With the signing into law of the Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshots Act, 2017 by President Muhammadu Buhari, persons with gunshot wounds can now access medical treatment in any hospital in the country with or without initial monetary deposit. According to the Act, a gunshot wound victim should not be subjected to any inhuman or degrading treatment or torture by any person or authority, including the police or other security agencies. Prior to the signing of this Act, most hospitals in the country denied medical treatment to gunshot victims who could not produce police reports. This led to the death of many victims.
The President also signed the Anti-Torture Act, 2017, which makes comprehensive provisions for penalising acts of torture, as well as other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. It also prescribes penalties for the commission of such acts. With the Gunshot Law in place, many Nigerians can now heave a sigh of relief because they can now be treated in any hospital in the country without a police report, if they are shot by armed robbers or other criminals, contrary to what obtained before. Moreover, gunshot victims can also be treated in any hospital with or without any monetary deposit.
We heartily welcome these laws and advise that they should be implemented immediately. While some Nigerians have lost their lives to lack of prompt medical attention for gunshot wounds, many others have died as result of torture by security agents, especially men of the Nigeria Police Force. Unfortunately, most of the torture cases are never reported. We are particularly happy about the Gunshot Law because insisting on police reports before treating gunshot victims is wicked. It presumes that such victims are criminals, which is rarely the case. Many hospitals either reject or leave such victims to bleed to death, while their relatives struggle to obtain police reports.
This law took quite a long time to come into existence. However, it is better late than never. Now that it has been passed, we urge all hospitals to tread on the path of rectitude and strictly obey its provisions to the letter. It is the duty of the hospitals to first give any person with gunshot wounds life-saving treatment before any other thing. This law should be enforced to achieve its objective of saving the lives of gunshot victims. We say this because any law that is not enforced is not worth its name. The beauty of the legislation can only be appreciated and realised if it is fully enforced.
The law against torture is also heartwarming. Torture is a criminal act which has been used by the police to extract information from suspects. It has also been overtly abused by officials of the Nigeria Police and other security agencies. Interestingly, Section 34 (1) (a) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) clearly states that “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly: no person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.” Despite this constitutional provision, some Nigerians are daily tortured by the police and other security agents. Torture is one of the untoward activities for which a number of the nation’s security agencies have been roundly condemned by some international human rights organisations, especially Amnesty International.
For these new laws to be effective, we urge the Federal Government to enlighten the public on them. The enlightenment campaign should be carried out on all major channels of mass communication in English Language, major Nigerian languages and Pidgin English. The campaign should be sustained until all Nigerians become aware of the laws.
Similarly, all health workers in public and private medical facilities should be sensitised to this development. Members of the Nigeria Police and other security agencies should be carried along in the enlightenment campaign. Any hospital that is found to violate this law henceforth must be seriously dealt with. Any police officer found to disobey the law should equally be given adequate punishment to deter others from doing so.