Police report: Families of gunshot, accident victims in tears amid rising cases of needless deaths

Published 5 September 2021

oWe won’t do anything outside the law -Police

Percy Ani writes on the ugly side of hospitals’ demand for police reports before handling emergencies

On July 11, 34-year-old furniture maker, Emmanuel Samuel, like other ardent football lovers worldwide, was anxious about the final of the Euro 2020 between Italy and England; a game that peaked the event-packed tournament. His sister, Vera, told our correspondent that Samuel went to the Emperor Gardens Bar in Abuja to watch the game with his fiancee and friends. Vera added that in the course of the game, some cops stormed the bar in search of a man named Jafaru, who they claimed smoked Indian hemp.

One of the policemen was accused of cocking his gun and pointing it at those in the bar. Vera told our correspondent that her brother, fearful of any untoward event as the policeman cocked his gun, politely told him to be mindful of how he pointed it to avoid accidental discharge. It was gathered that after the policemen picked Jafaru and put him in their van, Emmanuel decided to leave the bar with his fiancee noticing an ominous face in the ambience of the environment.

Emmanuel was reportedly shot on his thigh by one of the cops a few metres away from the bar. Everyone at the bar and its environs were said to have fled on hearing the gunshot, even the policemen who came to arrest Jafaru hurried into their Hilux van and sped away. Jafaru also reportedly bolted away in the melee.

Vera stated, “Samuel’s fiancee and friends on finding that he was shot and bleeding immediately rushed him to a general hospital in Abuja for medical attention. But medical staff at the hospital refused to attend to Samuel, demanding a police report before treating him. While my brother lay bleeding, his fiancee and friends pleaded for the hospital workers to treat him, but all their entreaties were met with stern resolve as the hospital claimed they were acting on a government directive.”

Insistence on police report

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. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, 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.

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.”

A former Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, in a bid to reverse the damning trend and reiterate the importance of the National Health Act pertaining to ‘police reports,’ re-issued a statement on this matter in 2015, charging police officers not to harass Nigerians with medical emergencies or the kind people who brought them into the hospital. He also reminded doctors that they were equally duty-bound to treat victims’ wounds and further inform police of relevant facts. However, three 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, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) 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 was liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or six months imprisonment or both. Both ex-President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, and ex-Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang, had defended obedience to the law and urged that wound and gunshot victims should be given immediate and adequate treatment by hospitals. 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.

Death by lack of police report Vera further said that her brother’s fiancee and friends rushed to a nearby police station-the Gwa-Gwa Police Station- to explain that a police officer had shot Samuel and they needed a police report so he could be treated. Vera said, “The police officers at the station told them that if my brother had been shot by a police officer, then he most likely was a criminal.

But this angered my brother’s friends and they became aggressive at some point. They told the cops to come with them and stay with Samuel at the hospital if they felt he was a criminal to at least save his life first.” She stated that after many pleas, the policemen instead of giving them the police report referred them to a nearby hospital in the area.

She added, “At the hospital where my brother was eventually taken to for treatment, the doctors handled the wound unprofessionally. Instead of first removing the bullet and then treating the wound, they only stitched the wound and did nothing else. The police officers present at the hospital during the treatment insisted that my brother be handcuffed like a criminal even while he was being treated.

A man had been shot, bleeding, and was receiving treatment – as it was- but all they were interested in was handcuffing him like he could escape even if he was a criminal. It took the intervention of my younger brother, Hosea, before they rescinded the decision. Thankfully, we have everything on video record.”

She added that she went to the Investigating Police Officer in charge of her brother’s case to ask why she did not give her brother a police report so he could have access to better medical care. Vera stated, “I told her that I have nothing, but if anything happens to my brother, I will make sure the police pay for it and I left.” Vera said when she noted that her brother was not being given proper medical attention; she had to take him to another hospital to save his life. She said, “It took the help of a policeman who knew Samuel and dropped his identity card and signed as a surety before we were able to take him to another hospital, in Gwagwalada, Abuja.”

She said they hoped and prayed Samuel would pull through, noting that unfortunately, he died eight days after he was shot. Vera noted that when she returned to the police station to report that her brother had lost his life, she was asked by the police to provide witnesses who saw what happened on the day Samuel was shot so their statements could be taken down.

She said, “It was to my utter shock that when I brought the witnesses so they could give their statements, they were detained instead for three days. The same policemen who are supposed to protect them were the same people who had them locked up for no good reason.

After they gained freedom, the people refused to talk to me believing that I connived with the police to arrest and detain them.” Vera said she had no more fight left in her as the double loss she had suffered this year had left her drained and bereft of hope. She said, “I lost my dad in January and I lost my brother in the same year.

I have not finished mourning my father and now I have to bury a younger sibling who had his whole life ahead of him. This is a lot for me to bear. My brother was making plans to marry in a few months.

But now, his hopes and aspirations have been terminated by the wickedness of the Nigerian police and the hospitals that refused to treat a harmless dying man who was shot. “I can’t begin to imagine what my brother’s fiancee is going through right now. They had just a few months before their wedding and were already making plans.

Imagine watching one’s fiance shot for committing no crime? I cannot even begin to imagine the trauma.” Like Samuel, Ebenezer Ayeni’s case is pitiful.

He was another young life cut down in his prime because he lacked a report from the police to be treated in a hospital. Ayeni, set to marry his fiancee in the second week in July, was attacked in his Ibadan, Oyo State, residence, in the early hours of July 10 by some unidentified hoodlums. A close friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that Ayeni was a final-year student of the Department of Music at The Polytechnic Ibadan.

The friend said the assailants didn’t attack any other apartment in the compound but went to Ayeni’s apartment where he lived with his brother, and mother. The friend said, “The family lost their father last year. When the attackers got into the apartment, they hacked Ayeni and his brother using cutlasses and machetes.

When Ayeni and his brother tried to flee, they shot Ayeni in his stomach and left immediately. Nothing in the apartment was stolen; their phones and other valuables were all left untouched as if they had achieved their original objective – harming Ayeni.” The source further said that after the attack, Ayeni was immediately rushed to a hospital but like Samuel, a police report was requested before they could treat him.

He source said, “Ayeni was taken to the University College Hospital, Ibadan by his family to receive medical attention but he was rejected as the family could not tender a police report. The panicked family then rushed him to a private hospital, J-Rapha Hospital, where he was denied treatment as well. The third hospital, Oyemesi Hospital, accepted him but it was a little too late as he had lost much blood and gave up the ghost hours later.”

On Saturday, May 29, a businessman in Ibadan, Oyo State, Linus Onwuamanam, after the tiring bustle of the day, was on his way home at about 8 pm in his newly acquired Toyota bus with his secretary. He was accosted by some unidentified gunmen who shot him. Eyewitnesses at the scene stated that after shooting Owuamanam, his assailants noticed he was still alive, so they returned and stabbed him on the left side of his chest.

A passerby, who saw Onwuamanam in a pool of blood, was said to have used his phone to call two contacts on the phone; luckily, two of his employees answered the calls and one of them happened to be his driver. The driver was said to have arrived shortly after the call and rushed the businessman to a clinic but he was allegedly rejected over failure to present a police report.

The driver reportedly took him to a police station where he got a police report. But Onwuamanam was taken to another hospital in Ibadan where he was confirmed dead.

Saturday, September 7, 2019, started like most other Saturdays for an English teacher identified only as Ruth. It was a day that held no premonition as to what was to occur for the lady. The 27-year-old graduate of Library and Information Science, upon graduation in 2015 and one-year compulsory National Youth Service Corps scheme secured a job in 2018 as a librarian and English teacher with a private college in the Lekki area of the state.

Described by most people who knew her as affable, full of life and with a ready smile, Ruth was full of life, making friends from far and near at every opportunity. She exuded intelligence and this showed through her life in her quest to be better. But on Saturday in 2019, on her way to the school where she worked, while waiting to cross the road along the Lekki Free Trade Zone, Ruth was knocked down by a reckless driver.

Although sustaining head injuries, she was still alive and promptly rushed by onlookers to a nearby private hospital. Sadly, she was turned away by the police report- demanding hospital officials. By the time the group arrived at another hospital, this time a government hospital which was a distance away in Epe, Ruth had passed on.

She was just 27. Another life needlessly ended like Samuel, Ayeni, Onwuamanam, and many others by the ridiculous demand for police reports before treatment could be administered. Doctors’ decry situation 

A retired chief consultant and chest physician at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Dr Cyril Chukwu, said that it was not doctors who demanded a police report, noting that the situation was sustained by the police. He said, “Sometimes, robbers or criminals involved in a shootout with police officers escape with gunshot wounds and they eventually end up in hospitals. According to the law, doctors are required to report the cases to the police immediately after treating them.

This was to allow the police to identify if the gunshot victim was someone who escaped from them with gun wounds so they could promptly secure them from escaping. “There are consequences for not reporting such cases to the police as doctors who failed to report them were usually arrested by the police. If this law has been rescinded, then it hasn’t been clearly spelt out to doctors.”

Commenting on the issue, President, National Association of Resident Doctors, Uyi Okhuaihesuyi, stated that fear was the cause of doctors’ rejecting victims with gunshot wounds. He said, “Even though doctors know that gun injuries should be treated immediately after the victim is brought into the hospital, they desist from doing so. In many cases, after the victims are treated by doctors, they might be arrested by the police and falsely charged with collaborating with the criminals and if not addressed quickly, the doctor(s) might spend a couple of days in a police cell.

“Most doctors out of fear of harassment refuse to treat such patients until they provide a police report. The law states that one should treat the victims first before informing the police, but since there are consequences for doctors doing this, most doctors/health practitioners prefer the victims come in with a police report.”

Another medical practitioner who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in 2019, a victim of a robbery attack was brought into the private clinic where he worked. The doctor said that due to the severity of her condition-shot by robbers-he and the other doctors on call immediately started treatment to save her life.

He said, “A few hours after she was treated, before we could report to the police that a gunshot victim had been brought into our hospital for treatment, men of the Nigerian Police swooped on the hospital, arresting everyone in sight-hospital workers, patients and visiting relatives. “They claimed that the hospital was harbouring suspected criminals and they were going to teach us all a lesson. Many of us that were arrested spent the whole day locked up in cells like common criminals.

We were being punished for doing what was right and saving the life of a victim who needed treatment.” He added that after much pleas and payment for bail, they were released. The doctor said, “Since then, I have been circumspect about treating victims with such cases. I wouldn’t wish my ordeal that night in the police cell for anyone.”

He noted that since there was a law allowing doctors to treat victims of gun wounds and afterwards report the case to the police, there was a communication problem if cops still harassed doctors for treating such patients. “A massive campaign needs to be carried out by the relevant agencies to make certain both police officers and doctors are in sync on this matter. It is brainless that victims of gunshot wounds should lose their lives unnecessarily when they could easily have been treated,” the doctor added.

Lawyers’ opinions Also speaking, a legal practitioner, David Akpeji, stated that it was improper for hospitals to demand police reports, especially in cases of emergency because of the sanctity of life. He said, “Hospitals owe victims of gunshot wounds a duty of care.

It would be insensitive for a person with gunshot wounds to obtain a police report before being treated due to the bureaucratic nature of government agencies and departments. I am not surprised at what is currently happening in Nigerian hospitals because a large percentage of Nigerians are ignorant of the provisions of the law. Therefore, for the provisions of the ‘Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshot Act’ to be effectively enforced, there needs to be adequate sensitisation.”

He noted that some doctors might not be aware of the law, noting however that having regard to the fact that there is an existing law, health workers should be held liable for any damages caused by failure to treat victims of gunshot wounds. Another legal practitioner, Babatunde Olafisoye, described the situation as perplexing, stating that it was not too far from what one would often see in the execution of laws and the activities of law enforcement agents in the country. Olafisoye stated, “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. However, if this must happen, there has to be an administrative rebranding of key institutions directly involved in this circle. We also have to 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 against them than suffer the cruel wrath of the police investigation system. Perhaps, if the penalties are more stringent, hospitals will not think twice before saving lives.” In his contribution, a legal practitioner, Halleluyah Afon, stated that it was interesting that the request for police report by hospitals before treating a gunshot victim must have been a misconception now made a matter of practice.

Afon said, “It is appalling to see this unwritten law invalidate a validly made law. It is critical for the enforcement of the ‘Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshot Act’ of 2017 to be taken seriously. While sensitisation 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.”

We won’t do anything outside the law – Police

When contacted to speak on the matter, the Force spokesperson, Frank Mba, stated that requesting police reports by hospitals was an issue that had been addressed too many times by the police. He noted that the police had no other opinion outside of what the law stipulates concerning the treatment of gunshot victims. He said, “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.” Mba noted that the police had no right to harass doctors who accepted or initiated treatment on victims with gunshot wounds, adding that unless the doctor or hospital treated and discharged such patients without reporting to the police, they had nothing to fear. He said, “The mischief the law is trying to curtail is to not allow perpetrators of violence-armed robbers, terrorists, drug pushers, bandits, etc-who might have suffered gunshot wounds during a shootout with the police or other law enforcement agencies, to go through secret channels to get treatment, get well and then return to their crimes without facing justice.”

He further stated that once the position of the law was understood, any doctor or hospital that did nothing to frustrate the fundamental objective of the law cannot be found wanting. Mba said, “The law does not in any way bar medical practitioners from treating persons with gunshot wounds. It only demands that they report such incidents as soon as possible after commencing treatment.

You don’t need a police report to commence the treatment of such victims.”  He added that on the part of the police, they tried as much as possible through various channels to state clearly their opinion on the treatment of victims with gunshot wounds. He said, “We have issued press statements on this matter, making our stance known to the general public – we will not in any way harass or stop doctors from treating victims with gunshot wounds or those involved in road accidents.

We will not do anything outside of the law. The law doesn’t even permit us to arrest doctors simply because they treated a victim of a gunshot wound and we have no power nor right to do so. “We have also conducted joint workshops in the past with medical practitioners curated by some civil society groups where we both agreed to work with each other.

The doctors assured us that once they commence treatment, they would inform us and we also reaffirmed our support for them. “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. It’s as simple as that.

“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.”

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