Can Nigerian police officers give first aid?

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Abimbola Adelakun

Last Friday, a 22-year-old computer expert, David Ntekim-Rex, was shot in Lagos by armed robbers. The first time I heard about David was in 2018 when he won the IBM Z Academic Initiative Prize, a worldwide contest. This guy is a gift to Nigeria, I thought. I have shared his story a few times when I talk about technology and Africa’s future. Everything about him bespoke promises. Unfortunately, he was shot by robbers -probably young men like him- who wanted to dispossess him of his Samsung phone.

In another life, a brilliant young man like him would be working in Silicon Valley, on a sure path to becoming another tech giant whose expertise would change the course of our society’s history. Instead, he bled to his death as the chain of administrative incompetence that links from one sector of Nigeria to the other tightened around his neck. It is a sad and infuriating story! According to his relatives, the police officers summoned to the scene of the incident were more concerned about spurious things. The police reportedly took photos instead and wasted valuable time asking inane questions such as why he was carrying a laptop. After all the appeals people made during the #EndSARS protests, one would think police officers would, by now, know better than treat people carrying simple devices such as a laptop like human body parts trafficker.

The police, of course, dispute the family’s version of the story. Unfortunately, what they offered as the correct chronicle of events is even far shameful. In the words of the Police Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, “On getting to the scene, policemen met his lifeless body but relations insisted that he was not dead. So, police took him to Military Hospital, Yaba but the hospital said they could not treat him and then referred him to LUTH. He was accepted at LUTH and he was confirmed dead…”

First, by what means did the police determine that he was “lifeless”? Did they check his pulse or pupils to confirm, or they just went by their gut instinct? Did they at any point attempt to give him first aid? Of course, that begs whether Nigerian police officers have the training to provide first aid in such emergencies. Can Nigeria Police officers even give Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation when the need arises? I have never seen them perform one. For Adejobi to say the police concluded that David was already “lifeless,” but that his family countered them suggests that they did not know it for a fact that he was dead. It is also likely they did not offer first aid to him either. It could be that they have never been taught how to respond to such situations, or they have become so desensitised to the point they lacked the human impulse to take the initiative to rescue that young man. It could also be both.

Anyway, the same police that concluded the young man was lifeless added that they took him to the Military Hospital in Yaba. Again, going by the family’s chronicle of events, even the hospital officials did not demonstrate any sense of urgency towards treating him. After they had wasted what seemed like a considerable amount of time, they referred him to Lagos University Teaching Hospital. If the police account of events is to be believed, then the Military Hospital must be the first in the world that would deem a “lifeless” body still treatable to refer them to a teaching hospital. How is that possible?

For the Military Hospital to refer him elsewhere, it meant David was still alive at that point. The police cannot claim they did their best for him when, from their own self-accounting, they barely demonstrated earnestness towards saving that young man’s life. Between the time he was shot, and the time he reportedly died, there was a good four and a half hours. That was enough time to fight for his life if ours were a country where life mattered. These kinds of stories are maddening because they are a daily reality in Nigeria. Who knows how many people regularly die in similar circumstances because those given the duty to respond to emergencies merely threw up their arms and declared they were “lifeless”? Is a Nigerian life that cheap that people can no longer be moved to compassion or what? They should all be sued for their callousness.

If there is one skill that the police need to acquire, it is how to respond in an emergency such as accidents, heart failure, gunshot attacks, brain seizures, and the like. The police should not decide whether someone is lifeless or not by merely guessing. They should be able to perform the CPR. They should be trained and equipped to respond helpfully when they confront life and death situations. It seems that we are so used to seeing people die needlessly that our society does not even try to save them. We need to de-normalise the lackadaisical attitude that will make a police officer declare someone “lifeless” by looking at the body while the family insists otherwise. Police training should include using their initiative in circumstances where someone needs aid, not to write off their prospects of survival. At least try to save them.

On a general note, life-saving techniques are a skill set most of us need to learn. How many times have we seen someone get hit by a vehicle in Nigeria, and nobody on the scene had a clue what to do in the interregnum before the victim receives skilled medical help? People just mill around, some running silly commentary while others wail helplessly. These days, some voyeurs even record the scene with their phones, the pitiable sight of human suffering turned into a delectable feast for themselves and their friends to chomp on later. Some, in trying to help, even worsen the situation for the victim. Response to an emergency should also be taught in the schools. That is one way to raise a generation of people who can make meaningful interventions whenever necessary. From classroom teachers to students from even primary school level, we should all learn those skills. It could save a life.

In 2019, I tried to place my daughter in a primary school in Ibadan. One of the things that confounded me about that experience was the number of subjects that children as young as four years had to take. In one of the schools, I asked for a breakdown of the curriculum. They mentioned they teach subjects such as “security studies.” I asked why “security studies” had to be a subject that pupils would have to study for and write an examination on when they could make it practical knowledge. Do the students practise regular fire drills in the school? She said no. Do their pupils know how to call the police if they found themselves in trouble and could access a phone? Do they have emergency procedures that they frequently rehearsed in case there was a fire outbreak and needed an evacuation? The woman stared at me as if I spoke in ancient Sanskrit. So, what is the point of “security studies” if all they learned was so they could write an examination on it? Security, as well as responses to an emergency, should be practicable knowledge.

The death of David hurts; it hurts deeply. How do you go from a promising tech genius to dying like that? The circumstances of his death bring up a painful recollection of my dear uncle who died in similar circumstances. Some 26 years ago, he too was shot by robbers one evening like that. It happened during a doctors’ strike, and it took some running around before my family found a private hospital that would admit him. Between the hospital personnel who have become so insensitive to the point that life no longer matters to them, and police officers who focus on a pretend-investigation at the expense of what mattered, his life ebbed away. Just like David, he too was 22 years old.

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