In December, 2017 President Muhammadu Buhari assent to six different bills that brought to limelight specific laws that will henceforth abolish a devastating practice in the nation’s health care emergency response system, eradicate the use of torture to extract confessional statements in investigation process, ensure adequate financing for NDDC to effectively pursue its objectives, establish a coordinating national institution to through rigorous research detect and prevent cancer diseases, among others.
By Abubakar Jimoh
As Nigerians prepared for the New Year celebrations, the nation witnessed the much awaited development from the executive arm with President Muhammadu Buhari signing into law six different bills.
The new laws which include Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, Anti-Torture Act, Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment) Amendment Act, National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment (Establishment) Act, Federal Capital Appropriation Act, and Federal Capital Territory Water Board (Establishment) Act, came at the moment when the nation had shifted focus and attention from the overarching political issues that dominated the 2017, primarily for the Xmas and New Year celebrations.
This piece takes a look at specific challenges or situations that triggered the promulgation of each Act giving cognisance to some explicit provisions.
Compulsory Treatment and Care for Victims of Gunshot Act
Given the countless number of innocent victims who have lost their lives to deliberately instituted bureaucracy with resultant rejection or delayed in treatment, the Act if effectively implemented will put to rest one of the most worrisome public health issues in Nigeria. The law addresses notable inadequacies obstructing treatment of gunshot victims leading to unnecessary loss of lives.
Apparently, at legislative level, the passage of the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill was fast-tracked in response to the increasingly rejections and deaths of gunshot victims by Nigeria hospitals.
While as a legal framework, the Act which was sent to the Senate for concurrence by House of Representatives, sought to ensure that all victims of gunshot wounds receive necessary treatment from medical workers and assistance from security agencies.
Whatever the drive or consideration informing the practice of rejecting patients with gunshot wounds is indeed a pathetic admission that in Nigeria, the dignity due human life is often denied.
The awful practice which demands innocent victims who have been shot by robbers or hit by stray bullets to first secure a police report before going to the hospital for treatment has led to many avertable deaths.
Commending the legislative and the executive arms on the speedy passage of the bill and the subsequent Presidential assent, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) said the law was paramount to oust cold-hearted practices and in giving a legal backing to the rapid treatment of the innocent victims of gunshot by Nigeria hospitals.
“We regret that many innocent lives have been lost through the degrading practice. It would be de-service to request police report before treating an innocent victim who undergoes varied degrees of dreadful pain. We also commend the National Assembly and Presidency for bringing the Act to the limelight.”
He added: “The Act is in in agreement with Section 20 of the National Health Act 2014, which forbids a health care provider, health worker or healthcare establishment from refusing a person emergency medical treatment for any reason.”
The Executive Director however, urged the legislative and the executive arms to as well take into cognisance adequate security of lives and property from the increasingly illegal arms flow into the country to mitigate persistent gunshot in complementing the exiting efforts.
Lamenting the evils perpetrated through the practice, Olu Onemola, Aide to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki said: “Having a system in place that forces both the good and the bad people who have been shot to first request police reports before going to the hospital, makes the innocent people among them victims of circumstance; victims of the hospitals, who refuse to treat gunshot victims without police reports; victims of the police, who oftentimes do not process these requests in a speedy manner; and victims of Nigeria’s current laws that make police reports mandatory for both law-abiding citizens and criminals alike.”
Also, a public health physician, Dr. Ben Akharaiye said the Act was a right step in saving Nigerians from unnecessary and preventable deaths. “The idea of waiting for police reports before treatment is an obsolete idea by our past leaders. It is in itself inhuman to say the least. Image the lives that have been lost in this country because of the long wait for police report, or even an outright denial by health facilities.
“What we have continued to reiterate then was that it is most like an innocent person that is shot than armed robbers, because these robbers or assassins are the ones holding the guns. Only few of these victims are armed robbers or assassins as the case may be,” he explained.
A provision of the new law mandates every person, including security agents to render required assistance to any person with gunshot wounds. This includes ensuring that the victim is taken to the nearest hospital for adequate treatment. It preserves the fundamental rights of gunshot victims by mandating that no person with a bullet wound shall be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and that no person with a gunshot wound shall be refused immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria — whether or not an initial deposit has been paid or not.
A report by Small Arms Survey revealed that as at 2007, the number of small arms and light weapons in Nigeria were estimated at between 1 and 3 million.
While the law as a curative measure remains paramount to save lives of the victims, relevant authorities must not lose sight of the preventive and stringent holistic measures to curtail illicit arms flow into the country that paves way for persistent shooting of innocent citizens.
It would be recalled that a 2015 resolution of the United Nations Security Council noted with concern that “illicit transfer, destabilising accumulation and misuse of small arms and light weapons in many regions of the world continue to pose threats to international peace and security, cause significant loss of life, and contribute to instability and insecurity.”
Nigerian security forces have hitherto been regarded among the crudest in the world as a result of the intentional use of excessive force and extra-judicial killing, verbal attacks and psychological intimidation reportedly mounted on a suspect to extract confessional statements and killing of robbery suspects without judicial trial.
The Act which criminalises torture and other inhuman treatments is a turning point in the effort of government and civil society groups to check impunity and high-handedness in the society.
While commenting on torture in part of Nigerian Police, Law Mefor, a Consulting Psychologist regarded police brutality as one of several forms of police misconduct, which include false arrest, intimidation, racial profiling, political repression, surveillance abuse, sexual abuse, and police corruption.
Mefor wrote: “Police brutality is closely related to torture. Torture could actually be an extreme form of police brutality. Technically, the term ‘police brutality’ is now generically used to cover all government security agencies – police, prisons, military, name it. One aspect of torture that must engage our attention here is psychological torture, which is less well known than physical torture and tends to be subtle and much easier to conceal.
“In Nigeria, these forms of torture are everywhere you have government security agencies operating, especially the police and the prison. The police cells and prisons are punitively run in Nigeria to inflict maximum psychological damage. If it is not intended, then, it has become a huge achievement by default.”
Similarly, in August 15, 2013, a report published by the Vanguard Newspapers accused the deployed Joint Task Force—both military and police in the Northeast of widespread atrocities ranging from summary executions, arbitrary arrests and torture.
In another 2014 report titled Welcome to Hell Fire – Torture and Other Ill-treatment in Nigeria published by Amnesty International revealed that countless people have suffered, and continued to suffer torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (hereinafter ill-treatment) in the hands of the Nigerian security forces, including the police and military.
The report observed torture and other ill-treatments as routine practices in criminal investigations in Nigeria, adding that suspects in police and military custody across the country are subjected to torture as punishment or to extract confessions as a shortcut to ‘solve’ cases – particularly armed robbery and murder.
According to the report, many police sections in various states, including the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and Criminal Investigation Division (CID), have “torture chambers”: special rooms where suspects are tortured, such chamber are sometimes under the charge of an officer known informally as “O/C Torture” (Officer in Charge of Torture).
Also, in a report titled Nigeria: Navigating Secrecy in the Vetting and Selection of Peacekeepers published by CISLAC, it was revealed that sexual exploitation and abuse and human rights violations by members of the Nigeria Armed Forces have been rampant with no proactive responses by the concerned institutions to deal with the situation in a systematic manner that would win the confidence of the public.
The report notes inadequacies in the training for peacekeepers particularly the police curriculum which it regards as “severely undeveloped” with critical gaps in areas that are vital to effective policy, such as forensics and crime management, special victims, human rights and information technology.
In addition, incidents of torture are not uncommon at home, workplace and public places. Many lives are lost to extra-judicially killings from torture with the culprits go scot-free without facing justice.
Against this background, the Anti-torture Act penalises every act of high-handedness by individuals towards their subordinates, servants, or people in custody in the case of criminal suspects under investigation.
The law protects the rights of the potential victims of such ill-treatment and would enable the punishment of the responsible individual(s), thus, ensuring there will be no impunity.
It stresses that freedom from torture is a non-derogatory right with no exceptional circumstances, whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war; internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.
The law criminalises torture as an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him/her or a third person information or a confession; punish a person for an act he/she or a third person has committed or is suspected to have committed.
More importantly, various provisions of the Act make it a state policy to ensure that the rights of all persons, including suspects, detainees and prisoners are respected at all times; and that no person placed under investigation or held in custody of any person in authority shall be subjected to physical harm, force, violence, threat, intimidation or any act that impairs his will.
The law listed as part of the actions that constitute torture to include systematic beatings, head-banging, punching, kicking, striking with rifle butts, pumping on the stomach, food deprivation or forceful feeding with spoilt food, electric shock, cigarette burning, burning by electrically heated rod, hot oil, acid, forced to assume to fixed and stressful bodily position, sexual abuse and any other acts.
Niger Delta Development Commission (Establishment) Amendment Act
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as “an interventionist Commission” was established to address socio-economic, environmental and political problems that have engulfed the Niger Delta region.
Funding gaps are major setbacks hampering the Commission’s activities. This triggered a resolution by Advisory of the Commission in September, 2014, calling for the need to urgently address the funding challenges facing the Commission so as to reposition it for better service delivery to the people of the region.
Amendment to the Act strengthens weak provisions in the Principal Act and removes obvious impediments, particularly in the area of funding and reposition the Commission to carry out its mandate effectively.
It clarifies certain provisions in the Principal Act and provides for prompt remittance of funds due to the Niger Delta Development Commission, as well as penalties for delay or default.
With provision of new subsections to ensure prompt remittances to the Commission, the Commission’s financial burden will be reduced.
National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment (Establishment) Act
The rising deaths from cancer related diseases in Nigeria has gained a widespread attention of the governments, individuals and stakeholders with recent available data showing accelerating rate of cancer diseases in the last five decades.
A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) discloses no fewer than 10,000 related deaths while about 250,000 new cases are recorded from cancer annually.
Consequently, the National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment (Establishment) Act was introduced to give dedicated attention to the dreadful disease through an established institution that will provide national leadership in cancer research, control and treatment; guide scientific improvements to cancer prevention, treatment and care; coordinate and liaise with the wide range of groups and healthcare providers with interest in cancer as well as make recommendations to the government about cancer policy and priorities.
The Act provides for the establishment of the National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment Board with the power to erect, provide, equip and maintain research centre, training schools with state of the art facilities as are necessarily suitable for or required for any of the objects of the Institute; encourage and provide for research at the Institute; accept gifts, legacies and donations which are consistent with the objects of the Institute; enter into contract as well as acquire and hold movable and immovable property.
It also empowers the Board to create a central online database for statistical analysis to create access by both public and private individuals with a view to attracting donor agencies; establish a department of telemedicine for collaboration with peers both within and outside Nigeria.
Federal Capital Territory Water Board (Establishment) Act
Over the years, accessibility to adequate, accessible and affordable water supply remains a major challenge in some parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with persistent outcries by the residents that people living in the satellite towns of Abuja lack access to potable water.
The FCT has a huge number of people suffering from inaccessibility to safe drinking water. With over 3.5 million population as at 2016, according to City Population, some FCT residents have reportedly resulted in buying a 20-litre-jerrycan of water from water vendors in their neighbourhoods, while others experience long queues before fetching water from nearby boreholes.
The Federal Capital Territory Water Board is the sole agency charged with the responsibility of producing and supplying potable water in the FCT. The board is faced with the challenge of making potable water accessible to the teeming residents of the city centre, satellite towns and over 800 communities.
The new law charged the FCT Water Board Establishment with the responsibility for providing safe, adequate and affordable water supply services to the residents of the FCT, Abuja.
It is also to collaborate with the other authorities responsible for water resources management to secure efficient use of water resources for the conservation and protection of the water resources of the Territory and the nation.
Apart from providing safe , adequate and affordable water supply service to the residents of FCT, based on the new law, the Board shall collaborate with the others authorities responsible for water resources management to secure efficient use of water resources for the conservation and protection of the water resources of the Territory and the nation.
Other mandates of the Board include to ensure the supply of adequate and potable water throughout the Territory at reasonable charges; management and maintain all capital works, water services facilities and new water service assets in the Territory; identify and implement project for delivery of water supply service which may be undertaken with private sector participation; manage and maintain existing waterworks within the Territory particularly to the various Area Councils and maintaining limited supervising capacity and intervention over these Area Councils operations.
Federal Capital Appropriation Act
This Act provides for the issue out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Capital Territory the sum of N64,276,476,002 out of which N12,799,413,161 is allocted to Personnel costs and N7,599,158,687 for Overhead Costs, while the balance of N43,877,904,154 is allocated to Capital Expenditure.
Under provisions of the Act, the Director of Treasury of the Federal Capital Territory Administration may, when authorized to do so by Warrants signed by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, pay out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the FCT during the financial year ending 31st December, 2007 the sum specified by the warrants not exceeding the aggregate of N64,276,476,002.
The Act requires amounts appropriated to be made from the Consolidated Revenue Fund only for the purposes specified in the Act with all revenue accruing to the Territory other than the Statutory revenue distribution shall be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Capital Territory.