Mr. Justice Johnson sentenced Ike Ekweremadu, Nigeria’s former Deputy Senate President, to 9 years and 8 months’ imprisonment for organ trafficking in the United Kingdom on Friday.
Beatrice, Ekweremadu’s wife, and Obinna Obeta, a United Kingdom-based doctor, both received prison sentences for their involvement in trafficking a young man from Nigeria simply referred to as C.
While the focus of Ekweremadu’s sentencing has been on how much time he’ll spend in prison, the judge’s 30-minute-long sentence revealed a criminal streak both the Ekweremadus and Obeta demonstrated.
OBETA DID A KIDNEY TRANSPLANT THROUGH ORGAN TRAFFICKING 2 YEARS AGO
The UK court heard that the Ekweremadu incident was not the first time Obeta had arranged an illegal kidney transplant. Obeta trafficked a person to the UK for his own transplant about two years ago, Justice Johnson said.
“You, Obinna Obeta, underwent a kidney transplant at the Royal Free Hospital in London in 2021. You said that you and your donor were cousins. That was a lie the clinicians at the Royal Free and the independent assessors at the Human Tissue Authority were taken in by your lie. They believed that the donor was acting altruistically as a good samaritan the transplant went ahead. There is no evidence that the donor has been given the necessary aftercare,” he said.
“It is not necessary for me to make a finding as to whether you exploited the donor but what is clear is that you learnt from your experience that it was possible to manipulate and corrupt the regulatory system by using a fabricated affidavit by lying about your relationship with the donor and by coaching the donor to lie.
“You, Obinna Obeta, secured the visa. You did so by telling a lie that C and Sonia were cousins; the same lie that you had told in respect of you and your donor. You also secured a fabricated affidavit testifying to their relationship as cousins just as you had done for your transplant. You asked the Ekweremadu family to pay a fee of three and a half million naira. The jury rejected your account that the fee was for his loss of earnings. The fee was paid by Ike Ekweremadu.”
The court heard how C eventually ran away on May 3, 2022. He spent two nights sleeping rough. On May 5, 2022, C met Sonja Nicholas, a police inquiry officer, and Detective Constable Hannah Paisley at Staines Police Station.
The officers deduced C was a victim of trafficking and made arrangements to secure his protection. They completed the Ekweremadus’ and Obeta’s arrests shortly after.
LAWAN, MALAMI AND NIGERIA’S PRESIDENT WROTE TO THE UK COURT
Justice Johnson said that a former president of Nigeria had written to the court to testify that Ekweremadu was a person of good character. There were over 50 such testimonies.
The judge named Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney General and minister of justice; Ahmed Lawan, the president of the senate; Femi Gbajabiamila, the speaker of the house of representatives, and some religious leaders.
“At trial, there was a great deal of character witness testimony including from Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma, the Archbishop for the Diocese of Enugu. I have been provided with a bundle of 51 pages of character statements for the purpose of sentencing,” Justice Johnson said.
“I have read all of them. They include statements from a former president of Nigeria, the current president of the Senate, the bishop of Enugu, the attorney general and the chief law officer of Nigeria, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”
EKWEREMADU’S 40 HOUSES AND STAGGERING FINANCIAL RECORD
The court also heard that Ekweremadu owned as many as 40 houses across the globe.
To describe the social gulf between Ekweremadu and C, the judge stated that his bank account received more than £400,000 within six months.
“He (the trafficked young man) was not related to your family he did not know Sonia or any other member of your family. Nothing was put in place to secure his future health care needs if he donated a kidney,” Justice Johnson said while addressing Ekweremadu.
“The wealth and power inequality and disparity between you and C could not be more marked. You Ekweremadu are a senator in Nigeria’s National Assembly. You have held high political office you had many staff including domestic staff, maids, chefs and drivers.
“You own multiple properties around the globe there is evidence of as many as 40. More than four hundred thousand pounds went into your bank account over a six-month period. By contrast, C was unable to afford a 25 pound fare to travel from Lagos to Abuja. You each conspired together to bring C to the UK in order to exploit him. You all knew that was unlawful, had been part of the legislature that had introduced the law that made that, conduct a criminal offense in Nigeria.”
Ekweremadu made payments for the entirely unlawful process through a staff, the court heard. He and his brother, Diwe, did this to absolve themselves of responsibility. The court, however, found Ekweremadu culpable.
EKWEREMADU DID NOT CARE ABOUT THE DONOR’S HEALTH OR SAFETY
When the court found the Ekweremadus and Obeta guilty of organ trafficking, it said that Ekweremadu did not care about the donor’s health. Justice Johnson reiterated this on Friday.
“I turn to the question of harm. The transplant did not go ahead, but you each intended that it should go ahead and you each intended the harm to the donor that would result and which was eminently foreseeable.
“The donor would have faced invasive surgery with a small but still possible risk of death. He would have faced spending the rest of his life with only one kidney, and without any funding for the required aftercare. He would have faced an increased risk of early onset raised blood pressure and of developing chronic kidney disease later in life, as well as a lifetime risk of needing dialysis himself or even a kidney transplant.
“He was at an increased risk because of his young age and his ethnicity. The removal of a kidney amounts to serious physical harm which has a substantial and long-term effect even if C had known that he was going to donate a kidney, I am sure that the risks had not been properly explained to him before he was brought to the UK. He was deceived into donating a kidney.
“I reject the defense assertions that he consented in any meaningful sense. I am sure that he did not, there has been a substantial and long-term adverse impact on his daily life. He is scared to return to Nigeria because of the risk of retribution from those that are sympathetic to you.”
Justice Johnson also said that Ekweremadu made plans to get another person trafficked to the UK for the transplant in C’s place. The court, however, treated the Ekweremadus as first-time offenders who had been of good character before their conviction.
Both Ekweremadu and Beatrice received the shortest prison sentence for their crimes.