Thursday, June 13, 2024

Ekweremadu’s travail

What has happened to Ike Ekweremadu, 60, former Deputy Senate President of Nigeria and a ranking senator is multiple jeopardies.

He is taken into detention in London by the United Kingdom police. He will stay there until July 7 when he will be brought to court for a hearing in a case of conspiracy to human trafficking offences for the purpose of organ harvesting.

His wife, Beatrice Nwanneka, 55, is also in detention on the same charge as her husband. Their ailing daughter, Sonia, who is said to have a kidney problem and has been on dialysis for some time now is now apparently helpless in the UK.

The young man, Mr Ukpo Nwamini David, who was to donate his kidney to Sonia is now under the protective custody of the UK police. He may have been singing to the police like a canary. For Ekweremadu that scenario is a multiple whammy.

The story is that Ekweremadu had written a letter to the British High Commission in Nigeria in support of Mr David’s visa application. In the letter, he said, “I am writing in support of the visa application made by Mr Ukpo Nwamini David who is currently having medical investigations for a kidney donation to Ms Sonia Ekweremadu. David and Sonia will be at the Royal Free Hospital, London and I will be providing the necessary funding. I have endorsed a statement of my bank account. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require additional information.”

David arrived in London in February 2022 for medical investigations. It was discovered that his kidney did not match that of Sonia. He was to return to Nigeria in May 2022. On his departure date he allegedly told the police at the airport that he was 15 years old, a Lagos-based homeless person trafficked to the United Kingdom by Ekweremadu and his wife. If this story is correct, the young man didn’t want to return to Nigeria. He apparently wanted asylum in the United Kingdom. But didn’t the police notice that his passport said he was 21 years, not 15? Well, maybe he told them that the 21 years were put there to ensure that he would have no problem with his mission in the UK. Apparently, that is when the cat was let out of the bag and he was taken into protective custody because it appeared to the police that a crime had been committed by his sponsors.

That investigation started in May but perhaps the Ekweremadus did not know. On their trip to England, they were nabbed and are being charged under the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015. Section 2 of that Act states: “An individual commits an offence if they arrange or facilitate the travel of another with a view to that person being exploited. It is irrelevant whether that person consents to the travel or whether they are a child or an adult.” Exploitation seems to be the keyword in this legislation. Did the Ekweremadu exploit David? That is for the lawyers and the court to decide.

Organ trade, aka Red Market, is quite common today in many countries of the world because human beings are not perfect. They are afflicted by all kinds of ailments and if such parts can be replaced when they go for it. There are three types of transplantation namely: illegal, forced or compensated transplantation. Kidney transplant is the most common. Every human being has two kidneys and can conveniently survive with one. Some patients receive kidneys from dead people who are called deceased donors. Others receive them from living donors such as friends or family members. The most suitable donor is usually a sister, brother, mother, father, daughter or son. Donations from family members are hugely compatible but the best donor is said to be an identical twin. In all of these two issues are paramount (a) there must be compatibility between donor and receiver (b) there must not be a transmissible disease from the donor.

However, even though there is a growing number of people having problems with their kidneys, the supply is relatively small. It is estimated that in Western Europe 40, 000 people are awaiting a kidney transplant. By January 2020 more than 100, 000 candidates were waiting for organ transplants in the United States. Most of those who donate their organs are young and poor people who think they can improve their lives with the compensation paid to them. Therefore there is a growth in this illegal trade. This illegal trade in organs is a money-spinner. It is estimated that it generates profits of between $600 million and $1.2 billion per year. In Africa, the trade is flourishing in Angola, Libya and South Africa. I do not think that what ritual killers in Nigeria do belongs here. All over the world trade in organs is illegal except in Iran.

In 1987, the World Health Organisation (WHO), declared organ trade illegal saying that such a trade violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; that it is “likely to take unfair advantage of the poorest and most vulnerable groups; that it undermines altruistic donation and leads to profiteering and human trafficking.” In 1991 at the 44th World Health Assembly, WHO approved nine guiding principles for a human organ transplant. The principles clearly stated that organs cannot be the subject of financial transactions. Despite this pronouncement by WHO, illicit organ trade is on the increase in many countries especially the selling and buying of kidneys. This is so because kidney transplant is the most commonly conducted transplant surgery worldwide today. The United States is the leading kidney transplant country with more than 40 per cent share of the market in 2015, Brazil with 10 per cent, while UK, France and Mexico take third, fourth and fifth positions respectively.

There are several parts of the body, according to medical experts, that can be sliced off from one person’s body and sewn into another person’s body. They include liver, kidney, heart, lungs, pancreas, cornea, bone marrow, skin, small bowel, heart valves or tendons. In many countries, it is illegal to buy, sell or advertise or seek to procure any human organs.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has named some of the organ trafficking hotspots to include China, Pakistan, Egypt, Colombia, India and the Philippines. In fact, there is something called “transplant tourism” whereby wealthy Asians travel to India and South East Asia to buy themselves organs from this macabre market.

Many of the donors, mainly poor and not well educated, are not fully aware of the risks involved in organ donation and most of the buyers do not do full disclosure. So far we do not know the terms of the agreement between the Ekweremadus and David. No one also knows how well-informed David was before he agreed to undertake the journey to the UK but these will come out in the course of the hearing.

There are obvious and serious risks involved in kidney donation. Medical experts indicate that there is always a possibility of either long-term or permanent pain in the side of the abdomen or chest where the kidney was removed. A donor also runs the risk of developing kidney failure himself. There is the risk of a minor or major complication after the operation. More seriously there is the risk of the donor dying after the operation. So a donation of one’s organ is an uninsured risk which takes a lot of courage to gloss over. That is why most successful transplants are those involving family members who are ready to engage in this life-changing procedure, out of love and altruism.

Ekweremadu and his wife were deeply bothered by the kidney problem of their daughter, Sonia and they were looking for a solution. Like many of us, they were willing and ready to do almost anything to save her life. A kidney transplant seemed to be the solution of last resort and they were ready to compensate a willing donor. But as a lawyer did he check what the law in the UK is on such matters?

Apparently not. He must have thought that since he had informed the British High Commission, in writing, of the purpose of the trip, they would draw his attention to the law if there was a need to. Now, a Nigerian lawyer who deals with the law and a Senator who makes laws is caught in a legal web that is obviously embarrassing to him and his country. Our prayer is that he gets off the legal loop eventually.

The Nigerian High Commission officials are watching happenings in the court where he and his wife are being tried. They also need to find out what is happening to the small guy David who is in the protective custody of the police. They need to be satisfied that the Nigerians are being treated fairly. In the absence of her parents, Sonia becomes the responsibility of the Nigerian High Commission as well. Whatever the High Commission can do to keep her alive should be done with the support of our External Affairs Ministry.

It is shameful enough that a high-ranking Nigerian public servant is arrested and put in prison for such a grievous allegation but it will be even more shameful if we turn our back on the four Nigerians involved in this matter. We hear all kinds of stories of Nigerians being badly treated by Nigerian Embassies abroad. Let us not add one more to the collection of sordid stories of neglect.

Ray Ekpu
Ray Ekpu
Ray Ekpu has two degrees from the University of Lagos, a bachelors degree and masters degree in Mass Communication. He also has a diploma in Advanced Journalism from Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. He cut his journalism teeth at the Nigerian Chronicle where he rose like a meteor to its editorship position in 1977. Apart from editing the Sunday Times, Africa's highest selling newspaper at the time, he also edited the Business Times and later became Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Concord Group of Newspapers. In 1984, he along with three other friends - Dele Giwa, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed - established the path-breaking newsmagazine, Newswatch. He became the magazine's Editor in Chief and Chief Executive in 1986. His writings have been published in several Nigerian newspapers and magazines as well as in such foreign publications as the Portland Oregonian, Milwaukee Sentinel, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and the Journal of Democracy. He has contributed chapters to several books and edited Newswatch Best, A leap of Faith, Jogging in the Jungle: The Newswatch Story, Ojukwu and co-edited with Yakubu Mohammed Nigeria's Business and Trade Fair Journal. Mr. Ekpu's writing style has been studied in several Nigerian Universities while he has delivered Journalism lectures in several universities and media houses in Africa, Europe and America over the years. He has been given many awards, national and international including the International Editor of the year Award (1987) for Journalism Excellence


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