May 11, 2019

Provisions of the 2017 Compulsory Treatment And Care For Victims Of Gunshots Act

The law mandating the compulsory treatment of gunshot victims was passed by the 8th Senate and signed into law by President Buhari in 2017. Before the passing of the law, it was the norm for hospitals to refuse treatment to gunshot victims and some other hospitals may eject such a victim from its premises, despite the immediate medical attention needed to save the life of such a gunshot victim. 

The reason why Nigerian doctors would turn their backs on their Hippocratic oath and refuse to treat victims of gunshot wounds was due to the incessant harassment and sometimes arrest of medical staff who rendered such treatment by the police. It was customary for the Chief Medical Director of such hospital to be questioned as to any links with armed robbery syndicates or gangs.

While this police directive was being enforced, the lives of many persons who had been victims of armed robberies and other forms of accidents or incidents involving gun wounds would usually pass-on before any meaningful help arrives. Such victim while bleeding would first be expected to be taken to the police station, after which the statement’s of the persons who helped the victim will be taken and a police officer dispatched with the victim to a nearby hospital or a police report prepared by the police but to be handed over to the hospital. Many Nigerians have died because of this delay and it was to prevent the further unnecessary loss of life of other Nigerians that the Gunshot Act was passed into law.

Section 1 (one) of the Act provides that all hospitals in Nigeria shall accept and treat without a police clearance any person with a gunshot wound. Section 2 (two) of further mandates all security agencies to render the necessary assistance to gunshot victims and ensure that they are taking promptly to an hospital for treatment. Furthermore, in the said Section, the law provides that all victims with gunshot wounds shall be treated without a request for initial monetary deposits and such persons shall not be victims of any inhuman or degrading treatment. 

The hospital in Section 3 is also placed with the responsibility of informing the nearest police station whenever a gunshot victim is brought in and the Police are mandated to immediately investigate and ascertain the cause of the gunshot wound. Hospitals that fail to make an official report according to the law as described above commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to a fine of N100,000 (One Hundred Thousand Naira) and every Doctor directly concerned will be liable to up to 6 (six) months imprisonment and/or a fine of N100,000 (One Hundred Thousand Naira) each (Section 5). Hospitals are also required to contact the family of the victim within 24hrs of identifying such person (Section 10) and ensure a proper record of such treatments are kept accordingly (Section 12).

In the past, it was the culture of the police to immediately request the presence of a gunshot victim at the police station for further investigation and such persons were usually taken to the station without adequate attention paid to the wounds and the extent of their recovery. Hence, the Act in Section 4 restricts the police form inviting a gunshot victim to the station for investigation unless cleared by the Chief Medical Director of the hospital.

A key provision of the Act is how it seeks to protect all volunteers or helpers of a gunshot victim, it was usual practice for such a person to be arrested by the police, however, the Act iin Section 8 (eight) directs that such person be treated with respect and shall not be subjected to unnecessary and embarrassing interrogation in their genuine attempt to save the life of the victim.

Persons who break the law or who cause any form of emotional or psychological damage to the victim is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of 15 (fifteen) years without option of a fine. Also any person who fails to carry out a duty as stated in this Act which leads to the death of a person with gunshot wounds is liable to imprisonment for 5 (five) years and/or a fine of N500,000 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira).

Lastly, in addition to the penalties stated above, the Court may also order that restitution be made to the victim and same may be enforced by the victim or by the State Prosecutor. It is important that many police officers and medical practitioners are informed of the provisions of this law so as to ensure the protection and treatment of victims with gunshot wounds.