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HomeNewsMedical Treatment of Gunshot Victims in Nigeria: All Lives Matter.

Medical Treatment of Gunshot Victims in Nigeria: All Lives Matter.

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By Israel Olawunmi

In November, 2017, one, Mr. Christopher Ojiaka died in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, after two hospitals refused to admit him, following gunshot injuries at a bank’s Automated Teller Machine(ATM) gallery.

On, 26th of May, 2020 one, Miss.Tina Ezekwe, a 16 year old girl, was allegedly shot by a “drunk” police officer at Iyana Oworo, Lagos State. Tina was rushed to the hospital, however, left unattended to, and alas, she bought the farm. Her promising life met its end in a very tragic manner.

The above and even more, are apt paradigms that reveal the reality of the fate of many gunshot victims in Nigerian hospitals, both private and public. For treatment to commence, the hospitals require that a police report be produced. In most cases, lives end up being lost abruptly, and this begs the question as to what the disposition of our health institutions to life is, owing to the refusal of medical practitioners to attend to gunshot victims in cases of emergency, solely for want of a police report with respect to the incident. How acceptable is the abnegation of medical practitioners’ duty to save lives in emergency situations, just because a police clearance can’t be provided by the victim, his family members or any volunteer who brought him to the hospital?

1.1. The Primary Duty of Physicians to Gunshot Victims as opposed to the Condition of Firstly obtaining Police Report in Nigeria Before Commencing Treatment.

The Hippocratic Oath is an oath of ethics taken by medical practitioners, which is attributed to Hippocrates of Kos, Greece, who is dubbed, the historical “father of medicine”.

The summary of this oath is ” primum non nocere”, which is Latin for: “first do no harm” in English language.

This suggests that doctors have as a major duty to save lives, as opposed to taking them whether intentionally or inadvertently.

This is even rehashed in the International Code of Medical Ethics, as it provides that:

“A physician shall always bear in mind the obligation of preserving human life. A physician shall owe his patients complete loyalty and all the resources of his science”

Section 305 of the Criminal Code Act provides:

“When a person undertakes to do any act, the omission to do which is, or may be dangerous to human life or health, it is his duty to do that act ; and he is held to have caused any consequences which result to life or health of any person by reason of any omission to perform that duty”

Section 343(1) of the Criminal Code Act, in the same vein provides that:

“Any person who in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life or to be likely to cause harm to any other person…gives medical or surgical treatment to any person whom he has undertaken to treat…is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is liable to imprisonment for one year”

Section 16(1)(b) of the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act further provides that conviction under section 343 of the Criminal Code Act allows for a ground for disciplinary action against such errant physician.

Section 20 of the National Health Act of 2014 imposes a duty on healthcare provisions to treat all patients in the event of an emergency, and shall for no reason refuse treatment. The Act in fact, provides criminal sanctions for defaulters- both in prison terms or payment of a fine.

In R v Dyment DLLR 55 [1988] 503, the Supreme Court of Canada held as follows:

“The primary concern of physicians must be the care of their patients…The physician must not be made part of the law enforcement machinery of the state”

1.2. The Legality of the Requirement of Police Report for Treatment of Gunshot Victims.

Section 214 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and section 4 of the Police Act empower the police to prevent, detect and investigate crimes, also to ensure law and order.

In line, with the topical issue in discourse, the requirement of police report arguably stems from the promulgation of the Robbery and Firearms Decree in 1984, owing to the high rate of armed robbery in the country, hence, hospitals required a police report before treatment can be kick-started, in a bid to combat crime.

Funnily, the Decree made no express provision for a police report before treatment can begin for gunshot victims, especially as regards escapee robbery suspects who have gunshot injuries.

Doctors maybe, request of this clearance to stave off embarrassments from security operatives. Or the fear of being seen as accessories after the fact of the crime or being seen as furtive in any way.

The above, throws medical practitioners on the horns of a dilemma, in having to stick with their oath of firstly saving lives, before any consideration, and observing the duty imposed on citizens by S. 201 of the Criminal Code Act that any person having reasonable notice that he is to assist law enforcement agents in arresting criminal suspects without any reasonable excuse omits to do so, is culpable of a crime. Also their duty of confidentiality.

1.3. The New Legal Regime in Nigeria With Respect to Treatment of Gunshot Victims by Hospitals.

On December 29th, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari assented to The Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017, being a legislation enacted by the National Assembly, and binding on all States in the Federation.

The Act is imbued with provisions for the compulsory treatment and care for the victims of gunshots.

This Act is divided into sixteen(16) sections.

Its notable provisions are as follows:

1) Right to Treatment – Sections 1 and 2 provide that every hospital, be it, public or private, is to receive and treat victims of gunshot wounds with or without police clearance and/or payment of an initial deposit.

2)Section 2(2)(b) of the Act provides that persons with gunshot wound shall not be subjected to any degrading treatment or torture by any person or authority, including the police or other security agencies

This dovetails the constitutional right to dignity of human person stipulated in Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria(as amended)

3) Section 3 of the Act, however, provides that hospitals are duty bound to report to the nearest police station within two hours of commencing treatment on the victim. And upon receipt of this notice, the police shall immediately commence investigation as to the circumstances leading to why the victim was shot.

Section 5 of the Act criminalises failure to make such report as spelt out in S 3- Doctors directly involved are liable to 6 months imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 Naira or both.

4.)Certificate of Fitness- The police shall not invite the person with the gunshot wound for purposes of investigation, unless upon certification of fitness by the Chief Medical Director of the hospital where he is receiving treatment.

5.) Section 8 provides that volunteers or helpers of the gunshot victim shall be treated with respect, and shall not be subjected to unnecessary and embarrassing interrogations in their genuine attempt to save life.

This brings to light the fear of many Nigerians in helping victims generally. The Act however, addresses this issue to a telling point, and douses their fear to a large extent.

6.) Section 9 of the Act provides that, anyone who commits an offence under the Act, which leads to substantial, physical ,emotional or psychological damage to the victim commits a crime, which attracts an imprisonment term of not more than 15 years, and not less than 5 years, with no option of fine.

7.) Section 10 of the Act provides that, a hospital that receives any gunshot victim is required to notify the family members or relations of the victim as far as they may ascertain within 24 hours of becoming aware of the victim’s identity.

8.) Any authority or person,whose omission results in the unnecessary death of a gunshot victim shall be liable to imprisonment for 5 years or a fine of 500,000.00 Naira or both

9.)Section 12 enjoins, every hospital to keep an adequate record of the treatment of bullet wound victims.

Where an offence under this Act is committed by a corporate body, the corporate head shall be prosecuted within the provisions of Sections and 14 of the Act.

10.)Section 14 of the Act provides that, The High Court of a State or the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, may in deserving cases, order a person convicted under the Act in addition to other penalties, to pay damages to the victim as restitution for injuries or loss sustained by the victim and such order is enforceable by the victim or by the prosecutor on behalf of the victim, in the same manner as judgment in a civil action.

11.)Sections 15 and 16 are the interpretation and citation sections respectively.

Conclusion.

Considering the hitherto attitude of our hospitals to gunshot victims, especially the practice of requesting police clearance before commencing treatment of gunshot victims, the provisions of this Act are highly laudable, as a lot of lives would be saved to this end.

It is no gainsaying, that the most fundamental of all fundamental rights is the right to life, and it must be safeguarded by every possible means

to law.

The state has a duty to preserve life other than taking it, this is a beautiful part to ensure this. When it uses the instrumentality of law to ensure social engineering, it’s only praiseworthy.

Had this Act been in force, when Mr. Christoper Ojiaka, and a host of other victims who were brusquely shot, would probably be alive today. Had the provisions of this Act been fully complied with, little, Miss.Tina’s life might have been spared, and also a plethora of persons who have lost their lives in this kind of gory and infamous circumstance.

This Act would make our hospitals to be more responsive to emergency situations as this. And in doing this, their ethical oath to save lives first, would be better ensured, and it won’t infract with the citizens the owe as private persons to ensure law and order, and also to prevent the commission of crimes. The dilemma to this end is put to rest.

Recommendations.

Even in the stunning beauty of the provisions of this Act, and the many fears it addresses, it fails to address who pays the victim’s bill upon treatment.

Hospitals especially private hospitals do not run on charity, they need to be financed to allow for effectiveness and efficiency. To this end, they must be paid for their service.

The National Assembly should reconsider this part, and make necessary amendments to cater for the interests of the doctors too, lest we’d be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Furthermore, proper sensitisation programs should be conducted by government at all levels, and all affected bodies, to inform citizens of their rights, both as victims, and even as volunteers who seek to genuinely save lives especially in the light of the provisions of this Act

Hospitals too are equally, enjoined not to renege on this celestial duty of saving lives, not only because of the criminal sanctions, it may attract upon breach, but because it is only ethical and humane.

People should report defaulting hospitals to law enforcement agencies, if they fail to adhere to the provisions of this Act in treating gunshot victims. This will allow for their arrest, prosecution, and a likely conviction where found guilty. This will in way ensure deterrence in the act of neglecting gunshot victims in emergency situations, and more lives would be saved in this manner.

Conclusively, police and other security agencies, must also act in compliance with the noble provisions of this Act, and stave off needless embarrassments of persons involved- from the victims, to the volunteers, and the health practitioners.

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Oludare
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19 COMMENTS

  1. Awesome write up.. I think it will be a good idea for the president of the NMA and other related medical associations could get a copy of this article so that they can be abreast of the current position of law as to the right to treatment of gunshot victims hereby also sensitising all medical practitioners. Thank you

  2. This piece is quite an eye opener to the rights of gunshot victims,
    Thanks for the compilation of this educating piece.
    Just learnt a new thing.

  3. A really long write up but it is worth it. I will share it with my sister, she is a doctor.
    You’ve done well Israel .

  4. Wow!
    Expository and brilliantly written.
    First, in the S. 343(1) of the Criminal Code Act, as quoted, of may be very difficult to enforcement ‘undertaken to to treat’. The medical personnel may simply claim that there is no binding obligation on him to treat the victim, as there is no contract to that effect – which is technically correct.

    Also, coming to the latest Act signed in 2017, there is a need to embark on a massive campaign to create awareness about it, leat we lose more lives unnecessarily, especially when we realize that in this society of ours, Tina could have been anybody, it could have been me or you. We need not wait for some task force to do this for us.

    Again, in the Nigeria I know, relatives will be very willing to sell their property, if it could ransom the life of their loved ones. I’m certain Tina’s family would have rallied out the fund, if it could cause a reversal. Nonetheless, this lacuna should be considered for review.

    Lastly, can the society hold this particular erring medical hospital to account? One can only hope against hope that this will be the last life that will be lost in this ugly manner.

  5. Wow, this law is commendable and will go a long way in saving lives of whom are victims of accidental discharge. The law is relatively new as i am seeing this for the first time, sensitization is truly needed. If need be, private individuals can purchase this law to be pasted on the walls of all hospitals across the nation on their behalf so there will be no excuse of ignorance which ultimately will not avail them.

    How I wish an act can be put in place, prohibiting refusal or delay of treatment of patient without firstly making a deposit sum as some hospital do. Lots of life have been lost to this. It should not be left alone within the ambit of
    civil liability for negligence. When punishments are attach they will surely want to abide.

    Thank you Israel

  6. The Nigerian movie industry is not doing well to assist this provision of the law. A whole lot needs to be done, to bring the effort of the law to fruition. Thank you!

  7. Incredibly researched and beautifully penned. Easy to read and comprehend. More grease to your elbows brother! This is a scintillating piece!

  8. This is very apt
    The truth is that, this Act is one of the many Legistions which have since altered the old provisions but the public are not aware of them base on lack adequate publicity.
    I hope the latest events in the country will help in this regard.
    Well done Isreal.

  9. This is a writing in it’s own class.
    In my view, I’d say it touches all the corners of the particular issue discussed, from our rights to our obligations/duties, and even to the issues left unattended by our lawmakers, with respect to the primary issue.
    Good one brother.
    The Lord is your strength.

  10. This is a writing in it’s own class.
    I’d say it touches on all the corners of the particular issue discussed, from our rights to our obligations/duties, even to the issues left unattended by our lawmakers.
    This should be notorious brother, for the betterment of everyone.
    Good one man.
    The Lord is your strength.

  11. The hospitals/doctors are by the provisions of the new law duty bound to treat victims of gunshot . But considering the way we Nigerians want to always evade or avoid responsibilities, some of hospitals/doctors may still be unwilling to comply with the provisions of the Act which requires them to report to the nearest Police station within 2hours of commencement of treatment on the victim particularly for their own security reasons. It would be advisable for the medical personnel to bring the provisions of this Act to the knowledge of the gunshot victim and the duty imposed on him the medical personnel by the provisions thereof before commencement of the treatment.

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