On the night of 1st August last year, Mr Abubakar Idris, (popularly known as Dadiyata), a 34-year old lecturer at the Federal University Dutsinma, Katsina State, was abducted from his home in the Barnawa area of Kaduna State. “As he was about to lock the gate, two men accosted him and took him away in his car,” Dadiyata’s wife, Khadija, said at the time. Described as a social media critic, the initial suspicion was that Dadiyata might have been arrested by agents of the State Security Service (SSS). In fact, his wife sued the SSS Kaduna command, the Commissioner of Police and the State Government, seeking the “unconditionally release” of her husband and payment of the sum of N50 million in damages, for what was considered illegal detention.
But with both the SSS and Police coming out to deny holding him—and without a demand for ransom from his captors more than five months after—apprehension is turning to fear regarding Dadiyata’s fate. “Part of the suspicion is that he might have been taken by any other security service,” said DSP Yakubu Sabo, the Kaduna State Police Command spokesman. “We wrote to the DSS to ask if the person in question is in their custody and they have written in the negative to say he is not in their custody. We have tried using technical methods of tracking to find him but none of that has yielded any result,” Sabo said. If Dadiyata is not with either the Police or the SSS, the question now is: Where exactly is he?
While I enjoin President Muhammadu Buhari to show interest in this case by calling on security agencies to investigate Dadiyata’s disappearance, the development may be emblematic of the increasing number of families unable to account for the whereabouts of relatives who have vanished without a trace. These are people who could have walked out of their home (suffering from mental illness), been involved in an accident, kidnapped, lying in a mortuary or detained by any of the security agencies. And their number is increasing.
For the families of the missing, the trauma can be harrowing, which perhaps explains a popular Yoruba saying that “my child is dead is better than my child is missing”. The uncertainty of not knowing the whereabouts of a loved one in our country is heightened by a feeling of hopelessness and despair. 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. Sadly, efforts to create that platform in Nigeria have been bogged down by a series of challenges.
On 13th April 2016, a roundtable meeting on incidents relating to insecurity, and the insurgency in the North East, in particular, was convened in Abuja by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). Chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, participants were drawn from the military, civil society organisations and other relevant stakeholders. The need for a Missing Persons Database was highlighted as critical for the country. Thereafter, a stakeholders meeting was convened and a National Technical Committee, headed by Mrs. Maryam Uwais, Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, was constituted. Members include representatives from ONSA, Police, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), National Population Commission (NPopC), Nigerian Red Cross (NRC), Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Bring Back Our Girls Group (BBOG), National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) providing the secretariat.
The idea was to engage the anxiety and distress of families with missing members as a result of increasing incidents of insurgency, kidnapping and ethno-religious conflicts that have led to internal and massive displacements, deaths, indiscriminate arrests and detention. The establishment of such a database was borne out of the fact that there is currently no formalised, standardised or technology-enabled structure to address the humanitarian consequences of missing persons across states and national borders. While the Police and NAPTIP have investigative mandates to enquire into specific cases of missing persons, their capacity and reach are not as encompassing as is required for a country bedeviled with such a myriad of challenges.
I participated in the inaugural meeting but could not attend subsequent ones due to other commitments. The expectation was that the committee would, among other things, establish a platform for public engagement, as well as a comprehensive database registry of missing and unaccounted-for persons. Such a database would help to provide families and relevant authorities with appropriate information and facts regarding disappearances, in line with agreed procedures and compliance with protocols. In addition, the platform would receive and register tracing requests from families of missing persons, feature avenues for follow up, assessment and clarification while also providing support to them. The core mandate of those responsible for managing the database would be to institute preventive mechanisms and practical measures of a general nature, in order to reduce the likelihood of Nigerian citizens and residents getting missing.
The obligation to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons arises from the fact that their families have specific needs. These include administrative, economic, psychological and psychosocial support. In most cases, loved ones and family members are anxious to get information, and are grateful if they have a place they can go to for assurance that the lives of their loved ones mean something to the country, including the fact that action would be taken to locate them. Evidently, the trauma of not being certain of the fate of relatives or loved ones is compounded when there is no reporting centre to which one can go and be assured that efforts were being made to find them.
Sadly, funding for this project has been inadequate, but I understand that the ICRC, which has the requisite expertise and global experience, has been most supportive. Equipment and training have been provided for pilot projects in three locations (Borno, Benue and Rivers States). A tremendous amount of work has also gone into developing the database, along with initial documentation pre-requisite for commencement. While the Missing Persons Register will soon come on stream, lessons learnt from other countries including Colombia, Peru and Mexico have shown that it is an initiative that takes several years to conclude successfully.
However, I am also aware of contentions about where to host the database. There are powerful officials who believe the database should be domiciled with the security agencies due to what they describe as its ‘sensitive’ nature. The argument is that opening up the detention centres and cells for scrutiny would compromise national security. But placing such a platform within the auspices of a security outfit would defeat the purpose since those whose whereabouts are being sought could well be in their custody. Besides, there is the question of access by families seeking information. Such a situation is not conducive for a Missing Persons Database, as is clear from the experiences of other countries. The whole idea is to empathise with, as well as support and address the concerns and anxiety of families of missing persons, without apportioning liability. I hope the right thing will be done in deciding where to domicile the database at the end of the day.
That the issue of Missing Persons is a global challenge can be glimpsed from the fact that an estimated eight million children are said to go missing in the world every year, with about ten percent (800,000) from the United States. United Kingdom is said to account for 230,000 annually; Brazil, 40,000; Canada, 50,500; France, 39,000; Mexico, 45,000 and Germany, 100,000. But the problem arises from the fact that there is no data to work in most African countries, including Nigeria. Nor are there institutions to which families of victims can go to seek help. That is why we urgently need the National Database.
Meanwhile, in the immediate case of Dadiyata, it is important for authorities to locate his whereabouts and bring closure for the family. As an aside, given the manner Dadiyata was abducted as described by his wife who witnessed the unfortunate saga, it is very telling that accusing fingers could be pointed at the security agencies. That is to show that agents of state now conduct their business almost as if they were licensed thugs or kidnappers. These tactics alienate them from the people they are set up to protect.
While I hope and pray Dadiyata is found and reunited with his family, there are far too many cases of unaccounted-for people in our midst that require sensitivity and action. As a society, we have no option but to commit to the cause of extending empathy to our fellow citizens in distress while assuring that when people leave their homes and do not return, the state will help to ascertain their whereabouts—regardless of whether they are alive or dead.
Support for The Road Sweeper’s Family
Three weeks ago, I wrote on how a reader of this column offered the sum of N100,000 to the family of the late Mrs Folasade Ogunniyi who was knocked into the Lagos lagoon by a hit-and-run driver while performing her duty on the Third Mainland Bridge. I have succeeded in reaching the deceased’s husband, Mr Sunday Ogunniyi while the reader (a retired army General from Kano who prefers anonymity) increased his donation to N200,000. Two other readers have also responded. While Mr Kunle Adebisi sent N50,000, Mr Obukaroro Ovadje donated N100,000 on behalf of the Love Ministry of the Foursquare Church. Totalling N350,000, these donations were made directly to the account of Ogunniyi who has acknowledged receipts and is most grateful. Another reader (who also doesn’t want his name mentioned) is sending N100,000 to the account tomorrow making N450,000 in all. That will be ten times what the company the late sweeper worked for is offering the family for her services!
Meanwhile, these donations were made without any solicitation from me; and that speaks to the generousity of our people. I also do not know the Ogunniyis but the kindness of these readers is well appreciated and I cannot thank them enough. It is indeed noteworthy that in writing the piece, the intention was not to raise money for the family—although I am delighted by the kind gestures—but rather to draw attention to the social injustice prevailing within our society. For those who may not have read the short piece, when first published on 10th October 2019, it is republished below.
A few weeks ago, a street sweeper on the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, Mrs Folasade Ogunniyi was knocked into the lagoon by a hit-and-run driver while performing her duty. According to the report in The Guardian newspaper, the deceased’s corpse was only recovered underneath the bridge three days later. “Until her death, the late sweeper, a mother of three, was under the employment of by Highway Manager, an environment sanitation firm working in collaboration with the Lagos State Government.” Her husband Sunday Ogunniyi told The Guardian: “Some of the people that saw the incident said she was even yet to start work when the accident happened. She was still placing cones when a certain Honda vehicle ran at her and hit her to the lagoon.”
The report went further: “To compensate her family for the loss of their loved one and service she rendered for the 24 months of her engagement, Highway Manager said the family will be paid a meagre N45,000, which represents three-month salary. ‘We have communicated with the family and we are doing our part,’ Highway Manager’s head, Rotimi Sotanmi told our correspondent.”
There are several issues in this report. One, it is a shame that anybody would be earning a monthly salary of N15,000 (which is far below the minimum wage) in Lagos. Two, should people who work under such a risky environment not have some sort of insurance scheme? Three, how can someone who died on duty in circumstances that could only be described as gruesome be entitled only to three months of some miserable salary?
While the family of the late Mrs Ogunniyi deserves much better treatment, the management of ‘Highway Manager’ and the Lagos State government should look into some of the issues that have been thrown up by her unfortunate death and begin to address them.
Losing a Mother!
Despite his best efforts in the past 14 traumatic weeks, my friend and brother, Waziri Adio, lost his mother yesterday. And in deference to my aburo, Nasiru Adio (‘Uncle Afaa’) who left Canada yesterday so he could pay his mother the last respects, she will be buried tomorrow in Iwo, Osun State. Another friend, Dan Akpovwa also lost his mother on 29th December last year with burial scheduled for 21st January in Eku, Delta State. The consolation for the bereaved, as one writer aptly captured moments like this, is that “Mothers never really die, they just keep the house up in the sky; they polish the sun by day and light the stars that shine at night, keep the moonbeams silvery bright and in the heavenly home above, wait to welcome those they love.”
To waziri and Dan, my condolences.