because there is nothing like internet fraud again, foreigners (Whites) who are often their targets are now wise that is why they kill ladies to use their body parts for money rituals. They are ready to offer anything to get a lady because they know what they are after. Ladies should be wise,” he warned.