- Tales of Nigerians who disappeared without trace… and dilemma of their families
By HENRY OKONKWO
FOR every individual who goes missing, there is a family in torment, distress and unable to get on with their lives. The emotional pain, the mental agony is indescribable whenever they recall the sad memories of their loved one’s disappearance. It is, however, worse when they do not know whether to grieve the missing person, or live in hope that the individual would someday be found. This is a tragic situation numerous families are facing in Nigeria today, as news of missing persons increase by the day.
In other climes, forensic experts and investigators lead the search, making painstaking efforts to unravel mysteries surrounding missing persons. But Nigeria’s security systems find it tough getting adequate clues to finding answers to the situation. And the country’s lack of a proper data bank that keeps wholesome record of its citizens both living, dead and missing, does not help the lot of the Nigerian security officials in cracking cases of missing persons.
As a result, Nigerians on their own, spearhead frantic efforts in the search to find their loved ones that have vanished. Some employ different conventional and unconventional media to trumpet and beckon on the public to help in their search. Many create an online community via social mediums like Facebook and Twitter where they garner followership and circulate information and pictures of the missing individual in a bid to finding answers.
Early this month, news of the sudden disappearance of popular Abuja-based businesswoman and socialite, Charity Aiyedogbon was buzzing on various platforms of social media. Ms Charity popularly called Deepdeal Chacha De Hammer by friends and admirers, disappeared and no one till date could find any trace of her whereabouts. As reported by different online blogs and social platforms, the divorced mother of three children, was discovered to have been missing since May 9 when she supposedly put up a Facebook post that she was going on a road trip. Two weeks after, no one saw or heard from her, a couple of friends in the company of her landlady and some security personnel went to her apartment at House 26, 5th Avenue, Gwarimpa estate, Abuja. And there, they discovered that her apartment was unruffled, no apparent packing was done for a trip. They also noticed what appeared to be a fresh pot of soup which was now bad was on the gas burner, untouched.
With all these details and after several weeks, Charity’s friends and family launched a ‘Find Deepdeal Chacha Dehammer’ community on social media where there they post information and video calling for efforts in finding her. The matter has also been reported to the police in Abuja.
But even at that, some of her associates still nurse fears that the worse could have happened. “Chacha we know won’t just go off for too long without keeping in contact with her loved ones. But it’s been more than a month now since she disappeared. And I think it is way too long to be abducted with no signs or contacting the family. Our Police are making no much effort, and those who are making efforts are meeting roadblocks. God forbid but I am suspecting that she’s been killed,” one of her friends said.
Charity Aiyedogbon’s disappearance is not the first, or second or even the 100th in recent months. Last November, author and broadcaster Martin Udogie also vanished without a trace on the streets of Maryland in Lagos metropolis. The 40-something year old publisher of BottomLine magazine was last seen driving around Maryland in his red coloured Peugeot 206 saloon car with registration number LY5944AAA on November 25. He went to fix his car at the mechanic workshop and drove off without traces. Since then, no one has seen or heard from him again. And almost seven months after his disappearance, nothing has been heard or seen to clear the mystery of Martin Udogie’s sudden disappearance.
Mr. Chuks Okocha, a close friend, who is leading the search, told Saturday Sun that he and other concerned friends decided to champion the search for Martin, when they noticed that Matin’s family was not showing enough zeal towards finding him. Chuks further disclosed that the matter was reported at the Bar Beach Police Station, but they are not impressed with the way the police was going about the investigation. “When it happened, the Police was messing up the whole search,” he lamented. “After reporting to the police, we ran to the media to publicise it, and they requested us to bring a police report. It took months before the police could issue us a report, after which we started broadcasting it on diverse media platforms. In fact, it was so bad that I personally had to join the police to investigate and ask questions around Maryland”, he stated
According to Okocha, their lack of belief in the police prompted them to transfer the case to the Department of State Security, DSS. “It took so much effort convincing the DSS to take up the case. I believe they would do a more thorough job in investigating the case of Martin’s disappearance. But more worrisome is that the family does not show enough commitment in the search to find him. Many have asked us why we, the friends are crying more than the bereaved. Months after Martin disappeared, it was just last two weeks ago that I succeeded in convincing Martin’s brother to come to see the DSS.”
Saturday Sun learnt that Martin Udogie went off the radar of his loved ones at exactly 12:25pm on the said date, and since that time till now, no arrests, no clue and no answers as regards his whereabouts.
Another, Arum Ezekiel, a 33-year-old man went missing in Owerri, Imo state. According to family sources, Ezekiel left the office on a Monday morning early this month to run some errands for his family within the town. He was said to have called his wife telling her he was on his way back, and that was the last time they heard from him. Ever since then till now, his phone has been switched off and no one has been able to reach him or know his whereabouts. “We have been praying day and night asking God to bring him back to us safely,” a family source stated, adding “If he has been kidnapped, his abductors should just call us because his disappearance is really tormenting us.”
Cases of lost children and teenagers top the statistics of missing persons. A recently launched online platform dedicated solely to announcing missing persons in Nigeria, announced 20 cases of missing persons in less than two weeks of its launch, and out of the 20 cases, 19 where children and teenagers ranging between ages 3 and22. Children are the most vulnerable targets for kidnappers, traffickers and ritual killers. And according to the police, cases of kidnapped children remain prominent in their case files of missing persons.
Just last month as he was warming up for the children’s day holiday like every other child, three year old David Okoli was kidnapped by a strange woman allegedly seen lurking around the school premises at God’s Glory Nursery and Primary School, Ijanikin, Lagos. Little David’s father, Mr. Stephen Okoli told Saturday Sun that his son was kidnapped on his way back from school along with his siblings at Ijanikin, and every effort to get him back has been futile. The strange lady was seen that morning inside a car eating watermelon and pineapple. The woman that took David and his three other siblings to school that day noticed how the strange woman kept staring at the little boy. Her strong suspicion for the strange woman made her to hold David tight and then lead him into the school compound. Unfortunately after school dismissed for the day, she could not come back to bring them back home. And after waiting for while, the children decided to go home on their own since, the school is actually not far from their house. Six year old, Esther, who is the eldest was walking home with her other four year old twin siblings and then little David.
Immediately they came out of the school compound, the strange lady called Esther by her name and asked to allow her assist in carrying little David. Esther wondered how the stranger knew her name, but felt that she maybe her family’s friend and so allowed her carry little David. As they approached the house, the strange lady told them to wait for her to go buy some biscuits for David and the rest of them. That was how she disappeared with the little David. Esther stood there for some minutes, and then burst into tears, crying in utter confusion. The twins seeing their elder sister crying, ran to call the attention of their father and the neighbours.
“My children ran to me shouting that ‘one aunty has disappeared with David’; I was confused. They showed the track she followed, and I dashed there asking people if anybody has seen the woman or my son. But no one claimed to have seen them. I then rushed to report and seek help from the Ijanikin police station. And they told me that they cannot do anything on my case until after 24 hours of the disappearance. So, I went back to report again. But since after reporting, nothing has happened. Instead I was given an option to pay N3000 or to fill their generator with fuel before I could be issued a police report.
“I when I got the report, I went on to publicise the search for my son and I gathered that the strange woman headed to Agbara with my son and then from there went to Lusada-Atto in Ogun state. When I got there, I was again told that the woman’s most likely destination would be Idiroko border. I went there to search but could not get news of my son, David,” the distraught father said.
Security experts and officials admit that the case of missing persons in Nigeria is getting to an alarming level year in, year out. In the first half of 2015, the Lagos police reported that they were investigating 100 cases of missing persons, many of whom were women and children.
The Bauchi Police Command recently raised the alarm, following the sudden disappearance of two 12- year-old girls: Hajara Abdullahi Tikau and Rukaiya Saleh when they went to Islamic School at Makama New Extension on 2nd of May, 2016. The command’s spokesperson, DSP Haruna Mohammed, in a statement, bemoaned the increase in the rate of missing persons in the state, warning parents and school proprietors, to be more watchful of the children under their care. He further charged the society to be vigilant, and be willing to give viable information that would help police contain the situation.
Human Rights Commission to the rescue?
No doubt, there is no data bank in Nigeria containing a comprehensive record of missing persons in the country. And in a bid to fill the gap, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently disclosed that it has started making concerted efforts towards ensuring that the data of missing people in the country are well documented and accounted for.
The NHRC’s proposed collection and collation of missing people’s data, is necessitated by series of disappearance which has hit nearly every part of Nigeria in recent times. Furthermore, the rescue missions which have been conducted in recent times by the Nigerian military, has shown that thousands of Nigerians have been missing without the knowledge of the government and its relevant agencies.
According to the Executive Secretary of NHRC, Professor Bem Angwe, there is a relationship between keeping a record of missing people and the protection of their fundamental human rights. “In our country today, we don’t have a precise record of births and we don’t have a precise record of deaths. It, therefore, becomes very difficult to give an account and where we are confronted with a situation such as insurgency activities occurring in the Northern-eastern part of the country today, or even the conflict between the herdsmen and farmers across the country, or the various kidnappings that are taking place around the country, it becomes difficult to be exact as to who are the victims of these activities in our country.
“In this wise, we cannot say with pride that we have put in place appropriate strategies that demonstrate the values we place on the lives of Nigerians. We have reached a point where we must change our attitudes toward providing accountability to the life of every Nigerian. The starting point will be first, in the face of terrorist activities in the country, we must have a data base that will chronicle cases of persons who are missing, who are not seen or who have been killed or have been affected by the activities of the insurgents.”
The human rights boss urged all levels of government in Nigeria to strictly enforce a birth and death registration policy.
Surviving the menace
Amid the menace, security expert, Dr. Ona Ekhomu in a chat with Saturday Sun, disclosed some remedies towards curbing the ugly development. “Our police are not miracle workers. So we need to promptly report the cases of missing persons to law enforcement agents. Because the longer it takes to report, the worse off the case would be.”
He further called on government to enact more laws on missing persons to further back law enforcement agents and to protect women and children. Also, he harped on the need for installation of more Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in open places, and the need for NGOs to go into creating support groups that would focus attention on issues of abduction and providing support for families of kidnap victims. “Again we need more public awareness campaign on the modus operandi of kidnappers and traffickers so that members of the public can know what to do.”
And for individuals, he admonished: “Make sure you always tell someone where you are going and when you would return. So that when anything bad happens people would know who to call, and where to start searching. Parents should endeavour to warn their children of the danger of strangers. They must train their children never to collect anything from strangers.”
Ekhomu also decried the damage the rising cases of missing persons has done, and is doing to the image of the country. “Kidnapping is ruining the name of the country, and unless we do something about it, it won’t go away. More and more Nigerians would continue to go missing. But like we always do on all our national problems, we pretend that they don’t exist until it blows up in our faces.”