GUNSHOT VICTIMS: A shortcoming of Nigeria’s Information Ministry

GUNSHOT VICTIMS: A shortcoming of Nigeria's Information Ministry
By Editor

By Benjamin Ugbana….

Early this year, a friend narrated how one 26-year-old Chukwuma was shot in his own salon by robbers. He was about closing for the day that fateful evening when some men barged in, lifted few valuables and gunned him down. Rolling on the floor in pains, he was quickly rushed to a nearby hospital by some neighbours who showed up after hearing the gunshot. The doctors at the clinic insisted on seeing a police clearance before they will initiate any sort of treatment. Right there at the reception of the hospital, Chukwuma gave up the ghost. And this was happening at a time the Gunshot Victim Act had already been signed into law.

In December 2017 when President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Act which birthed the “treat first, ask questions later” policy, hopes were high that the move will ensure every victim of gunshot wounds receives appropriate treatment from medical workers, and have access to medical attention irrespective of the cause of the shooting and with or without initial monetary deposit.

I could not write about this in February when Chukwuma, said to have been his mother’s only son, died out of sheer negligence by acclaimed professionals. I assumed that at the time, medical staffs were yet to get a memo as regards the new policy. But on reading about the recent demise of Miss Linda Angela Igwetu six months down the line over a similar negligence by hospital staff, I was finally persuaded that Nigerians have a cause to worry.

The case of Ms. Igwetu, an NYSC member allegedly shot by a police officer, was discussed at the Senate chambers yesterday (Thursday). Senate president, Bukola Saraki, amazed as some of us are, said: “What is the point of us passing a Bill (the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Act), and the President assenting to it, then it becomes law, and still, people will decide that they will not treat a patient. “Is it that they are not well-informed? Is it that they were not aware that such a law exists? There are a number of issues that we need to address.”

Those are good questions. And hopefully they can be properly addressed. While I’d be willing to agree with anyone who argues that medical workers are doing this on purpose, I stand strong with the opinion that they are simply not informed. First, we must understand that some of the ‘nurses’ that facilitate admission of patients in the average hospital are not well educated. The request for police report from gunshot victims has been the culture for ages. It is all they know and will ever know, until a serious reorientation exercise is done to displace the old ways from their cognition.

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Again, just for the fun of it: before hopping on my PC to write this piece, I asked seven random persons on my street of the first thing to do if they worked in a clinic and a patient with gunshot wounds was brought in. All but one responded, “I will demand for police report.”

Six months after! Six whole months after, some adult citizens residing in the city have no idea that the government has made a lasting provision to save lives at such critical point; yet we boast of having a functional Ministry of Information that rakes up to N42.66 billion as its annual budget.

During the early days of modern democracy in Nigeria, when we had it as the Ministry of Information and National Orientation, orientation on various national issues was a big deal. It was as though a section of late night news and NTA Newsline was dedicated to the Information Minister. Frank Nweke Jr, for instance, became a popular educative personality while I was tender. With this attractive smile of his, the man was always with media men, passing across one information or the other, and carrying everyone along on every governmental move.

Today, we have an Information Minister that seems to be craving for the jobs of the media aides of the president of the federal republic. Buhari now has a special assistant, a senior special assistant and a super-senior special assistant on media and publicity. An incredible feat.

It’s just regrettable that only a chunk of the citizenry can boast of being aware of every new development in government. In more than 80% of addresses by Minister Lai Mohammed, he is either promoting the cause of the ruling party or advocating public acceptance of his boss, not forgetting to diss the opposition by any means possible.

If new laws are effectively communicated to the public, a greater part of enforcement will have occured before the Police and other agencies come in. Hence when such policies as the “treat first, ask questions later” are signed into law, the information ministry, whose mission is to establish and maintain a robust information dissemination mechanism in the country, need to educate Nigerians via media campaigns.

But as always, the social media comes to our rescue. Ms. Igwetu’s death has gotten so much attention on the internet – with some influential personalities lending their voice in condemning the irresponsible behaviour of the hospital in question. With the trend, a good number of persons, formerly unaware of the Gunshot Victims Act, will have added to their knowledge, which is good. And we also expect that those semi-skilled, information-deprived nurses and receptionists in clinics will have been warned by their more-exposed bosses about the dangers of acting God when someone’s life is at stake.

How we lose lives on daily basis out of negligence and poor governance! How there is always one struggle or the other – or one bloodshed or the other – before a thing is made effective in Nigeria is just unfortunate! I wish we can become more proactive than we already are, to improve on life expectancy in this country.

May the soul of the NYSC member who died a day before her passing out rest in peace. And may Nigerian police officers on patrol begin to have a good sense of their own. Amen.


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