The International Committee on Red Cross (ICRC) and other humanitarian stakeholders have called for the probe of the military’s counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations against Boko Haram terrorists in parts of North-East Nigeria.
This is against the backdrop of the claim that nearly 22,000 Nigerians have been reported as missing in the ongoing crisis in the North-East.
This figure, according to the ICRC, represents, the highest number of missing persons registered with the ICRC in any country.
It also claimed that nearly 60 per cent of the reported missing persons, were minors at the time they went missing, meaning thousands of parents do not know where their children are and if they are alive or dead.
A communique from the Roundtable Meeting on Justice for Missing Persons in the North-East organized by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) with sponsorship from Ford Foundation held last week in Abuja, 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.
The meeting which brought together human rights activists, media practitioners, participants from non-governmental organisations, government security agencies, as well as representatives of government (including the National Assembly, Ministries, Departments, and Agencies) to deliberate on what can be done to improve the conditions of residents of violence-stricken regions in the country, particularly the North-east, who have gone missing or have been abducted and their loved ones, also recommended that rules of warfare, which require that the government must account for the missing and the dead, should be upheld.
Other recommendations include, that there is need to empower the media, with funding and other resources, so that it can continue fostering accountability and transparency in governance, as well as to bring touching issues affecting people in the Northeast to the front burner, through investigative reporting.
“Government at all levels needs to start recognising citizens as real people and not just numbers.
” We need to compile some of the incidences of disappearance and file a formal complaint against Nigeria at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“The women in the Northeast should be empowered by government and other stakeholders as this will have a ripple effect on the larger society. They should also be organised to speak up about the issues affecting them.”
The Roundtable equally recommended that: “There is the need to create awareness on the problem of missing persons in Nigeria, especially using the opportunity created by various international days.
” The problem should not only be seen as a human rights issue but as an issue closely linked to the government’s fundamental responsibility to the people as enshrined under section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.”
It was suggested that it was not enough to account for missing persons, but justice must also be done through the provision of adequate assistance, in form of basic amenities, economic empowerment, basic infrastructural development, psycho-social and basic healthcare, among others and the missing persons should be returned to their communities and reunited with their family members.”
It was also suggested that the serving military officers, for instance those identified in the recently released documentary and other published investigative reports to have allegedly killed numerous people in the Northeast extrajudicially, including Colonel Cyril Ofurumazi, should be probed and made to answer for his actions, while others who were not mentioned but are guilty of similar criminal conduct should likewise be investigated.
Part of the recommendations also include that: “Well-meaning persons and organisations should engage and partner with relevant stakeholders, interest groups such as Jire Dole, and other affected persons.
” The government should empower former missing persons economically and also create shelters, possibly makeshift, where they can feel safe following their rescue or escape.
“The government should implement the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which it has signed and ratified, by first setting up and mandating a commission to supervise this task.
” The Nigerian military should publicise the number of persons who have been arrested in connection to the insurgency in the North-east, the number of those who have died in Giwa Barracks and other detention facilities, as well as the exact locations where those who have been arrested are being kept.
“The release of detained innocent persons should be prioritised while those suspected to have committed crime or to be members of Boko Haram should be investigated and tried.
” A motion should be drafted and introduced at the National Assembly to push government to initiate a missing persons’ register and work towards getting social justice for the victims.
” The government should set up a Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Committee that will facilitate the venting of grievances, acknowledgement of atrocities, and compensation of victims.
” We should put in place a process of repentance, remorse, and reintegration back to the society.”
The Roundtable suggested that it’s recommendations should be implemented on a community by community or state by state basis, and then extended to other affected places.