Despite Laws, Nigerian Hospitals Still Reject Gunshot Victims
While gunshot wounds require quick medical attention because of their severity, Nigerian hospitals continue to deny victims treatment they will need to survive if they don’t have a police report.
Adeloye Moses had two targets to meet when he brought out his motorcycle for business in the early hours of June 25, 2021.
First, he wanted to make money to pay for his children’s school fees. Second, he wanted to clear off a debt incurred from a loan he took from a microfinance company.
But none of these would be achieved.
He had stepped out of his house around 5:00 am and picked up two passengers returning from a nightclub.
On getting to their destination at Kola Balogun area in Osogbo, capital of Osun State in southwest Nigeria, the two passengers, suspected to be armed robbers shot Moses in the mouth and went away with his motorcycle.
The sound of the gunshot woke residents in the community as they all came out to rescue the victim who was lying in a pool of his own blood.
First, the people on the rescue mission called the Osun Emergency Medical Services and Ambulance System also known as ‘O’Ambulance’ but it was a futile attempt.
“When the ambulance service arrived, they told us they cannot attend to a gunshot victim unless we have police presence or police report,” Muniru Asiyanbola, one of the rescuers, told HumAngle.
“We were scared of his survival because he was covered in blood. One of us eventually saw a phone in his pocket. So, we reached out to one of the contacts on the phone.”
Adeloye Mary said she got a call from an unknown number that her brother had been shot. The caller also informed her that the ambulance team refused to attend to him because the wound was caused by a gunshot.
Mary would later get another motorcyclist to help transport her brother to a nearby hospital.
“I never thought he was going to survive. On getting to the hospital, the doctor requested a police report,” she said.
From there, Mary got him transferred to another hospital where Mary knew the administrative head.
“After begging the doctors in the hospital, they gave him first aid. He was also sustained with oxygen. Despite my relationship with the hospital, they did not administer a bed to him until a police report was issued.”
A relative later contacted Yemisi Opalola, the Osun State Police Command spokesperson who facilitated a police report for the victim.
Moses was thereafter transferred to Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Ile-Ife. Though he was billed to undergo surgery, Moses asked the hospital to discharge him a month later because he could not afford the treatment.
“I spent a month in the hospital but asked to be discharged because there was no money for surgery. I can’t eat meat and any strong meals because the mouth needs to be operated on and I do not have money,” he said.
Police report controversy
For years, Nigerians have been on a roller coaster of emotions as hospitals continue to deny victims of gunshot treatment due to unavailability of police reports.
This, according to police officers and medical practitioners, is a result of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Law (1990) which states 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 law says that the person who does otherwise will be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; and in the case of a hospital or clinic, to a fine of ₦10, 000 ($22.01) while the hospital or clinic would be closed.
But many lawyers told HumAngle that the law was passed under the heat of armed robbery in Nigeria.
“We can’t continue to maintain the old order and allow innocent people to die untimely. We should understand that not all gunshot victims are criminals,” Qudus Adedeji, one of the lawyers who spoke with our reporter, argued.
Following the repeated death of innocent gunshot victims, a non-governmental organisation known as the Crime Victims Foundation of Nigeria (CRIVIFON) in 1998 began a campaign that medical staff in hospitals should admit gunshot victims for treatment before asking them to produce a police report.
As the public outrage increased, Ogbonna Onovo, Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police in 2009 urged medical practitioners to treat victims before reporting to the police. The directive was, however, not adhered to because it was not backed by any law.
For instance, Bayo Ohu, a journalist with the Guardian newspaper died at the time after he was shot by assailants at his residence in Lagos. Though rushed to the hospital, medical staff refused to admit him on the grounds that he was not accompanied by a police report.
As his relatives made efforts to take him to another hospital, he gave up on the way. Despite wide condemnation that followed the action of the hospital, the practice of rejecting gunshot victims without police report continues to spread.
A new Act
As citizens continue to cry for help amid untimely deaths of their loved ones, the National Health Act was passed in 2014. The law states that “a health care provider, health worker, or health establishment shall not refuse a person emergency medical treatment for any reason, and anyone that goes against the law is liable to a fine of N100, 000, a jail term of six months or both, upon conviction.
Also, the National Assembly in July 2017 passed “the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill”. It was aimed at ensuring that victims of gunshot wounds receive treatment from medical workers and assistance from security agencies.
President Muhammadu Buhari signed the act into law. The Act makes it an offence for hospitals to deny gunshot victims treatment for lack of police report.
While the law says treatment should commence with or without immediate payment, it kicks against the degrading or torture of gunshot patients by security operatives.
Despite all of these, nothing seems to have changed.
Hospitals remain adamant
HumAngle contacted the hospital that did not want to treat Moses without a police report.
Kemi Aderemi, the administrative head of Tejuoso Medical Hospital, told our reporter that the fear of police arrest made the hospital reject the gunshot victim.
“We are aware of the provisions of the law but the police have on several occasions clamped down on us for treating gunshot wounds in the past. They pretend not to be aware of the compulsory treatment Act.”
Though Moses survived after he was first rejected by medical practitioners for not having a police report, many could not make it to another hospital before giving up the ghost.
In the case of Precious Owolabi, he died of gunshot injuries in July 2019. The Corp member serving with Channels Television was covering the clash between the Nigeria Police Force and members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) when he was shot.
His colleague, who spoke with HumAngle under anonymity, said Owolabi was rejected at a private hospital because medical practitioners said they couldn’t handle gunshot wounds.
On getting to another hospital, the surgeon who was meant to attend to him was said to be unavailable. Meanwhile, Owolabi was bleeding heavily in the midst of these runarounds. By the time he was rushed to the National Hospital in Abuja, he was pronounced dead.
It was the same story for Seyi Ademiluyi who was shot during a robbery attack in 2022. The incident happened in Lagos.
“The hospital we visited in the Ajah area of the state insisted on a police report before treating her,” Segun Ademiluyi, her husband, told HumAngle.
He added that his pleas fell on deaf ears as Seyi gave up the ghost a few minutes after her neighbour eventually succeeded in obtaining a police report from Langbasa Police station.
Isaac Chikezie, a medical doctor at the accused healthcare, Ladot Hospital, said the nurses on duty at the time were not accustomed to the law when the incident occurred and that they’ve been relieved of their duties and replaced since then.
Wrong and overzealous
Qudus Adedeji, a lawyer, said no hospital has the right to ask for a police report before treating anyone.
“What is expected of the hospital is not to demand a police report from the victim’s relatives. The hospital should only report to the police station closest to their healthcare facility within two hours of commencing treatment on the victim.”
Speaking with HumAngle, Aliyu Alimi, a doctor also said that it is wrong for medical professionals to insist on a police report before treating gunshot wounds.
“The requirement of the law is that health workers are required to inform the police after treatments have commenced. Health workers must first save the victim’s life and ensure stable condition before requesting a police report if need be.”
He, however, explained that there are times overzealous police officers arrest health workers for attending to gunshot victims without notifying them.
“A friend’s hospital was locked for nearly a week in 2021 for treating a gunshot victim before reporting to the police. He was also arrested. It took a lot of back and forth before the police released him. So, overzealous police officers also contribute to the challenges we face in attending to gunshot victims.”
Alimi advised that there should be advocacy for the enforcement of the Act in all the states of the federation.
Meanwhile, Muyiwa Adejobi, Nigeria’s Police Force spokesperson, did not respond to enquiries.
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