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Legal aspects of organ trafficking

By Sonnie Ekwowusi
04 July 2022   |   3:25 am
The unproven charges relating to organ and human trafficking preferred against the immediate former Deputy-Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and his wife at the Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court, United Kingdom...

The unproven charges relating to organ and human trafficking preferred against the immediate former Deputy-Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and his wife at the Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court, United Kingdom, in my view, provide a window of opportunity to examine the legal aspects of organ trafficking and organ harvesting in Nigeria. The National Organ and Transplant Act of 1984 defines human organ as the human kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, bone marrow, cornea, eye, bone and skin or any subpart thereof and any other human organ or any subpart thereof, including that derived from a fetus. I participated in the Public Hearing on the National Health Bill 2012 (NHB 2012), which substantially was a replication of the controversial 2008 National Health Bill. As requested by the Senate Committee on Health at that time, I submitted a memorandum to the Committee on how Nigeria could tackle human and organ trafficking in Nigeria. I also presented a memorandum at the National Assembly during the Public Hearing on the Bill to establish the Nigerian assisted reproduction authority which, inter alia, was to regulate the practice of assisted reproductive techniques in Nigeria. I was also invited to participate in the Public Hearing on a Bill to enact a law to regulate organ harvest and transplantation in Lagos State last year. I also submitted a similar memorandum to the Lagos State House of Assembly on ways to curtail illegal organ harvesting in Lagos State.

Suffice it to say that in the course of researching and gathering information in order to prepare and present the aforesaid memoranda both at the National Assembly and the Lagos State House of Assembly respectively, I was able to gain some insights into the law on organ trafficking and the mode of operation of organ traffickers in Nigeria and in the world. The human trafficking statistics being reeled out daily in Nigeria are simply mind-boggling. Every day uncountable number of human beings especially young girls and children are being trafficked to many unknown destinations across the world where they are either used as sex slaves or subjected to all forms of inhuman degradation.  As Prof. Phillip Njemanze rightly pointed out in his essay on organ trafficking, Nigeria is the hub of illegal organ harvesting and organ transplantation in the world. Many foreign organ traffickers lay siege to Nigeria in their bid to scout for cheap organs. So Nigeria is a cheap source of human organs for transplantation for the Western countries.

According to Njemanze, “the gains of using ovarian eggs poached from Nigerian women to perfect the complicated tissue cloning procedure called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) promises economic revenue of thirty trillion USD, one-third of the World economy…” Women, for example, are being promised money and enticed to sell their eggs. For example, Sushma Pandey, a 15-year-old Mumbai girl sold her eggs for $450. She did it three times. But 18 months later she died despite the fact that the clinic which retrieved her eggs claims to be world leader and specialist in gay surrogacy. Some female undergraduates of a certain University in Lagos sell their ovaries for a partly sum of N120,000. Illegal kidney harvesting industry booms in Lagos. The illegally-harvested kidney sells between N170,000 to N1 million. Some human organs sell for only N250, 000. For example, a harvested heart sells for N250, 000.  Powerful organ harvesting syndicates in Lagos lure their customers to India for organ harvesting. (Seehttps://tribuneonlineng.com/organ-harvesting-industry-booms-in-lagos-as-probe-deepens). Under the cover of being offered a lucrative job in Europe, thousands upon thousands of young Nigerians are trafficked to Europe every year only for them to discover later, of course to their great chagrin, that they were trafficked solely for the purpose of illegally harvesting their organs. The poor youngsters are deceived into believing that lucrative jobs await them in Europe and in the process their organs are harvested. Peeved by this, the House of Representatives, Abuja was invited in 2020 to probe an alleged human organ harvesting business in Nigeria and the movement of the harvested organs abroad. During the probe, some government officials, and I believe, the Comptroller General of Customs were quizzed. The Director-General of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) Ms. Julie Okah-Donli regrets the increasing cases of organ harvesting under the guise of ritual killings in Nigeria.

But the real tragedy in all this which is the resume of this piece is that the extant law, Nigeria’s National Health Act 2014 (signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan) which ought to regulate organ donation, prescribe the development and management of the country’s national health system as well as set standards for rendering health services in Nigeria, is fraught with egregious provisions endorsing illegal organ harvesting and organ poaching in Nigeria. Specifically, Section 48(1) (b) of the National Health Act 2014 states that a person shall remove the tissue, blood or blood product from another living person without his informed consent “for medical investigations” and “treatment in emergency cases”. Strangely enough, Section 62, the interpretation section of the Act, did not provide the definition of the phrases “medical investigations” and “treatment in emergency cases.” The import of this omission is that anybody under the pretext of carrying out “medical investigations” or “treatment in emergency cases” could waylay any non-consenting living person and forcefully remove his or her tissue or blood or blood product. Section 48 (2)(a) of the Act states that “a person shall not remove “tissue” which is not replaceable by natural processes from a person younger than 18-years.” The implication of this is that a person can remove tissue replaceable by natural processes from persons who are 19 years and above. Section 49 is ambiguously couched and could be greatly abused. It states that a person shall use “tissue” removed or blood or a blood product withdrawn from a living person only for such medical or dental purposes as may be prescribed. Again the definitions of the word “tissue” and the phrase “medical or dental purposes” are not provided in the interpretation section of the Act.

To be continued tomorrow.