Ekweremadus’ UK Conviction
Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Dr Beatrice Ekweremadu, were each convicted by a British court last Friday, for conspiracy to commit an offence of human trafficking, by bringing a young man to London to exploit him. The exploitation was that the young man who was referred to as “C” by the court, was brought to UK for the proposed donation of his kidney to their daughter, Sonia Ekweremadu, for a reward; the reward was to be the payment of money and the chance for C to work in the UK. This case is said to be the first reported case, prosecuted under the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 Chapter 30 (MSA). The Judge described the Ekweremadus’ actions, as people trafficking across international borders for the harvesting of human organs, a form of slavery which “treats human beings and their body parts as commodities to be bought and sold; a trade that preys on poverty, and misery and desperation”. Husband and wife were sentenced to nine years eight months and four years and six months imprisonment, respectively, while Dr Obinna Obeta, their co-Defendant who himself had undergone a kidney transplant at the Royal Free Hospital in London in 2021, got a ten year jail term.
Study Foreign Countrys’ Laws Thoroughly
I have learnt a lesson from the bitter experience of the Ekweremadus, and I think we should all be mindful – that if one is going to do anything out of the ordinary in any foreign country, be it Ghana, Tanzania or Cameroon here in Africa, or Germany or USA in the Western world, anywhere really, it is imperative that one should study the laws of that country thoroughly, with respect to that thing that one seeks to do, before embarking on any such outing. As the saying goes, better to be safe than sorry!
We must not make the mistake that because we live in a socie\ty where almost anything goes, and that we may be able to beg or muscle our way out of sticky situations, that this is what obtains in other countries; or that, because we do not have clearcut laws on certain issues in our country, other countries also do not; or that what isn’t an offence in Nigeria, also isn’t an offence where we are going, or even if it is, it attracts very little punishment there, like it attracts only little punishment in Nigeria. This can prove to be a costly mistake, as it did for the Ekweremadus. The moral of the story is that, it would be foolish to assume that we can get away with sharp practices or cutting corners in other countries, as we do in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, may God never put us through such a hard test like the Ekweremadus are going through, one of having a child with an ailment that could be fatal. I can imagine that, as Parents, they were desperate to do almost anything to preserve the life of their child. And, even if here in Nigeria, selling of body parts to those who require organs may be nothing more than a misdemeanour offence, we have seen that it is a serious felony offence in the UK. In fairness to the Ekwerenadus, they were not involved in human organ commercial trade generally, but required a kidney donor specifically for their daughter, Sonia; however, over there, they have a laid down procedure for organ donation, which must be followed. Such organ donations, must not be done for reward. The most suitable/preferred donor is usually an immediate family member like a parent or sibling, then relative, spouse or friend, or someone who has heard about the patient’s condition and feels moved to donate, or a person who is a living donor. I guess that one rationale behind not permitting the sale of donor organs, is that it would fast become the preserve of only organ recipients who can afford to pay, meaning that the poor would not stand a chance, because even some relatives would rather sell their organs for the benefit of collecting attractive amounts of money, than to donate them to their relatives for free.
A Misdemeanour in Nigeria
In Nigeria, Section 53(1)(a) of the National Health Act 2014 (NHA) makes it an offence for a donor of blood or any other tissue to receive a financial or other reward for the donation, except for the ‘reimbursement’ of the costs that may have been incurred to provide such donation. Part VII of the NHA Interpretation Clause 4, includes organs in the definition of tissues. Section 53(1)(b) of the NHA however, actually permits a person to sell blood and tissue “for reasonable payments made in appropriate health establishments for the procurement of tissues, blood or blood products”. As usual, our laws are vague, subjective and permissive in this regard, as people can use ‘reimbursement’ in Section 53(1)(a) or ‘reasonable payments’ in 53(1)(b) how ever they like. The so-called appropriate health establishments can also connive with donors, or go it alone by being excessive profit-making middlemen, to charge desperate organ-requiring patients whatever fee they like, in exchange for the needed organs. In any event, Section 53(2) of the NHA prescribes upon conviction, only a punishment of a fine of N100,000 or imprisonment not exceeding a one year period or both, for the contravention of Section 53(1) of the NHA.
Somebody even asked me what business it is of a third party, if someone willingly sells their kidney to someone else who requires it to stay alive, for an agreed price! That it is a simple contract, between two people. That once there’s an offer, acceptance and consideration, why shouldn’t it constitute a valid contract between the parties, that should be performed? Alas! It turns out that though such a contract is only slightly unlawful in Nigeria, even where it is not borne out of compulsion, it is not only extremely unlawful, but constitutes a grave crime in the UK.
A Felony in India & UK
In India, which is a popular spot that Nigerians go regularly for medical treatment and organ transplantation, Section 19 of the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act 1994 (THOA) lists all the different offences prohibiting the commercial trade of human organs, including making false affidavits averring that the organ donor is a close relative or making the donation out of affection for the patient (as the Ekweremadus did with respect to C), and prescribes a punishment of 5-10 years imprisonment and a fine of not less than 2 million Rupees (over N11 million) to 10 million Rupees (over N56 million), upon conviction. It seems that in the three countries mentioned here, Nigeria, India and UK, it is only Nigeria that treats organ donation for reward rather lightly.
The Ekweremadus’ UK Travails
It seemed quite kosher, as the Ekweremadus/Dr Obeta had first sought and obtained a medical visa from the British Embassy for C to travel to the UK to do the needful. However, a perusal of Sections 2-5 of the MSA, particularly Section 2, which provides for Human Trafficking, fits like a glove with the actions taken that constituted the crime that the Ekweremadus were convicted of. They facilitated C’s travel to the UK to exploit him, by proposing that he donate a kidney to their daughter for a reward. The MSA provides that, it is irrelevant whether the donor consents to travel or whether the donor is an adult or child. Those who facilitated C’s travel to London, knew that he was likely to be used as a kidney donor for Sonia Ekweremadu.
From the body language and pronouncements of the trial Judge, it was obvious that he is of the unimpeachable opinion that consent by an individual to donate his/her organ cannot truly be said to be consent, since poverty and desperation are usually the motivating factors behind people agreeing to make such donations, in our neck of the woods. It is unlikely that a person of means will make such donations, unless it is to a beloved immediate family member (and it is doubtful that it would be for a reward), or they want to be deceased donors.
And, for a non-UK national, once part of the arrangement takes place in the UK and travel consists of entry into, departure from or travel within the UK, it satisfies the provisions of Section 2(5)(a)-(c) of the MSA.
The definition of exploitation in the case of C falls under Section 3(4) of the MSA, by which he was expected to donate his kidney contrary to Section 32 of the Human Tissue Act 2004 (HTA). See Section 32(1)(b), (d), (4) & (8) of the HTA. In short, the trial Judge held that the Ekweremadus committed an offence under Section 2 of the MSA. A person found guilty under Section 2 of the MSA, by virtue of Section 5 thereof, on conviction, can face up to life imprisonment (see Section 5(1)(a) of the MSA.
Who Exploited Who?
But, the question remains, who really exploited who? Truth be told, it seems that C had hatched his own little plot within the plan, unknown to the Ekweremadus! It was mentioned in the judgement, that C was donating his kidney for a monetary reward and a chance to work in the UK. I read a news report, where it was stated that C was to be paid £7,000 for his kidney. Though I find it hard to believe that C didn’t know what he was going to do in the UK, some believe that he may not have understood the full implications of it. Someone gave me the example of an individual who donated his kidney to his ailing wife who eventually died, emphasising that the donor himself suffered all sorts of complications thereafter, and was sick for close to three years. This demonstrates the importance, of letting the donor know what he or she is getting into. All organ donors must be properly counselled and made aware of what they are getting into, and the possibility of negative side effects. Was this done in the case of C? It appears that the hospital, upon realising that C was not quite mentally prepared, refused to proceed with the operation. This was the beginning of the Ekweremadus’ problems. If they insisted on doing it the way they did it, then the operation should probably have taken place here in Nigeria, where our laws allow for such laxity.
Nevertheless, the fact that C lied to the British authorities that he was a 15 year old minor, and subsequently, opposed the Ekweremadus’ application to the National Identity Management Commission and the Nigeria Immigration Service for his bio-data to be released to the Attorney-General of the Federation for onward transmission to the British authorities, obviously because he knew that it would show that he was a 21 year old adult and not the 15 year old minor that he claimed to be, didn’t require Einstein to explain to anyone that while the Ekweremadus thought they had secured a kidney donor for their child, C had only used them as his means to travel to the UK and stay there. Unknown to C, Section 2(2) of the MSA doesn’t differentiate if the person being trafficked is an adult or a child; but, I can imagine that C thought he would buttress his case and get the Ekweremadus into more trouble, if he was able to successfully pass himself off as a minor.
The argument of the fear of reprisals if C is returned to Nigeria, especially because his actions are the reason why the Ekweremadus have bagged long prison sentences, will now provide a fertile ground for C to be allowed to stay in the UK. His refusal to collect any compensation from the Ekweremadus which was noted by the court, should also impact positively on his application to remain in the UK. C’s behaviour at Royal Free Hospital, causing them to refuse to perform the transplant operation using him as a donor, could also have been orchestrated by C; and even if C had been a perfect match for Sonia Ekweremadu and the hospital agreed to perform the operation, he would have probably furthered his plan not only by showing that he wasn’t well counselled, but by feigning total ignorance about the reason why he was brought to the UK hospital, or maybe even lied that he was forced to travel to the UK.
The sum and substance of the Ekweremadus’ case, is that though they broke the law, it appears that they were outsmarted by C. As a Parent myself, I can only pray that Sonia Ekweremadu is able to get a compatible kidney donor soon.