Ekweremadu and the flipside of rank
The fact that prominent people are newsmakers is one remarkable feature journalists cherish in reporting news and current affairs. Side by side with prominence is oddity and novelty. These things cannot be overlooked.
And, in this era of instantaneous information dissemination, every prominent person, particularly political leaders, has become much like goldfish: They have no hiding place. That factor should be a caveat to all those in the public eye.
In the current travails of Ike Ekweremadu, the fact of his meteoric rise on the political ladder of this country has helped to throw light on the twin issues of healthcare delivery and organ harvesting, which also ricochets on human trafficking and medical tourism.
Like everything that has to do with politically exposed persons, Ekweremadu’s tangle with the British law enforcement agencies and dispensation of justice in that country has thrown up various camps: Those in support, those against and those between, which during elections are classified as either as absentee or invalid votes.
The three-time Deputy President of Nigeria’s Senate alongside his wife was apprehended and arraigned in court for allegedly bringing a minor into the United Kingdom (UK) with the intention of harvesting his organs to save their ailing daughter.
That the Senator has been making headlines ever since the news broke could be traced to his 20 years stint at the Red Chamber, where he rose to become the Speaker of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Parliament as well as membership of the International Parliamentary Union (IPU).
It is therefore not unexpected that the Enugu West Senator would receive darts from his rivals, empathy from his supporters and indifference from those who chose to maintain studied silence in anticipation of further details.
Although the Metropolitan Police established prima facie evidence to arrest and arraign the couples, issues have arisen as to whether the organ donor is actually a minor or a grown adult that decided to perjure his real in the Nigerian fashion to claim some adventitious advantages, notably staying back in the land of our former colonisers.
But while the Uxbridge Magistrate Court has till July 7 to determine whether the couple’s trial would continue in UK or be discontinued on the basis of territorial jurisdiction, Nigerians have been taking positions on the matter all because the Senator is a prominent person.
Those who were offended or injured when Ekweremadu stepped on their political toes in his rush to the Senate have been reflecting on his dominance of the Enugu West Senate seat. To these ones, the Senator loves shortcuts: They recall the circumstances that gave him access to the Senate in 2003.
As Chief of Staff, Government House Enugu, Ekweremadu positioned himself to challenge the incumbent by conditioning some cabinet members to support his ambition to challenge their Oga, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial ticket to contest the 2003 poll.
Faced with that internal mutiny, especially given the governor’s fight with political godfathers, Nnamani was left with no choice but to allow the former Deputy Senate President to pick the Enugu West Senatorial ticket after Rev Hyde Onuaguluchi rebuffed the gesture.
At the Red Chamber, Ekweremadu worked his way into the power foci of the National Assembly and in 2007 emerged the Deputy Senate President in the sixth plenary. So sure was he that he would become a floor functionary at the Senate that during the election, while voters were still in the queue for accreditation in most polling units in Enugu West, his name was being announced as the winner of the same poll.
With all the success he recorded for himself, those who are enamoured of the Senator remark that Ekweremadu is sharp and understands the nuances of Nigeria politics. But, those who know the fifth-term Senator up and close say he does not honour covenants, is well as a crafty and cold-hearted conniving smooth operator.
All these shades of opinion have continued to colour the narratives surrounding the Senator’s current misfortune. Yet, this is not the first time Ekweremadu’s escapades in a foreign land should attract public attention and infamy.
On Saturday, August 17, 2019, the former Deputy Senate President, who had just lost his return bid as Deputy Senate President travelled to Nuremberg, Germany to partake in a cultural festival, was attacked by Igbo youth resident in that European country.
The young men chanted, “Go back,” as they dragged him, lamenting, “Our people are dying on a daily basis, people are being imprisoned for nothing. We are here enjoying life…We don’t want them here.”
In his account of the encounter, in a statement by his Media Aide, Uche Anichukwu, Ekwereamdu stated: “I attended the Second Annual Cultural Festival and Convention organised by Ndi-Igbo Germany in Nuremberg today, where I was billed to give a keynote address along with the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who, however, could not make it eventually.
“I was given a resounding welcome by Ndigbo in Germany and everything went smoothly until some men, who identified themselves as IPOB members stormed the venue and began to complain about the killings in the South East, stressing that there would be no Igbo event at the venue. I tried to engage them, but when they became unruly, I had to leave the venue.”
It was perhaps, therefore, against the background of that disgraceful outing in Germany that many people were aghast with the news of his arrest in connection with alleged human trafficking for the purposes of harvesting organ.
In the unfolding saga, the sadists and patriots have been on a collision course, arguing whether the Senator was purposely set up by those who wanted to level up with him over his political choices.
Some commentators claim that Nigerians have up-scaled sadism to Schadenfreude, which is the German word for deriving pleasure from another person’s misfortune.
It could be recalled that shortly before he embarked on the controversial journey, Ekweremadu had told journalists that the Presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), Mr. Peter Obi, would not earn the votes of the South-eastern electorate during the 2023 poll.
This is just as empathic sentiments began to creep into the development when it was discovered that the Senator actually applied for the British Visa on behalf of the so-called under-aged donor for the purposes of assisting his daughter to survive her medical challenge.
Further information revealed that contrary to claims that the young man was 15 years of age, his passport and National Identification Number (NIN) and Facebook posts showed that he was indeed an adult. “This young man set Ekweremadu up. I don’t really blame him, but he’s not 15. He’s at least 21, but he saw an opportunity, reneged on the deal and brought utter catastrophe upon the Ekweremadus,” said a Senator.
Yet, while the media attention has been focused on Ekweremadu as a prominent member of the society, and therefore a newsmaker, reports of the underlying cause of his travail have engendered some sober reflections, particularly on the issue of healthcare delivery in the country.
It was gathered that the Senator and his wife travelled alongside the young donor to London to see the progress of treatment on their daughter at the Royal Tree Hospital in London for medical examination.
Accounts of how the trouble set in are parallel. One version said that at the point of examination, the young man, perhaps tutored by a relative, told the doctor that he was aged 15, whereupon the doctor cancelled the procedure.
Another version had it that the kidney and blood group of the young man could not match, which necessitated his rejection and therefore embittered the Ekweremadu, who out of the desperate condition of their child set off to another European country to procure a matching organ.
It was gathered that while on the trip, unknown to them that they were under surveillance by the Metropolitan Police that Ekweremadu and his wife were nabbed with 20,000 British pounds.
The question that the court would help establish is whether the donor was abducted and brought into the UK against his wish or that consent was not obtained for the organ donation and subsequent transplant. Ekweremadu’s letter to the British High Commission in Nigeria indicated that the young man, whose name was given as David Nwamini Ukpo, gave his age as 21 years old and volunteered for the medical procedure.
“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 enclosed a statement from my bank account. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require additional information,” the Senator’s letter to the British High Commission in support of the visa application read.
In the light of the facts contained in the visa application, Nigerians are also asking questions as to whether the letter was actually from Ekweremadu, especially given that the Visa application stated clearly that his daughter was hospitalized and needs a kidney transplant.
The surprise and consternation also raise the issue of whether the consular staff did not conduct a physical interview of the donor applying for a visa and whether the High Commission did not demand proof of the donor’s age and consent.
Given Ekweremadu’s standing in the society, there is no doubt that the matter has revived debates on the contentious issue of international human trafficking rings, particularly knowing that the British High Commission does not pander to frivolities or ineptitude.
But, why does the prosecutor at Uxbridge Court, holds that this “is a conspiracy in relation to human trafficking offences for the purpose of organ harvesting. The victim in this case is 15 years old. The couple were interviewed at the police station.”
In his written statement, it was gathered that Ekweremadu denied allegations of human trafficking, stressing that at no stage has he arranged transport for anyone with the intention to exploit them.
Why the court rejected bail for the Senator and his wife, raises public curiosity and adrenalin, more so when his counsel, Gavin Irwin, deposed the Senator’s innocence.
“There is no question that this is a serious allegation. Ekweremadu is a member of the Senate in Nigeria. He has previously held a senior role as deputy president of the Senate. He is a member of the bar in Nigeria and is a principal in a law firm that bears his name,” the lawyer stated.
In Nigeria, that powerful testament is enough to sway the jury, but in the UK, the Senator’s experience has provided an opportunity to expose the flipside of high standing in society: Was privilege abused?
The unfortunate development brings to mind the rich lesson from an old Igbo saying that ash does not sit well on the face that every eye admires!