By Awele Ideal
Gunshot or stab wounds due to their severity tend to require medical attention as soon as possible. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, police reports are a prerequisite before the most basic treatment can be administered to victims with gunshot and stab injuries in hospitals. Most times, hospitals deny the victims treatments.
Over the years, some of the rejections have led to deaths of promising Nigerians. The Nigerian police have systematically encouraged a practice whereby medical personnel will not treat individuals reporting with bullet or knife wounds before receiving police authorisation.
This act of denying stab/gunshot victims treatment until they tender police reports and clearance can be traced to the period after the civil war when there was a proliferation of firearms and armed robbery cases around the country. This prompted the passage of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act Cap R. 11, Laws of the Federation. Section 4(2) of the act stated that it shall be the duty of any person, hospital or clinic that admits, treats, or administers any drug to any person suspected of having bullet wounds to immediately report to the police. The act states further in Section 4(4) that a person convicted of contravening this law, shall be liable: in the case of an individual, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; and in the case of a hospital or clinic, to a fine of N10,000 and in addition, the hospital or clinic shall be closed down. The aim of this decree was largely to prevent suspected criminals with gun wounds from receiving medical attention and escaping afterwards.
Doctors too, in a bid to avoid harassment from the police, deny victims with gunshot/wounds treatment until they can tender a police report, leading to avoidable deaths of many Nigerians. The act in itself contradicts the Hippocratic Oath of doctors to protect lives of people. The hospitals’ rejection of emergency cases of this nature verges on the abuse of the most important fundamental human right …the right to life, enshrined in Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.
In December 2014, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the ‘National Health Act,’ which criminalises the demand for police reports by health facilities before attending to medical emergencies.
An act though belated but was a breath of fresh air, heralding a sign of change to the deathly norm especially for those who had lost loved ones untimely because they could not tender police reports during medical emergencies.
Section 20 (1) of the Act states that “a health care provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason whatsoever.’’ Subsection (2) states that, “any person who contravenes this section is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both.’’ However, years after the passage of the bill, hospitals still deny victims of medical emergencies treatments for failure to tender police reports.
In 2017, the President, Muhammadu Buhari noticing the loopholes in the existing health bill, reviewed it to a new bill titled, “Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act.”
This new bill abrogates the need for police reports in emergencies and compels hospitals to treat persons with gunshot wounds and other health emergencies. The bill also seeks to ensure that every person, including security agents, assist any person with gunshot wounds and ensure that the person is taken to the nearest hospital for treatment.
In addition, the bill stated that victims of gunshot wounds must be provided with necessary treatment from medical workers and assistance from available security agencies while also mandating that none with gunshot wounds be refused immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria, whether or not an initial monetary deposit was made.
The law further states that any hospital or doctor who contravenes the law is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or six months imprisonment or both.
The law makes it clear that doctors are obliged to treat everyone including victims with gunshot wounds and those involved in road accidents. However, concerning those with gunshot wounds, the law demands that hospitals have a duty to report the cases to the police as soon as possible after they commence treatment. The law does not stop or bar them from treating such patients but only demands that they report to the police. The fundamental responsibility of doctors is to save lives. This ranks above every other duty in importance.
Therefore, if any doctor or hospital is harassed by the police for treating a victim with gunshot wounds, then they should report the conduct of the officer(s) to the commissioner of police for the state. Also, If any doctor fails to treat victims with gunshot wounds, they shouldn’t hide under this law. No doctor should hide under the perceived or imaginary fear of police harassment to deny victims of gunshot wounds treatment. They shouldn’t abdicate their responsibilities in the pretext that the police will harass them.
I still wonder how this law has been jettisoned as though it does not exist. I believe the court has a lot to do concerning this but if this must happen, there has to be an administrative rebranding of key institutions directly involved in this circle. We all must raise awareness as lawyers and citizens. For hospitals that are aware of this law, it is easier to risk paying the fine if anyone would file a criminal complaint but if the penalties are more stringent, hospitals will not think twice before saving lives.
The request for police report by hospitals before treating a gunshot victim must have been a misconception now made a matter of practice. It is appalling to see this unwritten law invalidate a validly made law. It is therefore critical for the enforcement of the ‘Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshot Act’ of 2017 to be taken seriously.
It is my humble suggestion that massive campaigns be carried out by the relevant agencies to ensure that both police officers and doctors are in sync on this matter because It is brainless that victims of gunshot wounds should lose their lives unnecessarily when they could easily have been treated.
While sensitization is key, there is an urgent need to make an example of offenders, regardless of their status or position, be it hospitals, companies or police officers.
Awele Ideal Esq.