A Nigerian politician and his wife has been jailed in the United Kingdom sentenced to prison over an organ-harvesting scheme.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife Beatrice were sentenced to prison after being found guilty of the crime in March after planning a travel to the UK of a 21-year-old Nigerian to donate a kidney to their ailing daughter last Friday in London.
This was the first conviction involving an organ-harvesting scheme under modern slavery laws.
Passing sentence, the presiding judge, Justice Jeremy Johnson stated that “trafficking a person across international borders to harvest human organs is slavery.”
Added the Judge: “Slavery takes human beings as merchandises to trade in. The trade preys on desperation, misery, and poverty.”
The court heard that the couple recruited the young man at a street market in Lagos and arranged for him to donate a kidney to their daughter, Sonia.
The court learnt that the victim travelled to London in February 2022 believing he was going to work in Britain, but when he was told the the truth as to why he really was in the UK, he ran away and reported the matter to the police.
In the meantime, a doctor stationed at the Royal Free Hospital, where the transplant was scheduled for £80,000, became suspicious about the procedure’s events and he opted to stop it.
In retaliation, the Ekweremadus looked for another prospective donor in Turkey, said the prosecutors.
The senator will be in prison for nine years and eight months, while his wife Beatrice got four years and six months.
Also convicted together with the couple is Obinna Obeta, 51, a Nigerian doctor who acted as the middleman, and he’ll be in prison for ten years,
A London hospital refused the kidney transplant in March 2022.
It was later discovered that the senator and his wife had tried to traffic an organ donor and in May, the court was told that the victim, reported to the police fearing for his life in the belief that he was still considering another transplant in Nigeria.
The court further learnt that the victim was fearful of retaliations against him and his family, also worrying that the senator had prevailed upon his father to drop the case.
Hugh Davies KC, the prosecutor, said, “Donating a kidney for reward is a considerable, internationally forbidden commercial trade that takes advantage of economically helpless people.”
Ironically, Ekweremadu was a significant player in the 2014 legislation prohibiting organ donation for reward in Nigeria and the victim in this malicious plot, was under Justice and Care, an organization campaigning for victims of modern slavery.
‘Distinguished Public Servant’
According a report by the American public broadcaster, the CNN, Ekweremadu was a former deputy senate president in Nigeria for 12 years and his case elicited sympathy in Nigeria where some saw him and his wife as victims of circumstance who were desperate to help their sick daughter.
Some of the country’s political class wrote to the UK court appealing for leniency ahead of his sentencing, including Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
President of the Nigerian Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said last week he wrote to the British judiciary on behalf of Ekweremadu asking them to “temper justice with mercy.”
While Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, described Ekweremadu as “a brilliant lawyer, a distinguished public servant and a dedicated family man.”
The speaker of parliament of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, Sidie Mohamed Tunis said he also written to the chief clerk of the Old Bailey Court seeking leniency for the Ekweremadus.
Ekweremadu served as speaker of the ECOWAS parliament between 2011 and 2015.
But the calls for clemency failed to hold sway over the UK court and some in Nigeria questioned why high profile politicians were using their influence to advocate for a convicted criminal.
“Slavery takes human beings as merchandises to trade in. The trade preys on desperation, misery, and poverty.”Justice Jeremy Johnson