By Dinne Israel
It cannot be over emphasised that the constitution of Nigeria at any given time remains the grundnorm, a law that no other supersedes, but derives their origin and continuous existence from.
Even under a military regime, the unsuspended part(s) of the constitution remains in force and effective as ever.
The present grundnorm, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended 2011), has been in some quarters regarded as a near perfect legislation covering almost all aspects of the society and human life.
Among these provisions is as provided in its Part IV and precisely sections 33 and 34 which talks about right to life and right to dignity of human person respectively.
It will be pertinent at this point to recall that the constitution rightly nullified and voided any other law which its provisions shall be inconsistent or contrary to those of the constitution.
Towards having a crime free and conducive society fit for governance and peaceful coexistence, an Act to make comprehensive provisions for matters relating to armed robbery was enacted as Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act (Cap R11 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004).
In the bid to control robbery and armed robbery, the 12 sections piece of legislation provided mainly for the punishment of these crimes and incidents relating to them.
Chiefly among them is that provided for in section 4 of the Act. There is indeed no issue with subsection (1) of the section, but the application of subsection (2), (3) and (4) is really a case to worry about if the rights to life and that of dignity of human person are to be respected and protected.
A glance on sections 33 and 34 of the Constitution reveals thus; 33(1) ‘’Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life…’’ 34(1) ‘’Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, accordingly – (a) no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment…’’
Section 4 (2) of the Robbery and Firearms Act provides thus; ‘’It shall be the duty of any person, hospital or clinic that admits, treats or administers any drug to any person SUSPECTED of having bullet wounds to immediately report the matter to the police.’’
It went further to create the offence committed where the above is not adhered to and its punishment which is imprisonment for a period not more than 5 years in the case of an individual and closure in the case of a clinic or hospital in addition to a #10,000.00 fine.
Agreed that the above falls within the object of the Act, but the question seeking for an answer here is as to whether compliance with it does offend the letters and spirit of the constitution or not?
Firstly, the well known doctrine and rule in Woolmington V. D. P. P. (1935) AC 465 otherwise known as presumption of innocence which has it that, every person who is charged with a criminal offence, no matter how heinous, shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty, rightly acknowledged and enshrined in section 36(5) of our constitution seems attacked here.
The mandate given by the Robbery and Firearms Act surely relates to a person not necessarily a criminal or a suspect facing a criminal trial, but if the law can graciously accord a SUSPECT who is already a DEFENDANT in a criminal matter the presumption of being innocent of a case he is accused and being tried of, how much more a person merely SUSPECTED of having bullet wounds?
Secondly, it is no longer news that almost all the law enforcement agencies in Nigeria (the Military, Police, Custom, Immigration and Civil Defence personnel) are more ‘’trigger happy’’ these days and are on an ‘’unprovoked rampage’’ with total disregard to the four cardinal rifle safety rules which we were all taught upon recruitment.
As an aside and to discourage the frequent ‘’accidental discharge and stray bullet’’ incidents in the society lately, it is necessary to restate that the rifle safety rules (which every officer/personnel is expected to know and practice) remains; (1)Treat every weapon as if it were loaded, (2)Keep your fingers straight and off the trigger until you intend to fire, (3)Never point your weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot and (4)Keep your weapon on safe until you intend to fire.
The foregoing haven left more ‘’good men’’ than criminals with bullet wounds in today’s Nigeria is another issue to be considered in the application of the provisions of the Robbery & Firearms Act.
Also we must not forget that most persons having real bullet wounds and suspected bullet wounds are victims of criminal acts who need nothing other than an immediate medical care and attention, the delay of which may likely cause their death after their belongings would have been taken away from them unlawfully.
Not making a case for the perpetrators of crime and evil in the society, but there is indeed the need to have laws that kowtows with the grundnorm and those that the literary, mischief and golden rules of interpretation shall play on when necessary as that will procure a better and civil society.
A society where the laws and the systems’ modus operandi does not work for a privileged few while frustrating others, where leeway is readily available to the highest bidder.
Considering the section of the Robbery and Firearms Act in view, one may be forced to ask, how close and accessible are our hospitals and clinics to persons with bullet wounds?
Are they equipped to quickly decipher which wound is actually a bullet wound?
How easy is it for them to contact the police in such matters as well as the promptness of the police response?
Assuming every person with a bullet wound seeking treatment has a question to answer or facts to give that will aid the law enforcement agents either to uncover and apprehend other criminals, nib further plans to carry out crime in the bud, get the story and facts of an incident straight among others, will it not serve better to have such a person alive than allowing him to die due to late or no medical treatment?
In the absences of any record of the rate of compliance with this, many hospitals and clinics have really ran into troubles with the authorities even when they do these that have forced some of them to desist from the compliance while some of them have been contracted secretly to admit, treat and administer drug on these persons with bullet wounds thereby defeating the object of the Act.
The right to life and dignity of human person remains sacrosanct as it is and should be held in high esteem save as provided by the law which should not be sacrificed or laid down for any reason or be denied due to lack of medical care on the fact that a person has a SUSPECTED bullet wound.
There is this maxim that the law is made for man, not man for the law. When a law ceases to serve its purpose, (SECURITY OF LIFE AND PROPERTY) it is either amended or changed.
In some cases, new law is enacted to keep up with the call of the times. Also we must remember that the law is only a shadow (or anticipation) of good things to come, and not the realities themselves.