Conviction of the Ekweremadus: The lessons
The guilty verdicts pronounced by Justice Jeremy Johnson at Bailey Court in London recently on former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, his wife, Beatrice Ekweremadu, and their medical doctor, Obinna Obeta, offer serious lessons for all Nigerians. Given the fact of the average Nigerian mentality that everything is always possible, what happened to Ekweremadu could as well happen to other Nigerians. One lesson of course, is a reminder that Nigerians are too inclined to cut corners to achieve personal objectives, and without dwelling on the aftermath of that action.
But the world is not moving in that direction, and as it happened to the Ekweremadus, there is always a rude shock waiting to happen. It is, therefore, about time Nigerians do away with the culture of impunity, and follow due process. Again, even if the former Senate Deputy President is not to blame for the abysmal condition of Nigeria’s healthcare facilities and services, an improvement in that sector can save many a Nigerian souls, and prevent as many mishaps, besides saving precious foreign exchange for use in other vital areas of the country. It is also time to turn around the focus on medical tourism, and if anything, seek to establish the best medical services in the globe. Going by available world record, this is something Nigeria can attain.
Having been found guilty of human trafficking, the convicts have been remanded in custody, awaiting sentencing on May 5, 2023. Ike Ekweremadu, his wife, and Obeta were charged with human trafficking under sections 2(1)(2)(3)(4) and 5(2) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 of the United Kingdom. Following the complaint lodged before the London authorities by a 21-year-old Nigerian potential kidney donor about an alleged plot by the Ekweremadus and Obeta to illegally harvest his kidney, the Ekweremadus and Obeta were arrested and prosecuted under the Modern Slavery Act. This act stipulates that a person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the travel of another person with a view to exploiting and harvesting his organ, regardless of the victim’s age and whether consent was given or not. Specifically, section 5(2) provides that a person guilty of an offence under section 2(4) is liable “on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.”
After the trial, the jury held that the convicts conspired to bring the 21-year-old Nigerian to London to illegally harvest his kidney. The verdict is the first of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The Ekweremadus and Obeta now risk being jailed for a term not exceeding 10 years on May 5, 2023.
It is unfortunate that such a tragic fate should befall the Ekweremadus and Obeta. On purely parental, affectionate, and charitable grounds, the mission of the Ekweremadus to seek a potential kidney donor in order to save the life of their daughter, Sonia, could be rationalised. Parents owe their children the best they can offer them for their material, spiritual, and general well-being. No responsible father or mother would fold his/her hands and allow their sick child to die without doing their best to save his/her life. In the case of the Ekweremadus, it is on record that they had gone through many agonising moments to save the life of Sonia, their daughter.
Giving evidence in his defence on March 7, 2023, Ike Ekweremadu said he thought he was being scammed during the period of trying to get a donor for Sonia. He told the court that Sonia was studying for a Masters degree at Newcastle University when she started experiencing “swollen limbs” in December 2019. Ike Ekweremadu told the court that Sonia was later diagnosed with a “kidney issue,” which caused her “distress,” culminating in his withdrawing her from the university after she “collapsed” in class one day. Ekweremadu said his daughter’s deteriorating condition was “scary,” adding: “medicines she was getting (were) not essentially working, so her situation was getting worse,” he told the court.
The travail of the Ekweremadus elicits human sympathy. However, as a senior lawyer and a former Deputy-Senate President, with lots of parliamentary and legal experiences, Ike Ekweremadu should have acted within the confines of the rule of law. He should have known or at least sought advice from his lawyers in Nigeria about the strict liability that attaches to human trafficking in the United Kingdom before embarking on his journey to London. Alternatively, Ekweremadu could have handled his interaction with the young potential donor better and more transparently, even though his kidney, as revealed by the London hospital, could not match his daughter’s. It would appear that lack of transparency and honesty in communication were central to the proceedings and the eventual conviction. Instead of acting so charitably, Ike Ekweremadu, in the fashion of a typical Nigerian big man, apparently exercised the “entitlement mentality,” which has now landed him, his wife and Obeta in this unfortunate situation. The prosecutor, Hugh Davies KC, told the court that the Ekweremadus and Obeta had treated the potential donor as “disposable assets – spare parts for reward.” The behaviour of Ekweremadu showed “entitlement, dishonesty, and hypocrisy,” prosecutor Davies told the jury. He said that 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.” Davies also said: “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 conviction of the Ekweremadus and Obeta, among other lessons, testifies that the rule of law is sacrosanct and ought to prevail at all times, no matter whose ox is gored. This conviction emphasises that nobody is above the law of the land and that both the poor and the rich are equal before the law and, as such, should be treated equally before the law. The biggest lessons Nigerians can learn from the conviction is that the same criminal justice system should apply to both the rich and the poor. In practical terms, the rich in the country are able to get away with blue murder while the poor gets heavily punished for even petty crimes, just to impress that the criminal justice system is working. Besides, the existence of adequate laws, including those on human trafficking, to curtail criminality in this country has not been matched with prosecution of offenders of those laws. The Ekweremadu’s travail has again shown that this disposition is not generally applicable elsewhere. To deem so is to fall into the Ekweremadu’s kind of travail.
It is important that the rule of law is made to triumph in Nigeria. A country not governed by law is a recipe for chaos and anarchy. The judiciary should be restored to its rightful place in the scheme of things in Nigeria. The judiciary is not just any institution; it is that indispensable arm of government charged with the dispensation of justice. “Fiat justicia ruat coelum” (Let justice be done though the heavens fall). Remove justice, said St. Augustine, and all you have are great robberies.
Finally, the conviction of the Ekweremadus and Obeta should act as a spur for the Nigerian authorities to develop the medical facilities in Nigeria to discourage medical tourism in Nigeria. If there were well-equipped hospitals with medical experts, the Ekweremadus and other rich Nigerians perhaps would not have been travelling abroad for medical tourism. The ordinary primary healthcare system for the prevention of preventable diseases such as polio, cholera, and measles is virtually non-existent in different parts of Nigeria. Nigeria is the first country in the world with the highest number of people lacking access to basic primary health care, and life expectancy in Nigeria has drastically reduced to 45. The tragedy is worsened by the fact that most Nigerian medical doctors are daily fleeing Nigeria to practise medicine abroad where they are highly remunerated and appreciated.
The incoming government should invest heavily in medical facilities. Nigerians should have unimpeded access to basic primary and secondary healthcare facilities. A state of emergency should be declared in the Nigerian health sector. Health is wealth.