Arms folded: Good Samaritans now extinct in Nigeria?

26 Oct

We all know the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 and even those unfamiliar with the scripture have at least heard once or twice the phrase ‘Good Samaritan’.
A good Samaritan is someone who helps another in need for compassionate motives and with no thought of reward. Many have told stories about being in trouble and then rescued by total strangers, some disappearing before a thank you could be offered. Some people like to think of ’em as guardian angels but many times they are living and breathing humans just like you and I.

In Nigeria, the story is quite different especially in the classic case of injured victims seen on the road side. We have adopted a Pharisee and Levite approach not because we are as cold-hearted as our actions show but because as my friend J rightly said, ‘Samaritans are treated like criminals in Nigeria’
It has become so bad that often times a body can be left to decompose for days on a major street with people walking by, holding their noses but no one willing to take responsibility and in the process be victimised. 😦

I saw an accident yesterday evening that had me almost in tears and thoroughly shaken up. There were three victims on the road, unconscious and injured. It happened in the market so a crowd had gathered, more than a 100 people around the victims, shouting and recounting and wailing but no one was doing anything. A young cadet barely a soldier who looked like he was fresh out of his teens asked bus driver after bus driver for help to move the victims to the hospital but each driver sadly refused. The accident had been a hit and run by a bus similar to theirs and the victims didn’t look like they would survive so no one wanted to get involved because the police would detain and rough-handle the kind stranger as a prime suspect since he would be the only lead they had. It had happened so many times before…

Even as a doctor, my hands were tied. It was so sad. All I had in my bag was a stethoscope and I wasn’t about to attempt being superman. I had worked in Luth and witnessed agberos turning on doctors and even getting violent when they failed to perform magic and that was in a health facility, how much more on a street. I was in the middle of a rowdy market with a throng of people and I mentally calculated what I could do to help and it wasn’t significant. An ambulance had been called already and the victims moved to the side of the road so I continued on my journey, feeling guilty and upset but at the same time knowing that doing more there and then would have been foolhardy. It got me thinking…

In some countries around the world, there are laws called ‘Good Samaritan laws’. These are laws or acts protecting those who choose to serve and tend to others who are injured or ill. They are intended to reduce bystanders’ hesitation to assist, for fear of being sued or prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death while assisting the victim and protect them from being blamed for the accident and harassed as suspects before the offenders are accosted.
Such laws generally do not apply to medical professionals’ or trained emergency responders’ on-the-job conduct, but some extend protection to professional rescuers when they are acting in a volunteer capacity.

In some jurisdictions, unless a caretaker relationship (such as a parent-child or doctor-patient relationship) exists prior to the illness or injury, or the “good Samaritan” is responsible for the existence of the illness or injury, no person is required to give aid of any sort to a victim and this has become the common practise in Nigeria. The police do not act like these laws exist so the people have conditioned their minds to not give aid since it could backfire.

Good Samaritan statutes in some countries, require a person at the scene of an emergency to provide reasonable assistance to a person in need. This assistance may be to render first aid, rescue the victim from further harm or call 911 or in our case, Lagos State Emergency Medical Service (LASEMS) or Lagos State Ambulance Service (LASAMBUS) to call 123 (or 933 for MTN subscribers in Lagos and Abuja). Violation of the duty-to-assist subdivision is a petty misdemeanour in other parts of the world and may warrant a fine of up to $100 in places like Vermont.

Pre-hospital emergency medical care, the provision of prompt and effective communication among ambulances and hospitals, and safe and effective care and transportation of the sick and injured are essential public health services and the government should work towards encouraging the average Nigerian to take action at an accident scene instead of just looking on, arms folded or on their heads. We need to celebrate heroes and not punish them like common criminals.

This post will not be complete if I do not mention that where the good Samaritan laws apply, there are exceptions. In the absence of imminent peril, the actions of a rescuer may be perceived by the courts to be not worthy of protection. To illustrate, a motor vehicle collision occurs, but there is no fire, no immediate life threat from injuries and no danger of a second collision. If a ‘good Samaritan’ elects to ‘rescue’ the victim from the wreckage, causing paralysis or some other injury, a court may hold the actions of the rescuer as ‘reckless’ and unnecessary. This is a good point although not practised in Nigeria because sometimes over-eager agberos may cause more harm than good especially in the movement of patients with injury to their spine.

Finally I think it is only right that an officer of the law who witnessed the accident or was called to the scene, accompanies the good Samaritan to protect him from being wrongfully charged for the crime by other law-enforcement agencies and if one is not present, they should wait for an ambulance unless there’s a skilled medical practitioner on the scene or a bunch of witnesses ready to come along and testify to his innocence. Accident cases can be messy and there’s also the issue of settlement of bills for a ‘John Doe’ and the un-ending police questions but still as long as you are not blamed for the crime, think of the inconvenience as worth it because one day it may be you or a loved one lying injured far from home and desperately needing a good Samaritan.

Be thankful for the gift of life, have a lovely day peeps and please drive carefully, your life and the lives of the strangers on the road with you depend on it. xoxoxo 😉


Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Inspirational


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4 responses to “Arms folded: Good Samaritans now extinct in Nigeria?

  1. keiskwerd

    October 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Still recall dt dental prof that lost his wife and sister when they got down to help victims on d expressway and a truck ran dem over. Still sends chills down my spine.
    Most times wen I can’t help because of all the calculations of trouble I’ve perceived, I feel less dn a doctor like there’s a part of the oath I took I’m not keeping to.
    But hey, when we can help let’s do so, even if its with that phone call.
    Let’s encourage our govt to pass more bill as regards this, make available effective ambulance services etc

  2. doll

    October 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    sad. sadder still that no one helped. i understand though

  3. sb

    October 27, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Back in my secondary school days, I read a nigerian novel called “the victim”. Its about this guy who picks up a person on the road n takes him to the hospital, and who gets chaarged and executed for murder when d patient dies.
    That book effectively Killed the good samaritan in me once and for all.
    The book still exists in most secondary school libraries.
    I think it should be banned. Or at least restricted to adults.

  4. Ginger

    November 1, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    This post has educated me. I never knew there was a Good Samaritan law which makes a lot of sense. I’m sure Nigeria has these laws somewhere, it just needs lawyers and senators to dust our law books maybe make it known or sign it into a bill.

    Removing dead bodies from the streets shouldn’t be the job of citizens but health authorities or the govt but then again the list of things the govt should do that they haven’t done is gist for another day.
    great post!


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