HumAngle Sanctuary, a mental health organisation, yesterday on Nov. 23, hosted a webinar on Navigating Mental Health Challenges Amidst Nigeria’s Missing Persons Crisis.
The virtual discussion which was moderated by Chigozie Victor, Gender reporter at HumAngle Media, featured HumAngle’s Investigations Editor, Kunle Adebajo; Director of HumAngle Sanctuary, Hassan Tajudeen; Olugbemi Olukolade, Head of the Department of Psychology at the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan; SP Anjuguri, Public Relations Officer from the Nigerian Police Force; and Dr Ibrahim Jiddah, Executive Director, Africa Mental Health Awareness, and Care Initiative (AMGACI), Miaduguri, as panellists.
Adebajo, who authored an investigation recently on missing people in northeastern Nigeria and how some of them ended up in mass graves, began by stating his experience on the field speaking to the families and loved ones of the victims who have been kidnapped or declared missing due to the Boko Haram insurgency. He also explained how difficult it is for them to cope, not knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones or finding closure.
“A dead child is better than the possibility of one that is missing,” Adebajo translated a Yoruba proverb, saying that the families of missing people are usually determined and passionate to speak. Even if they don’t get reunited with their loved ones, they believe that something needs to be done to ensure that other people do not have the same chain of experience.
Explaining the implications of missing persons in the humanitarian environment, Dr Ibrahim Jiddah said, “When one person is missing, it will affect everyone. The implication is that a lot of people will get traumatized in communities, and because of this, there will be lots of violence such as social vices and sexual abuse.”
He went ahead to state that if the missing person is an opinion leader of a community, a chain of people will be affected, and their followers may suffer leadership and emotional problems.
The director of the HumAngle Sanctuary, Dr Hassan, picked up the conversation by expanding on the many implications of missing persons on their family members.
“If they are the breadwinner, a lot of things will start to go south. The children may even drop out of school,” he said.
For the mental health implications, he stated that their families may suffer anxiety and depression, asking themselves if they’re going to be the next to go missing.
“Some may have the phobia of leaving the house because of fear.”
He said that many of these mental health implications are not paid attention to, but it is a major factor to be considered, because it affects every member of a victim’s family, and may even affect the normal daily functioning of a community.
On how to ensure that the families of missing people in rural areas get the mental health support they need, Dr Ibrahim Jiddah pointed out that many of the traumatized families reach out to religious leaders and civil society within their reach.
As for coping mechanisms, he stated that in places like Maiduguri, where there is violence, all the youths flee so as not to be accused and arrested for crimes that they did not commit. Many of them have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so some may cope with violence and anger.
On the security implications of missing persons, SP Anjuguri declared that the Nigerian Police has a mandate to assist families in reuniting with their loved ones who have gone missing.
“People sometimes aren’t mentally balanced to provide you with information,” he said, describing the information-gathering process after a person has been reported missing.
He emphasised empathy as one of the approaches that they have been trained to use to receive and gather information from the families of missing persons. He also pointed out that it is important to study the demeanour of a complainer and ask open questions, because some of them may not tell the entire truth, “they may try to play smart to cover the crimes that they may have committed to cause a person to be missing.”
He proceeded to explain the process that the Police Force uses to recover missing persons. Starting with receiving complaints, they collect adequate information from their families, which includes their recent photographs and description of any physical traits that may be helpful, their age, and where they were last seen in the community.
Afterwards, they would go to where the person was last seen, and then escalate it to the command axis. If they are not found at this point, it will be escalated to the public domain, which includes media outlets, hospitals, and morgues. Depending on the information they have received at this point, they may have to go through a major investigation, he explained.
Responding to Kunle Adebajo on the issue of the largest percentage of missing persons in Africa coming from Nigeria, the inadequate utilisation of technology and data collection, as well as understaffing in the Nigerian Police Force, SP Anjuguri admitted that the Nigerian Police Force is indeed understaffed, which is a challenge. However, a community policing approach has been adopted where everyone, including unions and religious leaders, partake in policing their community because they have a better understanding of it.
“Recruits in the Police Force, after their training, are returned back to their communities because they have a better understanding of them,” SP Anjuguri said.
He adds that this approach builds trust in the police, and when a person goes missing, the community will be of help to gather information to find the missing person.
Regarding the use of technology in the police force, SP Anjuguri said the Police Force has gone far with the use of technology. However, they have purposely not made their tactics known to the public so that culprits will not guard up against them.
More recently, there have been cases of people being tricked into taxis that are really kidnapping and robbery sites, then thrown out into the street after they have been robbed or even injured. This is locally known as ‘One Chance’. SP Anjuguri commented that One Chance is a transportation problem, and for it to be curbed, there needs to be an effective transport system.
He, however, urged that commuters should board vehicles from recognized parks, enter marked cars, avoid solo movements, and send the number plate of the vehicle to someone before boarding.
For data collection, SP Anjuguri stated that every police station has a missing person’s register that is accessible to the public.
In recovering missing persons, SP Anjuguri noted a few challenges. Many families do not have recent photographs of their missing relatives or any idea of their movement the last time they were seen, for example. This slows down the work of the police. There is also a possibility of being fed with wrong information because many people want to shield themselves.
Sp. Anjuguri concluded by stating that the issue of security is dynamic and evolving, and the police force is flexible in its approach to recovering missing persons depending on the circumstances that surround the case.
The two-hour webinar ended with a Q&A session.
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