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Lives get cheaper in Nigeria by the day

By Owei Lakemfa

I NEVER  met Professor Halimatu Sa’adiya Idris, and I will never meet her. At least not on earth. However, I was so angry about  the reasons adduced for  her removal as Education Commissioner in Katsina State that on January 29, 2018, I wrote a piece in this column titled: “ The difficulty and burden of governance.”

State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari had said education in the state was in a state of comatose before Professor Idris  revived and revolutionised it,  but that he had to remove her because she is a professional, not a politician and with the 2019 elections approaching he needed a politician who can attract votes.

On Sunday, July 22, Professor Idris and her husband, Abdullahi Mu’azu were travelling on the  Abuja-Kaduna expressway when bandits opened fire. A bullet hit her on the shoulder and penetrated into her chest.

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He drove to a nearby clinic where Nurse Grace Benson tried to give first aid. But Professor Idris was about to become one of the latest casualties   of the crime of refusing to treat or assist victims of gunshot wounds without police report. Nurse Benson told Premium Times : “She (Idris) was brought to my place of work yesterday around 7pm and I was the nurse on duty. We called the FRSC (Federal Road Safety Corps)  here, they said the case was for the police.

We called the police but none showed up. Even her husband spoke with the FRSC here to lend us their ambulance to transfer her and the other victims to Kaduna but they insisted that the police had to come and tell them before they could release their ambulance.”  It took about two hours before an ambulance could be secure. She died on the way. The nurse claimed   a similar incident occurred  four days earlier.

Eighteen days before the attack on Professor Idris, there was an outrage in Abuja in another case of neglecting  gunshot victims.

I had received a message from a friend I do exercise with at the Jabi Lake Park, that her dance instructor, Linda Angela Igwetu, a 23-year-old female National Youth Service  Corps, ?NYSC, member  had been shot by the police.  That day, Linda had returned home at about 11 pm from   work  at the  Outsource Global Company, Mabushi where she was posted for her primary assignment.  She then went  on a hangout with two friends to celebrate their graduation from the NYSC scheme which was due within forty eight hours. They were returning home at about 3am when near  the Ceddi Plaza,   Police Inspector  Benjamin Peters, opened fire on the car.

Senator Atai Aidoko ( Kogi-East) narrated on the floor of the Senate what happened next: “Bullet hit her by the midrib and she began losing blood in the open roof of the vehicle. She was rushed to the (Garki) hospital but they would not treat her until they see a police report despite the fact that police officers were present. While the deliberation was going on, Angela bled and died.”

An enraged  President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki lamented that the  “Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act” had been passed, and  assented to by the President on December 30, 2017:“Until we start holding people accountable to these kinds of incidents, they will not stop. What is the point of us passing a Bill, and the President assenting to it, then it becomes law, and still, people will decide that they will not treat a patient?”

If there had been a change of heart, perhaps Professor Idris might not have died eighteen days later. The cases of Miss. Linda Angela Igwetu and Professor Idris are not isolated; they are more the norm. On May 13, Mr. Adebayo Akinwunmi, an engineer with the communication company,  Ericsson, was shot  by armed robbers in his home, on Madam Felicia Street, Orimerunmu, Ofada-Mokoloki,  Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State.

It was about 1 am. His family rushed him to a nearby hospital which rejected him on the basis that the family had no police report.  In desperation, the family sped him to the prestigious   Reddington Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos, where his company has a retainer ship for its staff. But the hospital refused to treat him on similar grounds. Then, the family headed to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, where there was no doctor to treat him. He simply bled to death.

Mr. Okey , aka Okey Abagana, a business man survived his gunshot wounds in Lagos, because his brother forced doctors at gun point to treat him. He had been shot last year by robbers in a traffic jam and was rushed to a nearby hospital at Volkswagen Bus Stop. But despite all entreaties, the doctors refused to treat him without  a police report.

In desperation, he called his brother, a police officer who arrived with his orderly.  Despite this, the doctors refused to treat the victim. Rather than watch his brother die, the police officer pulled out his gun threatening to shoot the doctors if his brother died. That did the magic,  Mr. Okey was treated and his life saved before the police report came hours later.

Nigerians have been so brutalised and traumatised over the years that  the gunshot victim, is not  only the victim of his assailant, but also of the police, doctors and nurses, hospitals, government agencies, and even  his fellow citizens.

Over the years, the police  arrogated to itself the power to allow or disallow treatment of gunshot victims. It is an open secret that in many cases, policemen, aware of the desperate state of victims,  demand bribes to issue a report for treatment. Some doctors, despite their  Hippocratic Oath and law protecting them, hide behind the police to refuse treatment.

Their reasons range from claims that the police extort money from them if the victim turns out to be an armed robber,  to the issue of who picks the bill. So, there is a mercantilist angle to neglecting gunshot victims. There are public agencies like the FRSC who may refuse to assist gunshot victims for fear of police bullying, and of course the government which has abandoned its obligations of providing free medical services including basic drugs to Nigerians.

Tragically, this has permeated the rest of society with otherwise conscientious citizens shying away from assisting victims for a range of reasons, including police intimidation, extortion and having to pay medical bills for rushing victims they may not even know, to hospitals.

A quick solution might be to send complicit    policemen, public officials, public and private medical personnel to prison for failing to assist or treat victims of gunshot wounds, even if they turn out to be armed robbers.

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