The conviction of Nigeria’s former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, his wife Beatrice Ekweremadu and Obinna Obeta in London over conspiracy to commit an offence of human trafficking (organ trafficking) has elicited reactions from individuals, social-political groups and religious organisations.
But there is nothing that they have said that Mr. Justice Johnson of the Central Criminal Court didn’t capture in his sentencing remarks.
The Justice expressed pity on the Ekweremadus who have a daughter, Sonia who is in need of a kidney transplant or stay on dialysis for the rest of her life due to her FSGS nephrotic syndrome.
Justice Johnson said “Everybody has enormous sympathy for her (Sonia) and for the impact on you (the parents) of seeing your daughter’s suffering….”
However, what we often overlook in our clime is justice from the perspective of the victim of crime. We cannot pity one person with an ailing daughter and overlook the other person, whose body part is being commodified. Is he a lesser human being because he is poor? This boy is human, with parents and family who also hope that their son’s hustle on Lagos streets will yield return one day.
What interests me in this case as a sociologist with bias for criminology and victimology is the general concern of the UK law to protect the weak against the strong and powerful. Will this boy have escaped if it happened in Nigeria?
The UK Justice was sensitive to the power imbalance and how the vulnerability of the boy may have been exploited for the gains of the Ekweremadus.
Justice Johnson said: “Sonia’s uncle, Diwe Ekweremadu, knew Obinna Obeta from medical school. He got in touch. Obinna Obeta offered to help find a donor. A possible donor was identified. By law his name may not be published. I will call him C. He had grown up in a village where he had no electricity or running water. He left school at the age of 15. He went to Lagos where he sold phone accessories from a wheelbarrow in a market. He was earning approximately N3, 500 a day, equivalent to about £7. Tests in Nigeria showed that his blood group was the same as Sonia. He agreed to come to the UK. He did not at any point agree to donate a kidney to Sonia altruistically. There was no reason why he should do so. He 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. The wealth and power inequality and disparity between you and C could not be more marked.
“In the UK, the law exists to protect the poor against the manipulation of the powerful and the influential”
You, Ike Ekweremadu, are a senator in Nigeria’s National Assembly. You have held high political office. You had many staff, including domestic staff, chefs, maids, and drivers. You own multiple properties across the globe – there is evidence of as many as 40. More than £400,000 went into your bank account over a six-month period.
By contrast, C was unable to afford the £25 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. You, Ike Ekweremadu had been part of the legislature that had introduced the law that made that conduct a criminal offence in Nigeria.
Here, the Justice showed how power, influence, and structure on one side were deployed to manipulate a boy in poverty and hopelessness on the other side. The social context within which the victim grew up is related to bad governance in Nigeria.
He dropped out of school and sadly, the conspirators did not make provision for his aftercare if he donated his kidney. How much is the life of a poor boy worth in the hands of the powerful? But there are lessons to learn from the system in the United Kingdom as against our system which ‘sacrifices’ the poor for the rich, or consider the poor as dangerous for the society but pampers and venerates the exploitative cabals.
In the UK, the law exists to protect the poor against the manipulation of the powerful and the influential. The London system is however not fraud or corruption proof as the whole conspiracy process involved a corrupt relationship established with one of the staff in Hospital to be used and the court held that Senator Ekweremadu was instrumental in setting up that corrupt relationship and controlling it. The former Senator will be behind bars for nine years and eight months, his wife four years and six months and Obina Obeta 10 years. The sentence has a deterrence function and has created more awareness.
The hospital approached by the Ekweremadus followed ethical protocol to establish if the victim understood what he was brought to do in London. The police decided to help protect the vulnerable and the collaborators were arrested, prosecuted and convicted.
We must ensure that the weak are protected against the strong and should not allow the power wielders to prey on the vulnerability of the weak. In this case, the convicted rationalized their actions, determined the cost and benefit of their actions and got the unintended consequences of their intended actions. The good news is that Sonia has indicated that chances are now higher to get altruistic donors within the UK system.
In a few days, a new administration will come on board in Nigeria. It will be important for the Bola Tinubu administration to reduce the level of poverty in Nigeria, reduce the number of out-of-school children and make institutions work.
It is also important for the incoming president to ensure that Nigeria has a functional health system that is good enough to treat him (the president), the governors and other politically exposed persons so we can keep our money at home and develop health infrastructures. This will also guarantee that ordinary Nigerians will have access to functional health systems well positioned with motivated personnel and equipped with state-of-the-heart equipment. If the next President sustains London health tourism, no lessons would have been learnt.
If we make education work in Nigeria, Nigerian children will not be caught up in the Ukraine and Sudan wars that cost us fortunes to bring them back home. We need to act altruistically while in power because we can be victims of what we failed to do when out of office.
The President-elect, Bola Tinubu, lofty heights are only attainable in a nation where peace and justice is allowed to reign. It’s now your turn to make Nigeria work.
Tade, a sociologist wrote via email@example.com