Legal matters

GUNSHOT VICTIMS: Compulsory Treatment and Care is their Right

The sun rises softly from the east as the rooster crows. James is on his way back from his morning jog through the park when he suddenly freezes in fear. He sees a trail of blood on the ground which he slowly follows until his eyes behold a man in his mid 20s doubled over clutching what seems like a gunshot wound in his abdomen.

Although, his “street sense” tells him to quickly runaway, his home grown morals override this and he rushes to the man’s side upon hearing his soft moaning. Acting swiftly, James manages to get the victim to a hospital in Abuja.

However, at the end of the day, James’ effort made no difference. Because a police report attesting to the cause of the gun shot injury was not produced, the victim was refused medical care and soon after passed.

The sequence of events as described above is sadly not an isolated one. Prior to recent developments, individuals that had wounds caused by gunshots were often refused care by hospitals and/or other medical institutions on the basis of lack of police report.
Disturbed by this inhuman practice, the National Assembly passed the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshot Act in 2017.

The Nigerian Police.

Existing laws
It is absurd that before the 2017 law, there were clear provisions in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which ought to have taken care of the rights of gunshot victims.
Section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution states that “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”

Section 33(2) specifies situations that may allow for a legal restriction of this right , none of which include being a victim of a gunshot.
Equally noteworthy is section 36 (4) which guarantees the right to fair hearing. It states “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty; Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.”

This provision is essential as it nullifies any unconstitutional presumptions that are contributing factors to the ill treatment of gunshot victims such as the presumption that the victim is an armed robber who must have escaped from the scene of the crime.

Nonetheless, if we choose to assume the narrative that an average Nigerian health worker is unaware of the basic particularities of the Nigerian Constitution, there exists still further clarifications such as those stipulated in the National Health Act 2014 in particular Part 3, Section 20, (1) which states that “A healthcare provider, health worker or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason.”

Going further, it states in section 20(2) that “A person who contravenes this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100, 000.00 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both.”

It is puzzling that despite the many provisions of the law, many medical institutions and practitioners continue to feign ignorance and disregard the rights of gunshot victims. However, ignoring something doesn’t make it void especially when it comes to the law. Therefore, in other to ensure there’s no room for ambiguity, it is necessary to scrutinize the provisions of the new law.

The National Assembly enacted the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act 2017 to make “provisions for the compulsory treatment and care for the victims of gunshots and for other matters connected therewith” . This Act encompasses all that is necessary to completely obliterate the problems and obstacles to the treatment of gunshot victims in Nigeria.

The law has 16 sections. Section 1 of the Act which proffers the right to treatment of a gunshot victim states that;
“As from the commencement of this Act, every hospital in Nigeria whether public or private shall accept or receive, for immediate and adequate treatment with or without police clearance, any person with a gunshot wound.”

The right established by this section is irrespective of the type of hospital. That is, be it private or public, there is a non-negotiable responsibility to accept as well as provide immediate and adequate treatment to gunshot victims with or without police clearance/report .
Section 2 of the Act provides that;
“Every person including Security agents shall render every possible assistance to any person with gunshot wounds and ensure that the person is taken to the nearest hospital for immediate treatment.”

By the rules of interpretation of statutes, the use of the word “shall” above infers an essential duty placed on every person resident in Nigeria. It also in turn encourages good Samaritanism by precluding the common practice by many hospitals of demanding an initial deposit illegal .
Addressed also in this Act, specifically in section 3(1) is the issue of communications between the hospital and the police. It states that;
“A hospital that receive or accepts any person with a gunshot wound for treatment shall report the fact to the nearest police station within two hours of commencement of treatment”.
This removes from medical personnel any fear of humiliation or the threat of intimidation by the police.

In tandem with section 2, section 8 of the Act provides that:
“Every volunteer or helper of a victim shall be treated with respect and shall not be subjected to unnecessary and embarrassing interrogation in their genuine attempt to save life.”

Further reviving the desire by well meaning citizens to humanitarian help, this section apparently attempts to imitate similar legislations in other jurisdictions which protect volunteers . These legislations so referred to are known as Good Samaritan laws .
Consequently, section 9 of the Act criminalizes failure to comply with this obligation . It states;
“A person who commits an offence under this Act which leads to or causes substantial physical, mental, emotional or psychological damage to the victim, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than 15 years and not less than 5 years without option of fine”
This is followed closely by section 11 which states:
“Any person or authority including any police officer, other security agent or hospital who stands 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 500,000 naira or imprisonment for a term of 5 years or both” .

Finally, in the case of hospitals, section 13 of the Act provides;
“A corporate body that commits an offence under this Act, the head of the corporate body shall be prosecuted in accordance with the provision of sections 11 and 14 of this Act”

Opposing Arguments.
Despite the clarity of the 2017 Law and the clear intention to save as many Nigerians as possible, there exists still a school of thought which holds the view that the Law as well as it’s provisions rescind the provisions of section 4(1) of the Administration of Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act . This decree amended in 1986 states thus;
“It shall be an offence punishable under this Act for any person to knowingly house, shelter, or give quarters to sheltering any person who has committed an offence under section 1(2) of this Act.”

This provision was misused by the Police to harass healthcare institutions. These institutions in turn decided to request a compulsory presentation of a Police Report as clearance before the treatment of a gunshot victim.
However, this was completely aberrant and a product of sheer nescience as immediately after section 4(1) we find in section 4(2);
“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 the matter to the police.”

This gives credence to the fact that there’s actually no probable cause stopping healthcare institutions from giving immediate treatment to gunshot victims, they are only required to, in accordance with this statue, report such treatment to the police promptly thereafter .

Final remarks
The pertinent provisions of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017 are quite commendable with respect to the protection of human lives via its guaranteeing of urgent treatment in cases of gunshot incidents. In spite of this, this Act as well as other such laws protecting gunshot victims face a familiar challenge in their enforcement and observance.

However, before a law can be enforced it must be known and understood. The National Orientation Agency must wakeup to play its mandated role of sensitizing the people on the laws of the land so as to prevent abuse and fatal negligence.

Therefore, I recommend that vigorous sensitization programs be carried out at all levels. The citizens should be made knowledgeable of these laws, their various rights and obligations under them as well as penalties for their violation by hospitals, doctors, nurses and the police. This will make it easy to seek proper legal actions against individuals and institutions whose actions might lead to avoidable deaths of gunshot victims.

On the part of medical associations/institutions, the necessity of legal counsel cannot be overemphasized. Such counsel can easily be relied on to explain the provisions of all relevant laws and obligations thereunder.

Finally, it can be concluded that on issues relating to care of gunshot victims in Nigeria, Medicine, Law and the Criminal Justice System must inter-relate in order to enforce the Provisions of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, 2014 National Health Act and 2017 Compulsory Treatment and Care of Gunshot Victims Act.

Summary Images courtesy of Premium Times.

i. accessed last 27-10-2018.
ii. Section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Public of Nigeria.
iii. Section 33(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Public of Nigeria.
iv. Section 36(4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Public of Nigeria.
v. National Health Act 2014 Part 3, Section 20, (1).
vi. National Health Act 2014 Part 3, Section 20(2).
vii. Ignorantia Juri Non Excusat or Ignorantia Legis Neminem Execusat; Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Edition, pg. 672-673.
viii. Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act 2017.
ix. Section 1, Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act 2017.
x. Section 2, Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act 2017.
xi. Section 3, Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act 2017.
xii. Section 8, Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act 2017.
xiii. DAN Legal Network: The Good Samaritan Law across Europe.
xiv. Section 9, Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act 2017.
xv. Section 11, Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act 2017.
xvi. Section 13, Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act 2017.
xvii. Cap R.11 Laws of the Federation 2004 (Originally promulgated as Decree No.47 of 1970).
xviii. Section 4 of Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act.

Mr Anie, a contributor to Newspackng, is a 200 Level Law Student of Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma, Edo State, Nigeria.
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