Following an organ harvesting scandal, Ike Ekeweremadu, Beatrice Ekweremadu and a doctor, Obinna Obeta, have become the first people convicted under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act.
Following a six-week trial, on Friday 05 May 2023, Justice Jeremy Johnson of the Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court convicted former deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, his wife, Beatrice Ekweremadu and, Obinna Obeta, a doctor. All three were found guilty of an organ harvesting conspiracy in what has been described as a landmark case.
Court documents revealed that the trio were involved in a plot to harvest the organ of a 21-year-old man who was brought from Nigeria to Britain for the Ekweremadus’ daughter, Sonia, who had kidney disease. The victim, later identified as David Nwamini, who was offered an illegal reward was presented to a private renal unit at Royal Free Hospital in London as Sonia’s cousin.
In June 2022, Ekweremadu, his wife and the doctor were arrested with the prosecutor, Hugh Davies KC, arguing that Ekweremadu and the doctor treated the victim and other potential donors as ‘disposable assets – spare parts for reward’. He said Ekweremadu,
…agreed to reward someone for a kidney for his daughter – somebody in circumstances of poverty and from whom he distanced himself and made no inquiries, and with whom, for his own political protection, he wanted no direct contact.
‘What he agreed to do was not simply expedient in the clinical interests of his daughter, Sonia, it was exploitation, it was criminal. It is no defence to say he acted out of love for his daughter. Her clinical needs cannot come at the expense of the exploitation of somebody in poverty.
The trio – Ekweremadu, Beatrice and Obeta – were found culpable of violating the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, and the case marks the first time anyone has been found guilty under this law. While Sonia was cleared of all charges, the former senator, his wife and his doctor were all found guilty in March 2023.
Ahead of the Friday sentencing, there have been several calls for leniency. In April 2023, former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote to the court calling for Ekweremadu to be given a ‘softer landing’ despite admitting that what the lawmaker did was ‘unpleasant and condemnable and can’t be tolerated in any sane or civilized society.’ In May 2023, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) reiterated the former president’s call for leniency describing Ekweremadu as ‘a major asset to the ECOWAS region,’ noting that his ‘long absence owing to his circumstance since June 2022 has denied us his invaluable service’.
The court sentenced Ekweremadu to nine years and eight months in jail while his wife Beatrice was sentenced to four years and six months in prison. Doctor Obeta received a ten-year prison sentence.
In his sentencing, the judge described the crime as very serious and that a fine or community service would not have been sufficient. ‘The transplant did not go ahead but each intended that it should go ahead and you each intended the harm to the donor that would result,’ he said. ‘He would have faced spending the rest of his life with only one kidney and without the requisite funding for the required aftercare.’
While still under arrest for a year for the crime, Ekeremadu reportedly earned N14.2 million in salary and allowance as a senator representing Enugu West district according to the Africa Report. His administration will officially end on 11, June 2023.
Globally, the provision of organs for medical assistance to people who need is allowed only on a donor basis except in Iran where its sale is regulated by the state. Promising or providing financial reward is considered illegal in the rest of the world. However, according to a report by Global Financial Integrity, up to 7,000 kidneys are obtained illegally every year and the illegal organ trade generates profits between $514 million to $1 billion a year. About 12,000 organs are illegally traded and transplanted in Africa annually.
If Ike Ekweremadu ultimately spends the entirety of his nine years and six months sentence in detention in the UK, by the time he is released in November 2032, Nigeria would have had two democratic circles and another one would have been underway. Until then, and for the next nine years, his dream of being the governor of Enugu state after spending 20 years in the Senate has been put on hold⎈
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