Despite the enactment of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act 2017 to prevent people from dying unnecessarily from gunshot and accident wounds, hospitals have continued to reject victims. But it is hoped that the directive from the Inspector General of Police will go a long way to saving lives, writes Wale Igbintade
In order to ensure full compliance with the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act of 2017, the Inspector General of Police (IG), Kayode Egbetokun, last week directed all medical practitioners and facilities in the country to provide prompt treatment to all victims of gunshots and accidents, irrespective of the presence of a police report.
In a statement signed by the spokesperson of the police, Muyiwa Adejobi, Egbetokun disclosed that the decision was in response to the ongoing concern over the tragic loss of lives due to the neglect of gunshot and accident victims by medical practitioners. He said the directive is aimed at prioritising the immediate care and stabilisation of such patients, recognising the critical importance of timely medical attention in saving lives.
“The IG’s directive aligns with the full enforcement of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act of 2017, which mandates that all healthcare providers prioritise the immediate care and stabilisation of such patients, recognizing the critical importance of timely medical attention in saving lives.
“The IG underscored the moral duty and responsibility of medical practitioners to uphold the sanctity of life and provide life-saving care to those in need aiming to bridge the gap between law enforcement agencies and healthcare providers, facilitating a more efficient and compassionate response to emergency situations, and curbing crimes by fulfilling their obligation to invite the Police for assessment while treatment is ongoing,” police statement explained.
Recall that outrage had recently greeted the death of a community developer and member of the Young African Leaders Initiative Network (YALI), Greatness Olorunfemi, who was said to have been rejected at the Maitama General Hospital, in Abuja, which allegedly denied her treatment for not providing a police report.
According to witnesses, Olorunfemi was pushed out of a fast-moving vehicle, popularly called ‘one chance’ along the Maitama-Kubwa highway by hoodlums who reportedly robbed her on September 26.
It was alleged that due to the severe injuries she sustained, the Maitama General Hospital in Abuja refused to grant her medical attention over the absence of a police report.
The hospital, however, denied the allegations, claiming that the deceased was brought in dead.
But efforts by the federal government to address the issue of people dying unnecessarily from gunshot and accident wounds by enacting the Act, reports across the country have shown that victims are still being rejected by hospitals.
Before the signing of the legislation law by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017, the misinterpretation of the provision of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provision) Act, Cap 398 of 1984 had led to the death of several innocent Nigerians. Part of the act states: “It shall be the duty of any person, hospital or clinic that admits, treats or administers drugs to any person suspected of having bullet wounds to immediately report the matter to the police. It shall be an offence, punishable under this Act for any person to knowingly house, shelter, or give quarters to any person who has committed an offence under Section (2) of this Act.”
While there is nowhere in the Act which bars attending to gunshot victims, even if they are armed robbery suspects, there have been several instances where doctors were brutalised by the police and arrested for performing their professional duty of treating gunshot victims. But it has also been established that many doctors simply latch on to this to insist on police reports where timely and effective response to emergency victims could save life.
It is a harrowing experience for families to lose their loved ones under such cold-blooded deaths. One of such cases involved the late Bayo Ohu of The Guardian Newspaper, who was shot in his Lagos home in 2009 by suspected assassins. The first hospital refused to admit him. By the time he was taken to a public hospital, he was pronounced dead. The death of Saka Saula, a former chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, (NURTW), Lagos State chapter, followed the same pattern in 2008.
Cases of unwarranted deaths under similar circumstances were so incessant before the enactment of the relevant legislation, that the then Inspector-General of Police (IG), Solomon Arase, had to re-issue a statement on this matter in 2015, where he charged his officers and men not to harass Nigerians and good Samaritans in this regard.
Arase, who is now the Chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), also reminded doctors that they were “equally duty-bound to treat victims’ wounds and further inform police of relevant facts.”
Unfortunately, the police have continued to ignore this charge while hospitals have also continued the practice of rejecting victims. It was not surprising that one Christopher Ojiaka died in Port Harcourt in November 2017, after two hospitals refused to admit him, following gunshot injuries he sustained at a bank ATM.
Two years ago, the current First Lady, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, proposed an amendment bill which among others, sought to establish the Medical Emergency Assistance Fund to cover the treatment of victims of gunshot, knife wounds and other life-threatening emergencies. However, her effort did not yield any result.
Many Nigerians wonder why the country still records cases where hospitals demand police reports before treatment of gunshot wounds in 2023.
The hospitals’ rejection of emergency cases of this nature is an abuse of the most important fundamental human right – the right to life, enshrined in Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution. No one, the constitution emphasises, shall be deprived of it, save in the execution of capital offence, for which the person had been found guilty by the court.
What seems obvious is the fact that the fear of police harassment is not the only obstacle to the enforcement of this life-saving law, but the profit motive of hospitals. In an emergency, the victim or the Good Samaritan that may rush him/her to a health facility may not have cash to deposit immediately. For this reason, elaborate public enlightenment on the details of the Gunshot Act is imperative, especially on the penalties for its violation by hospitals, doctors, nurses and policemen.
By doing so, the law will not be like any other legal instrument in the country, which is observed in the breach. In fact, if society had been one of law and order, a new law to compel hospitals to save lives in an emergency would have been needless.
Apart from the constitution, The National Health Act 2014 had made a provision for this. In Section 20, it states partly: “A health care provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person on emergency medical treatment for any reason. An offender is liable to a fine of N100,000, a jail term of six months or both upon conviction.”
But despite the signing of the law into existence, deaths of gunshot victims have continued unabated. The latest devastating news has once more brought to the fore, the non-adherence to the provisions of the Act.
The Act also imposes on every citizen a civic duty to render every possible assistance to any person with gunshot wounds by ensuring that the person is taken to the nearest hospital for immediate treatment. It also mandates all medical facilities to receive and accept victims of a gunshot for immediate treatment without a police report.
As soon as the President signed the law, the then Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, emphasised what was expected of doctors in emergencies at an event: “Hospitals are a sanctuary for the sick and injured… Doctors must show no restraint in treating emergencies, even with gunshot wounds, you must treat them, and thereafter raise questions. You must also treat emergencies before asking for money because life is more precious than money.”
Understandably, gunshot injuries might prompt suspicion, but hospitals need to provide treatment first because even a criminal has to be alive to face justice.
Under the law, any hospital in Nigeria whether public or private shall receive and accept for immediate treatment anyone with a gunshot wound without demanding payment of deposit.
The Act also accords volunteers or helpers of gunshot victims the right to be treated with respect and not to be subjected to unnecessary and embarrassing interrogation in their genuine attempt to save a life.
The Act lists the responsibilities of the police as follows: To render every possible assistance to any person with gunshot wounds and ensure that the person is taken to the nearest hospital for immediate treatment; to commence an investigation to ascertain the circumstances under which the person was shot; and to furnish the hospital with background information of the victim.
Additionally, The Act has an array of penalties for those who contravene it. For instance, any hospital that fails to make a report commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 and every doctor directly concerned is equally liable on conviction to a term of six months or a fine of N100,000 or both.
Equally, a person or authority, including any police officer, or other security agents who stand by and fails to perform his duty under this Act which results in the unnecessary death of any person with gunshot wounds, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of five years or both.
The police, hospitals and all relevant stakeholders are expected to comply with this Act to save Nigerians from avoidable deaths.