I took the matter to Tunji Alapeni, who was the Force PR officer, and he said there was no reason why hospitals should not treat gunshot victims
Gloria Egbuji, a legal practitioner and activist, has been involved in social work and research for over a decade. She is currently the executive director of Crime Victims Foundation, with a focus on support for victims of crime and abuse of power.
Her interaction with crime victims, legal practitioners around the globe, law enforcement officials, sociologists and criminologists has added to her vast experience.
She spoke to Daily Sun recently:
You have been training the police to give them a human face; what is your experience like, so far?
It has been very interesting because the training has brought about great change in the Nigeria Police.
I was the first person to initiate and to set up the human rights desk in police divisions. It was piloted from Lagos and was replicated in other states.
The change, in the view of ordinary people, may not be huge, but I have been able to create the awareness of the need for human rights within the Nigeria Police.
The training has been consistent on a weekly basis for the past 10 years. Having done that, it has become a household name in some states, especially in Lagos, where it started, as all most the 120 divisions have a human rights desk. Human rights awareness has been massively created in the police.
Because of the success recorded so far, the inspector-general of police has given me the approval to run it in all the states and all the training institutions in the country.
The difference between the places where the training has taken place, and where it has not is very clear. The interest shown by police personnel we are training is very commendable.
Even though we are doing it voluntarily, the quality of training we are giving to them is very commendable.
While we don’t get funding support to run the training, the awareness I created has brought in other organisations like the Nigeria Bar Association, Lagos; we also partner with the DPP office, Ministry of Justice, National Human Rights Commission. They join me in the training without any fee. That shows that many people are interested in making the programme work.
I was in Anambra State for the training, and the of- fice of the attorney-general and commissioner for justice joined us in the training. This gives me joy.
With the issue of bail, for instance, an average policeman thinks that bail is something you must pay, until we educate them that there was nowhere in the Constitution, where money is stipulated for bail, all that all is needed is a reliable surety; and they have started discarding that policy of payment for bail.
The issue of torture is one other area, which they are not aware of, and which my programme has been able to enlighten them on.
For places like SARS and other areas, where torture is dominant, we have been able to bring that to bear for them to see and appreciate.
You can’t achieve community policing without the knowledge of human rights. This training has been able to enhance the practice of community policing within the Nigeria Police. It also bridges the gap between the police and the civil society group, and people can now move closer to the police to share information and intelligence with them. This has helped the police tremendously.
I am happy because police officers appreciate what I am doing, and they are not resistant to the change that our training is giving them, even though they don’t pay for the training; they open their doors and allow their personnel for the training.
What informed this training on human rights that culminated in setting up the human rights desk in all police divisions in Lagos, which is spreading to other parts of the country?
I was working with an international organisation, UK Department for International Development, and part of my job was on access to justice for the poor, which included police reforms. While working with them, through scientific research, I realised that the poor did not have access to justice. We also went to the field to find out where they could get justice and where they were not getting justice, and we found out that, most of the time, their human rights were not respected.
I gathered that, if people’s rights were respected, it would go a long way in providing access to justice. I thought, how could I improve accessibility of justice to the masses, because the rich people have more access to justice as they can buy their way? So, I decided that I should start by training the police on human rights. When I started in 2006, there was no human rights office in the police, and after the first training, I met the Lagos State commissioner of police, Emmanuel Adebayo, and he gave me a room at the police command. I brought my office furniture and set it up. It was launched, and important personalities, including Oba of Lagos and the late Okoya Thomas and the then IGP Ehinderho, approved it.
We started to do consistent training. At that time, there were about 25,000 police personnel in Lagos formations alone.
By the time we had run three months, the desk had gone through all the area commands and from there to the divisions.
The arrangement is that, if you have the human rights resource centre at the headquarters, then you can have desks at the divisions, so that if there is any violation they report at the desk centres and if the desk centre cannot handle it, then they report at the resource centre at the command, then the officer in charge of the resource centre reports directly to the commissioner of police.
When Lagos took off, we started going to the national level. The pilot actually started in Lagos and spread to the national level; that IGs have now made it a core point in their mission statement gave me a lot of joy that I was the pioneer of this project.
What is your view on the gunshot wounds victim issue?
In 1998, for the first time, the gunshot wounds victim issue came into the public arena. At that time, the military was still in power and there was the prohibition of firearms law, which the police would rely upon to say that once you were a victim of gunshot no hospital would treat you until you got police report.
I published an article in the newspapers then over this, stating that victims of gunshots should be treated. This generated some discourse among some journalists. I took the matter to Tunji Alapeni, who was the force public relations officer, and he said there was no reason why hospitals should not treat a gunshot victim.
Hospitals were still refusing to treat gunshot wound victims. We continued, and any opportunity we had we issued press statements, especially when prominent Nigerians became victims, and they were dying because they would go to hospitals and they were rejected because they didn’t come with a police report. We kept on issuing releases, and each time the IG would say hospitals should treat, but the hospitals were not complying.
In 2010, I and some of my colleagues met and decided that we had to push this to become a bill, an act of the National Assembly. If it became an act, people could sue a hospital if it failed to treat a gunshot wound victim.
As we were doing that, an opportunity came, Bayo Ohu, a journalist with The Guardian was shot, hospitals refused to attend to him, and he died. I issued another press statement on why victims of gunshots should be attended to.
In 2011, I organised a fundraising event to get that bill passed. After that, we started a campaign and I met Mr. Arnold Odonmanu in Rivers, and both of us generated a lot of media hype, and people started commenting on the negative effects of the policy.
Osita Izunaso was in the House of Representatives. He took it up and moved for the bill in the lower chamber of the National Assembly. It was passed without much problems. It went to the Senate, and we tried to have meetings with them, but the chairman of Health Committee, Sen. Iyabo Obasanjo, was not around, and so we could not meet till the end of their tenure. When a bill is not completed, it starts all over again with a new session.
All our efforts failed, as the chairman was unable to sit.
We continued as people were still being rejected by the hospitals.
I met one of my friends last year, who works with the Senate president, and I discussed the project with him. He asked me to send him a copy of the draft. The bill had been drafted. When Osita was there, it was called Bill 247. I made copies and gave to him in 2017. Shortly after that I heard the bill came up at the Senate again, and there was no public hearing, it was just a smooth sail and it was passed. He called to tell me that the bill had been passed. Before December, the President assented to the bill.
It is now a law that hospitals must treat victims of gunshot wounds, and then report to the police. Before it was report before treatment.
IGP Idris has been in office for two years; how would you assess him?
He has had some remarkable achievements, but like every other leader, there are some areas he has not performed well. He brought in a whole lot of innovations.
Immediately he came on board, he moved for the establishment of Police Trust Fund, which he fought up to the Senate. I was at one or two of the sittings and I made contributions. The Nigeria Police is underfunded. For instance, they can submit a budget of about N13 billion, but about N6 billion may be approved.
He is also fighting kidnappers and making sure they are dealt with. Success is being recorded in that regard. He is encouraging officers to adopt human rights and stop violation of citizens’ rights. In this direction, he has done a zonal training to bring the officers of SARS to understand human rights. He has done well in police housing and welfare.
In times of low economy, crime is usually on the increase, but under his leadership, in some states like Lagos, crime has reduced. There are some other areas where he needs to improve, but, overall, he has made some remarkable achievements considering where he was coming from. Together with the Police Service Commission, he has recognised policemen who have done so well and, such people have been rewarded.
You were the only Nigerian who attended the recent International Symposium on World Society of Victimology in Singapore. What was it about?
World Society on Victimology is a world body comprising practitioners, and academia in the area of crime and victims all over the world. It is affiliated to the United Nations.
The symposium is done every four years. This 16th edition was titled, “Looking at crime victims at the international level.” At such a conference, issues of crime and victimisation are reviewed, and through research carried over the years, they come out with new areas of crime and what can be done to fight them; and how treatment of victims can be improved. The conference discussed ways to make criminal justice system less retributive, less punitive and more restorative. Countries came up with crimes that were prevalent in their areas.
It was an opportunity for scholars and practitioners to review issues around crime and find better ways to advise government, the justice ministry and those involved in crime fighting to change their methods and introduce new ways of dealing with crime and victimisation across the globe.
How can it be applied to Nigeria?
Common issues are domestic violence, drug victims, kidnapping, migration and refugees, even though they affect some particular groups more than others. The issue of kidnapping was discussed and solution proffered.