In a landmark verdict, former Nigerian Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, his wife Beatrice, daughter Sonia, and a doctor named Obinna Obeta have been convicted of organ trafficking under the UK Modern Slavery Act. The four were found guilty of facilitating the travel of a young man to Britain with the intent to exploit him for his kidney. The man was a 21-year-old Lagos street trader who had been offered an illegal reward to donate his kidney to Sonia, Ekweremadu’s daughter.
The case was heard at the Old Bailey over a six-week period, with the verdict announced on an undisclosed date. According to reports from The Guardian, the man was falsely presented as Sonia’s cousin at a private renal unit at the Royal Free hospital in London in February 2022, in an attempt to persuade medics to carry out an £80,000 transplant. The prosecutor, Hugh Davies KC, told the court that the defendants treated the man and other potential donors as “disposable assets – spare parts for reward.”
Davies described Ekweremadu’s attitude as one of “entitlement, dishonesty, and hypocrisy.” He noted that Ekweremadu was a successful lawyer, founder of an anti-poverty charity, and helped draw up Nigeria’s laws against organ trafficking. Despite this, he entered an “emotionally cold commercial transaction” with the man. Davies also argued that Ekweremadu’s actions were not expedient in the clinical interests of his daughter, but rather exploitation and criminal.
During the trial, Ekweremadu denied the charges and claimed he was the victim of a scam. Obeta also denied the charge, claiming the man was acting altruistically. Beatrice denied any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy, while Sonia did not give evidence. WhatsApp messages presented in court revealed that Obeta had charged Ekweremadu N4.5 million (about £8,000) made up of an “agent fee” and a “donor fee.”
Davies revealed that Ekweremadu ignored medical advice to find a donor for his daughter among genuine family members. He noted that there was never any intention for a family member to donate, despite Ekweremadu’s staff of 80 and ownership of several properties. Davies argued that Sonia’s clinical needs could not come at the expense of the exploitation of someone in poverty.
This verdict is the first of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act, setting a precedent for future cases of organ trafficking. The defendants’ actions are a clear violation of human rights and dignity, as well as medical ethics. It is a reminder that the sale and purchase of organs for transplant is a global issue that requires international cooperation to combat effectively.