Nigeria’s Federal High Court Strikes Out Civil Society Organization’s Case of a Woman Who Was Illegally Detained and Died During Confinement

(PRESS RELEASE) The family of a woman who was illegally detained for the inability to clear her medical bill and denied emergency services leading to her death, yesterday had their case dismissed by the Federal High Court in Nigeria, due to a procedural irregularity that should not be applicable if the court had addressed the case as a human rights violation case. The case was brought to the Court in 2015 by the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) with technical support from the Center for Reproductive Rights. WARDC intends to appeal the decision and refile the case.

“This is travesty of Justice for Folake’s family. Folake was denied emergency care when she needed it most and left to die for her inability to clear medical bills despite efforts by her family to raise part of the money.’’ Said Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Executive Director of WARDC.

“This is a blow to Nigerian women who seek maternal health services at both private and public health facilities and are faced with this kind of treatment.

“It is the duty of government to ensure that Nigerian women and girls have access to quality and affordable reproductive healthcare services.”

High Court Justice Abdulazeez Anka struck out the case, stating that it was the wrong mode of commencement of action, and that a writ should have been applied.

“Illegal detention, abuse and mistreatment of care-seekers by health care providers at public health facilities should be strongly condemned and those involved should be held accountable.’’ Said Onyema Afulukwe, Senior Counsel for Africa, from the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“The government and law enforcement agencies must take the necessary steps to protect patients from unlawful detention in healthcare facilities and enact laws and policies that will end this shameful act of detention and ensure women’s human rights.’’

Nigeria has the highest number of maternal deaths in the world, with more than 58,000 women dying from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth each year, according to the World Health Organization statistics, yet most of these deaths and health consequences are preventable.

In September 2014, Folake Oduyoye was admitted to Lagos University Teaching Hospital on due to complications from a caesarean delivery at another hospital on August 30. After receiving treatment and being discharged in October 2014, she and her husband received an outstanding bill of N 1,382,700, an equivalent of USD 3,840. He paid N 300,000, an equivalent of USD 830 but that was not sufficient for the hospital and they detained Folake—keeping her in a heavily guarded ward that lacked a toilet, electricity or mosquito netting.

She was denied any medical attention because the hospital claimed she had been discharged, yet was locked in a ward against her will and needed post-surgical care for her caesarean. Her husband made multiple pleas for her release, assuring the hospital that they would pay the remaining balance monthly. But weeks went by, and she started having serious health complications. Their cries for help were ignored and Folake died in the hospital on December 13, 2014 from puerperal sepsis and pneumonia.

The right to health is guaranteed in the African Charter which has been domesticated in Nigeria and necessitates that the Nigerian government and judiciary take positive action to safeguard its citizens’ health.

WARDC has engaged the public in Nigeria on the need to ensure the reduction of maternal mortality through the ‘Not Again Campaign’. WARDC’s work has contributed immensely to development in the field of maternal health in Nigeria, such as securing justice for Mrs. Omowunmi Shonuga who died as a result of neglect and negligence by the Aregbesola Flagship Health Center in ALimosho Local Government Lagos. WARDC’s accountability work has also led to the closure of Gbagada hospital Blood Bank in 2016 over non- compliance with international standards of managements of blood banks.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a number of cases in Africa related to the mistreatment of women during delivery in public hospitals. In March of this year, in the Josephine Oundo Ongwen vs the Attorney General & 4 Otherscase, a Kenyan High Court found that National Government, County Government and the Bungoma District Hospital had violated Josephine Majani’s rights and ordered for her financial compensation resulting from the damages.  Josephine was physically and verbally abused during delivery.

In 2015 in a separate case filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the High Court of Kenya ordered the Ministry of Health to end the discrimination and abuse experienced by women in public maternity hospitals, and provide financial compensation for Margaret and Maimuna, two women who were illegally detained at Pumwani Maternity Hospital for their inability to pay their hospital fees and were subjected to physical, mental, and verbal abuse. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked in Africa for more than a decade advancing women’s access to reproductive health care through law and policy reform. In 2008, the Center and WARDC  release the report Broken Promises: Human Rights, Accountability, and Maternal Death in Nigeria illustrating the systemic failures of the Nigerian government to live up to its human rights obligations, including access to quality maternal health services.