Insight

Used, abandoned to fate (2)

 

  • Neglected and rejected: Story of injured officers

In this concluding part of the story on policemen and soldiers, who were injured in the line of duty and abandoned to fate, Juliana Francis reveals that though there is still hope for these men, but the hope becomes a stillborn due to lack of money and support from relevant authorities

 

The culture of abandoning policemen to their fate during health challenges or injuries is not a recent development. In 2003, ASP Augustine Ugwu, attached to Ojo Police Station was also wounded in the line of duty and resorted to begging to buy myriad of injections and medicines.

 

Till date, Ugwu is still running from pillar to post, seeking medical assistance. His troubles started after he and his team responded to a distress call. They later walked into an ambush. Robbers in military uniforms killed all Ugwu’s team members and pumped 10 bullets into him. He miraculously survived. But at a cost; he needed a series of expensive drugs and injections to live. He was in coma for seven days.

 

Five bullets were extracted from his stomach. Just like Joshua, Ugwu back then needed N2 million for operation, which would take place in Indian. He couldn’t raise the money. When he went to the Nigeria Police Force Insurance, he was told that he came too late. He should have come within 90 days after his attack. But at 90 days, Ugwu was still fighting for his life.

 

“How can NPF Insurance say I did not notify them within 90 days after I was attacked when I was still battling to survive the incident that is now killing me slowly?” he querird. Exactly 11 years after his attack, Ugwu’s health, if anything, is worsening. He has become addicted to drugs, which if not used could result to his death.

 

Whenever he couldn’t buy these drugs because of money, his body starts swelling and stinking. Doctors told him that he was dying slowly and must go to Indian. He is still in Nigeria, praying and hoping for a miracle. Also touching is the story of ASP Silvanus Okon (rtd). He was attached to Surulere Police Station. He was still a policeman when his eyes started having trouble.

 

He footed his medical bill himself and today, Okon is blind as a bat. Asked him about his days as a police officer, Okon will readily regale you with his exploit on the arrest of a deadly armed robber. He said: “I was attached to Surulere Division when an armed robber, described as a terrorist, was declared wanted. The suspect was operating in Edo State, but signals were sent throughout the whole federation. The robbery gang soon entered Lagos State. I was alerted. I led my team to where they were and we succeeded in arresting them. I was a sergeant then.

 

On that day, we arrested an army officer and two armed robbers.” He said that he was supposed to be promoted based on his gallantry, but he was not. He had to write series of letters before he was promoted to the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), but without the money and allowances that are supposed to come with the rank.

 

Okon was still pursuing his rights and entitlements when his eyes started hurting him. He said: “I’m an ASP, but I’m still receiving an inspector’s salary. Meanwhile, I was supposed to retire as Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP). I was cheated. I lost my sight while on duty. I was on duty when an insect entered my eye. I thought it was a minor thing.

 

From there I went to the hospital. I was given eye-drop. But instead of the pain to reduce, it was increasing. Before I know it, it has affected my second eye. I wrote to police authorities for financial help. “I was given a paper to go and treat myself that police would later refund me. I went to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), but it did not work. I was refereed to other hospitals.

 

That was how I did until I retired. The police did not pay for the treatment; they only paid me my salary. I paid my medical bills with my salary. Right now, I just want them to pay me for ASP arrears of 11 years.” Inspector Emmanuel Thlama (48) is married and has eight children.

 

He lives at Mashimari Barracks, Borno State. He’s on a wheelchair following attack of April 10, 2012 by Boko Haram insurgents at Banki Division in Bama Local Government Area. He and 10 others were on duty when Boko Haram members attacked from different directions. He was shot at the back. He said: “We were able to repel them.”

 

He remained at the scene after the attack at 6.15a.m., until 2p.m. when he was taken to a hospital. He was serving in Gombe, under Zone 3 comprising Adamawa, Gombe and Taraba states. He receives N78,000 monthly after N12,000 is deducted every month.

 

Ever since he was attacked, his family has been providing the funds for his medical care. He has written three letters to police authorities without any response.

 

He has been referred for surgery in an Indian hospital but couldn’t afford the cost of travel and treatment which is $12,500. He has used two wheelchairs all at his personal cost and needs to replace the one he’s presently using. He met the then IG, Ibrahim Idris, on March 22, 2018, when he visited the Borno State Police Headquarters and presented his case.

 

The then IG promised to do something and asked him to write through the state police commis-sioner. He wrote, but since then mum was the word.

 

Thlama said that police had a ‘culture of abandonment’ of casualties. Injured ones are abandoned, families of dead ones are also abandoned and sometimes even treated without compassion, he said. He has spent 28 years in service, but demoralised due to neglect.

 

Thlama said that he had spent N3, 240,000 so far on himself. Another case is that of 43-yearold Inspector Asabar Tsabta. Tsabta is married and has three children. He was shot by Boko Haram members during an attack in 2015; his right eye was hit by a bullet. Later, the left eye was also affected due to lack of proper medical attention. He has gone blind now.

 

He still has bandage on the damaged right eye. His wife escorts him to wherever he wants to go. He was attacked by Boko Haram members on Mafa Road, while on duty with others. He said the IG had asked the police commissioner to take him for treatment but the CP did not. He was a sergeant when the incident occurred, but he was promoted to inspector because of his gallantry.

 

He added: “We were attacked by Boko Haram. We gave them fire-for-fire. I was shot in the eye, but by God’s grace, I took off the insurgent that shot me.” Sergeant Dauda Yahi (37) is married and has two children. Yahi was also a victim of a Boko Haram bomb attack in Damaturu, Yobe State on June 25, 2016. He was attacked while on duty.

 

His left leg and right hand were affected. He has been bearing the responsibility of taking care of his medical care at an orthopaedic hospital in Kano.

 

The culture of abandoning those who are supposed to be celebrated and cared for is not only known with the police. Hundreds of soldiers, if not thousands, have been abandoned in hospitals and to their families, churning up questions of patriotism and morality. One of those soldiers abandoned is a captain, attacked by bandits in Zamfara State. He battles for life in a private hospital in Abuja. He was attacked on December 29, 2018.

 

The captain served in various parts of Borno State, including Chibok. He was among those who engaged Boko Haram terrorists for six whole years. After which the Army posted him to Zamfara State, giving him no rest whatsoever ever in seven years from the battle field. On December 29, 2018, while out on a clearance operation in the forests of Zurmi Local Government Area of Zamfara State, the officers and soldiers were ambushed.

 

Many soldiers lost their lives. Grenade that the bandits threw at the officers shattered the captain’s legs and several particles of the explosive entered and spread into parts of his body. The soldiers were taken to Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Gusau. A few days later, Governor Abdul-aziz Yari and the Zamfara State government officials visited him at the FMC, Gusau and offered to pay his medical bills. He was transferred to a private hospital in Abuja.

 

One of his friends said: “The  captain has undergone 10 surgeries with very little progress. The injured officer has asked several times that his legs be amputated because of unbearable pains. We are left to wonder why the Defence Headquarters hasn’t even sent a single representative to check on him up till the time I write this; neither has any attempt been made to pay his bills or even fly him abroad for proper treatment by the Nigerian Army.

 

We know very well this is something the Army can afford comfortably and effortlessly. His legs are rotting and his body depreciating. He is dying slowly.” Another soldier injured by Boko Haram and abandoned is Obi Peter Onuoha. He said that he had been in pains for years.

 

Onuoha was shot by Boko Haram terrorists in Maiduguri, Borno State on January 25, 2015. He was admitted till December 2018 when he was forced to visit his unit from Kaduna military hospital. He was told to come back when an approval of funds for his further treatment was made.

Tsabta and his wife
Tsabta and his wife

On his way back, the soldier was involved in an accident. He escaped death by a whisker after the vehicle he was travelling in somersaulted multiple times. He said that people had abandoned him because of his condition.

 

The soldier, who said he was young and the burden on him was too much, wants the military and other authorities to look into his issue and come to his aid. He said that it was better for him to speak out, than to commit suicide. He said: “The same people that sent me to battlefield are those keeping quiet about my condition.

 

My people, all is not well. I’m still too young. The burden is much on me. “I am feeling rejected and abandoned. Friends are avoiding me now. No one responds to my calls or text messages. I don’t know my offence. I don’t know if it is a crime to serve and defend my country please. Come to my rescue, I’m dying.”

 

Our reporter went further to find out what went wrong with Joshua’s quest for help, especially since there avenues for such financial help in Lagos State Police Command. Investigations revealed that Joshua, like any other wounded policeman in Lagos, is entitled to financial assistance from the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF).

 

Joshua said he didn’t know about such an entitlement. But every commissioner of police that had served in Lagos State knows. According to the officials, the LSSTF attends to issues ranging from intervention on the equipment for the police to medical intervention and other areas that border on the welfare of the police, and other security agencies serving in the state. This is to ensure effective policing of the state.

 

They also disclosed that any police officer who sustained injury in the state while on duty was entitled to critical financial assistance or intervention that could help such officer to regain his health.

 

One of them said: “But the police officer must be in the Rapid Respond Squad or the Lagos State Police Command. If the officer is attached to the RRS, the commander of RRS must write to solicit intervention by the LSSTF on behalf of the injured officer.

If the officer is with the Lagos Police Command, the command, which is the commissioner of police, must also write to the fund. This is what I think is expected to be done in the case of the injured officer. “At the LSSTF, we have a plethora of intervention cases like that for the security officers and agencies in the state.

Okon
Okon

If the Trust Fund received information on the case of the police, I am sure something must have been done to assist the officer.” Another tragic avenue for injured policemen to get money is through police insurance scheme. But our investigation revealed that the money is a meagrely  N100,000 no matter how severe or life-threatening is the injury. The worst aspect is that injured police personnel must report to the insurance office within 90 days of sustaining the injury. After documentations at command, the injured officer will have to go to the Force Headquarters, Abuja, to collect the N100,000. Most times, affected policemen end up not getting this money. One of the major reasons is that during those 90 days, they are in hospitals, battling for their lives. The case of Ugwu and Joshua are two classic instances.

 

Our reporter went to Lagos State Police Command Insurance Scheme to find out why Joshua was not given financial  assistance, the office declined to comment. Our reporter went to Chi Nigeria Limited, which promised to fly Joshua overseas for surgery but reneged on their promises.

 

All efforts made to get the side of Chi Nigeria were aborted as the company refused to make comments on the development. On April 2, our reporter called the company’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Ugochukwu, asking how plans concerning Joshua crumbled.

 

He asked that an email to that effect be sent to him. On April 3, he promised to get back to the reporter with the company’s response but didn’t. A few days after waiting without receiving any response, our reporter went to Chi Limited Company.

 

When he got there, he was told that the person, who was supposed to attend to him, was not around. One of the staff, who didn’t want his name mentioned, said the company told them that they had settled, “the Nigeria Police concerning the wounded officer.”

 

Our reporter went to Eye Foundation, where Joshua had been receiving treatment and scheduled for surgery before he ran out of money. Doctor Ojuade Oyekunle is the consultant who had been attending to him. The doctor described Joshua’s case as pathetic. He said: “As a doctor, it is my responsibility to take care of him, before asking for money.

 

At Eye Foundation caring for human life is important. When I was called to attend to him as a consultant, after examining, I discovered that one of his eyes was totally damaged. But the right one, if taken care of properly, can be treated and healed. But as doctors, we are only doing our best.

 

The policeman has not been attended to very well by a competent doctor before he was referred to Eye Foundation. I believe that it was because of financial constraint that stopped the policeman from coming to the hospital for further treatment.

 

“I expected the police authorities to take care of their officers, rank and file, through national insurance scheme. I believe it was not every policeman that collects bribe, and there are some who are exceptional.

 

The present Inspector-General of Police should let the welfare of their officers and rank and file are a priority, because they are going through a lot of challenges every day.

 

They are always there in the rain and sun; these policemen are going through a lot to secure this country.” According to Oyekunle, the cost of surgeries at Eye Foundation is not stable. He said that it used to increase. He explained that through National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) police can finance the operation.

 

He added: “One of the eyes could still be saved.” Fatai Owoseni was the CP in charge of Lagos Police Command when Joshua responded to the distress call that left him blind. Our reporter called Owoseni to find out why Joshua was not assisted, he responded via phone that he was outside Nigeria and couldn’t speak on the matter for now.

 

The next CP after Owoseni left Lagos Command was Edgal Imohimi. Joshua alleged that he tried to meet him for help, but he was rather detained. The reporter repeatedly called Imohimi, but he didn’t pick his calls. Text messages were also sent to his two phones, explaining the issue and asking for his side of the story, but he didn’t reply.

 

The Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Frank Mba, when contacted on the matter, also kept mum. The National Coordinator of the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN) is Mr Okechukwu Nwanguma.

 

The network, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), acts as watchdog on the activities of the police. Nwanguma, while reacting on police culture of abandoning their injured or sick personnel, said: “Police officers believe that they are on their own and that if they get into any problem in the course of duty, nobody will come to their aid or assist their families.

 

“Policemen engage in all kinds of corruption, abuse and misconduct, just to help themselves. Their drive, their focus is no longer service or professionalism, but self-help, through crime and abuse. There must be adequate funding of the police, to cover operational, welfare needs, transparent and accountable management of funds. The Federal Government alone can’t fund the police.

 

There is need for new funding framework which is inclusive of alternative sources and takes into account all resources from difference sources. “The authorities must implement a welfare scheme that takes care of police officers, and their dependents, that get injured or die in the course of duty.

 

“Funding should be tied to an annual policing plan so that at the end of the year it’s easy to see whether funds tied, were achieved or not and why?”

 

•CONCLUDED

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