Criminal Law

The Fate of Gunshot and Stabbed Victims in Nigeria

There are essentially 3 pillars that hold up any successful Country, they include Government, Security and Economy. Break these 3 primary pillars and you will as sure as sunset equally break that given country. Nigeria is a country that has over the past couple of years experienced a gradual yet consistent breakdown of her Government, her security and most recently… Her economy. She is no stranger to the multiple and yet multiplying threats of insecurity ranging from the well known Boko Haram insurgents to unlawful arrest and torture by Security agents sworn to protect lives and property to small neighbourhood Cult activities, all happening within her borders and the most recent attacks by unknown gunmen.

In the year 2019 and 2020, Nigeria ranked 146 and 149 respectively in the Global Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International. As of January 28th, 2021, she now ranks as the 2nd most corrupt Country in West Africa all due to the incessant rise in corruption and Insecurity in the Nation. It is therefore not unusual that a high number of people are rushed into Nigerian Hospitals seeking medical attention for severe injuries from gunshots or stab wounds.
Increasingly, in Nigerian Society, we find young men and women who have no licence to carry weapons, with guns and knives and tiny daggers claiming to carry these weapons as a form of self-defence or for self-preservation. Hence, where a misunderstanding occurs, instead of finding amicable means to settle their crisis, they resort to the use of force. Other times, these miscreants use these weapons to rob and attack innocent citizens who are going about their daily businesses.

We have equally noticed that hospitals have developed a trend of rejecting victims of gunshot and stab injuries until and unless they could provide a police report of events leading to or causing the said injury. This is often impossible to do because, where a victim is rushed to the hospital, it is most often than not because such a person is in a critical state and needs to be stabilized. Such delays in treatment ofttimes lead to drastic loss of blood or even death.

For the sake of clarity, a Police Report is a written statement or record of an event or series of events contained in a particular transaction. It is one of the most fundamental tools used by the police to carry out their investigation and work as a whole, it ranges from as little as a one-line entry to a more detailed description of information received. The loss of important information not properly recorded could lead to the total loss of leads to investigate a particular case.

Therefore, the importance of a police report for every given crime cannot be overemphasized.
The need for a police report before the treatment of a gunshot or stab victim emanated after the enactment of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act of 1984, LFN 1990. Although there is no specific provision which requires that treatment be put on hold until the police arrives or until a Police report is produced, there are certain provisions which without a doubt made Hospitals, both Public and Private, wary of treating these victims. Section 4 of this Act provides the Penalty for Offences relating to sheltering and treating Armed Robbers.

I shall dwell on only Subsection (2) and Subsection (4) Paragraph (b) of the above mentioned 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.
In default of so doing:
4(4)(b) in the case of a hospital or clinic, a fine of ten thousand naira and in addition the hospital or clinic shall be closed down.

A very Critical look at these provisions expose 2 simple facts… First is that the hospital is expected to inform the police AFTER such a patient has been admitted and stabilized, second is that the consequence for treating the victim without informing the police is so steep, especially for Privately owned Hospitals and may have inadvertantly occasioned the total rejection of these victims.

A law which was supposedly enacted in order to aid the police thoroughly investigate the crime of armed robbery turned out to backfire against victims of the said crime of armed robbery. The only times armed robbers get shot at are in situations where there is an exchange of fire with the police or a quarrel amongst them. Most often than not, the victims of the robbery are the easy targets, especially when they do not cooperate with these miscreants. We equally have issues of innocent by standers being casualties of a shoot out. The consequence of this provision has been nothing short of devastating.

Doctors are sworn to save lives as required by the Hippocratic oath. They are to do all within their ability to preserve lives, they are to DO NO HARM and abstain from any act which is deleterious or mischievous. The life of a patient should and must be of primary concern to a physician no matter the circumstance. This ought to be the situation of things. Medical Personnels are as a matter of urgency and necessity required to attend to and stabilize all patients brought into the hospital in critical condition, no matter the cause of the injury… But obviously, in trying to curb the rise in armed robbery nationwide, the Government unknowingly tied the hands of physicians from helping innocent people who are victims of gunshots or stab wounds, especially from Armed Robbery attacks. This situation of things, therefore, begs the question…WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT? A POLICE REPORT WHICH CAN BE CREATED ON A LATER DATE OR A LIFE WHICH ONCE LOST CANNOT BE RETRIEVED?

What is the legal implication of letting a patient die of his inability to produce a police report? This very pertinent question has not been asked by many Nigerians. We hear of people recounting experiences where they had to watch a family member, friend, loved one or even total stranger die in their hands from loss of blood occasioned by the refusal of one or more Hospitals to treat these persons without a police report and nothing is done, absolutely nothing is said about the matter. Many have simply accepted this as our fate and feel that the Hospitals are only doing what they are supposed to do. But this is wrong.

The Compulsory Treatment And Care for Victims of Gunshot Act 2017 made certain salient provisions as touching the treatment of gunshot victims. Section 1 of the Act provides that every hospital in Nigeria whether public or private shall accept or receive, for treatment with or without police clearance, any person with a gunshot wound. Section 3 (1) goes further to provide that a hospital that receives or accepts any person with gunshot wounds for treatment shall report the fact to the nearest police station within two hours of commencement of treatment.

By this provision, the hospital has to secure either the presence of a police officer or get the much-needed police clearance for the victim while equally giving the immediate and adequate treatment needed. By the provisions of section 4, the police do not have the right to invite any person with a gunshot wound from the hospital for the purpose of an investigation unless the Chief Medical Director of the hospital certifies him fit.

Furthermore, two very interesting parts of this enactment are Section 8 which protects volunteers and helpers of a victim of a gunshot wound from being treated with disrespect or subjected to unnecessary and embarrassing interrogation and section 11 which provides that any person or authority including any officer, other security agents 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 upon conviction to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment term of five years or both.

Laws are supposedly enacted for the betterment of the society at large. It is not supposed to cause pain to the citizens it was created for… To lose a loved one right in front of a place where he obviously should have received help is an unspeakable atrocity. So the next time you have a relative, friend or even a stranger with a gunshot or stab wound in need of Medical attention, speak up and speak out against any form of refusal to give the much-needed assistance. It is a criminal offence for any hospital to reject a victim of a gunshot injury.

About the Author

Ashley Alobi is a graduate of the Faculty of Law, University of Calabar and the Nigerian Law School, Kano Campus.
Asides her rising legal Career, her other interests include Mental and Physical fitness, Music, marketing, among others.
She is pro-human and pro-peace, she believes violence is never the way to go and hopes for a better Nigerian Society. She can be reached via: