People don’t just decide they want to go missing. It’s not what they put on their to-do lists, neither is it an event they look forward to like birthdays.
I mean, there are cases of individuals who went missing of their own accord. However, apart from cases of conflicts, most missing persons’ cases are either due to foul play or their whereabouts are just not known.
In Nigeria, police reports on missing persons are generated every day with the families and friends of the affected persons experiencing uncertainty and fear in the process.
These reports range from deaths and displacements caused by conflicts as is the case in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, to individual cases of kidnappings and disappearances.
According to a 2020 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), over 23,000 persons, mostly children, were reported missing in eight years in Nigeria – the highest number of missing persons registered, with about 20,000 of them coming from the Northeast where Boko Haram exists.
The sad part is that, while some missing persons are found after a while, others are not and this is because the bulk of the responsibility of finding missing persons in Nigeria, falls on the police who are mostly ill-equipped to carry out emergency search and rescue missions.
This is where technology comes to play!
Technology has transformed every aspect of life. To put it in context, technology has helped make the process of reporting missing persons and finding them easier for both the police and the affected families.
Usually, when cases of missing persons spring up online, there is an impulse to want to find that person by amplifying the report because that is the only thing one can do to help at that time.
This was demonstrated in the case of Iniobong Umoren, a Philosophy graduate of the University of Uyo in Nigeria who only wanted a job but ended up missing and was later found dead.
Iniobong’s whereabouts would not have been unraveled and her killers apprehended, if her friend, whom she had confided in before going for the supposed interview, had not raised alarm on Twitter after she got a distress message from Iniobong on WhatsApp.
Within hours of that tweet, there were hundreds of tweets and thousands of retweets about her – describing her, detailing her last known location, asking users if they had seen her, and seeking the services of GPS service providers to track her.
In less than 24 hours, the case was solved. This would never have happened if her friend had not alerted the public on Twitter, thanks to technology.
Indeed, technology can be a curse and a blessing – a curse because people have gone missing through online hookups and a blessing because people have also been found by using apps, devices and social media platforms.
With the increasing rate of missing persons in Nigeria, there is a need to leverage technology as it has proven to be effective and timely.
One of the ways technology can be leveraged for reporting, tracking and finding missing persons is through social media amplification.
This is helpful because almost all the information you need about a person can be found on their social media pages.
Take Facebook for example, almost all the information about a person can be found on their profile while for a platform like Twitter, it just takes a viral tweet to gain a wide reach.
There have been cases where missing persons successfully reconnected with their families and loved ones through social media.
Another way technology can be leveraged is by using GPS tracker to locate missing persons.
GPS trackers transmit the location data of a person to a GPS tracking platform where it can then be used on a computer-based map to locate people or things. Some tracking apps allow users share their location with others.
GPS trackers can give the police a better idea on where they should look for a missing person.
Finally, the average person leaves digital footprints online. Almost everything they do can be tracked by their online behavior – the websites they visit, their financial activities, the emails they send, their search habits, the information they submit to online services and their conversations.
Leveraging technology can help investigators solve missing person cases in the nick of time.
It will also limit the wastage of resources especially in cases where the police have to fuel their cars for mobility purposes or conduct search parties by physically checking out every lead they get.
Now, they could just monitor a suspect’s online behavior or track missing persons by running algorithms or scouring their social media pages.
We have a part to play
Looking for missing persons takes a lot of time and resources. The Nigerian government, organizations and individuals should invest more funding in equipping the police with tech tools that will facilitate the quick location and tracking of missing persons and also fund research.
More platforms for missing persons should be created. An organization like EiE Nigeria has a missing person database where missing persons are reported and documented.
This is good for reference and data capture purposes.
Technological collaboration between the police and these organizations should be encouraged for effective results
Awareness also needs to be created about the increasing rate of missing persons and how people can protect themselves.
People should be educated on the apps and platforms specifically designed for missing person purposes, how to use them and what to do if they fall victim to kidnapping or foul play.
Finally, because of the trauma associated with going missing, mental health services need to be made available to persons that have been found and families of those that have either been found or not.
There are online therapy and counseling services in Nigeria that can be accessed.
Technology continues to prove itself as a faster way to track missing persons. All it takes is knowing what tool to use and what channels to go through to accurately track them.
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