After a six-week trial at the Old Bailey, former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; his wife Beatrice and their doctor have been convicted of organ trafficking.
The verdict is said to be a first of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act, and here below is a timeline from how it all started to the passing of the judgement.
Shortly after Senator Ekweremadu withdrew from the governorship race in Enugu State, the lawmaker and his wife (Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu) were apprehended by men of the London Metropolitan Police.
It was on Thursday, June 23rd, 2022, the couple were arrested for conspiring to bring a child to the UK for organ harvesting.
Met Police wrote that “Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu, 55 (10.9.66) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting.
“Ike Ekweremadu, 60 (12.05.62) of Nigeria is charged with conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, namely organ harvesting.”
The story immediately went viral and questions began to pour in, as Nigerians and many across the world were keen to get a full understanding of the development.
Some of the major questions asked included, what really transpired? Why would the Ekweremadus want to exploit a child and harvest his or her organ? Who is this child, what is the individual’s sex and age? Could this be that the lawmaker’s identity had been mistaken?
The short answer for the last question was simply….No!
The police were certain they had the right persons in custody, the authorities stated categorically that the legislator and his wife would have to answer as to their involvement in the trafficking saga.
A day after, the Ekweremadu’s were in court.
Case adjourned, Ekweremadu’s detained
At the Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court, where the Ekweremadu’s were arraigned on Friday June 23rd, 2022, they pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against them.
Magistrate Lois Sheard after hearing their plea, adjourned the case to July 7. The judge added that because of the severity of case, both Ekweremadu and his wife both remanded in custody ahead of their hearing.
‘Transplant for child’
A source familiar with the matter, who spoke to Channels Television on condition of anonymity, said Ekweremadu’s child has been suffering from a kidney disease and needed a transplant.
The source said a donor was gotten and sent to the UK for investigation with the aim of providing a kidney. However, the source said the kidney did not match that of Ekweremadu’s child.
Subsequently the donor was scheduled to return to Nigeria, but, according to the source, the donor refused to return to Nigeria and instead reported to the UK police to seek asylum.
The story sent shockwaves, not just in Nigeria, but across the international community and in the coming days the case picked up more momentum even as Nigerians, friends and colleagues began to speak about the issue.
While many were in support of the lawmaker, there were individuals and organizations that began to dissociate themselves from the Ekweremadus, one of such distancing was done by authorities of the University of Lincoln who barred former Deputy Senate President from undertaking any further duties as visiting professor.
With the repercussions of this allegation beginning to come with a barrage of consequences, the Ekweremadus were in dire need of clearing their name and to set the record straight, various parts of the story needed to be checked out and struck off, beginning with the true identity of the child at the centre of the storm.
Immigration confirms age Of ‘victim’
The riddle of the child’s age and identity was unraveled by the Nigerian Immigration Service.
According to the NIS, the victim of the organ harvesting, David Nwamini, is a young man who at the time was 21 years of age, contrary to earlier claims suggesting that he was 15.
A June 27th statement issued by the Comptroller General of NIS, Mr Isah Idris, further disclosed that there was no falsification of age on the passport issued by the immigration as claimed by some, adding that the agency followed the due process.
Mr Idris stressed that insinuations that the NIS did not properly vet the said victim’s documents presented by Nwamini are mere fabrications aimed at tarnishing the image of the NIS.
These statements from the NIS boss sparked concerns from various parts of the country with many sending goodwill messages to the Ekweremadus and others saying the alleged victim took advantage of the couple to claim asylum in the UK.
While the NIS document seemed on the surface to help the Ekweremadu’s case, the authorities in the UK were not moved by the revelations and all, hence, everyone looked forward to the next time there would be a hearing of the case.
Hoping to get more points to argue their innocence, Senator Ekweremadu, and his wife sued the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), and two commercial banks in a Federal High Court in Abuja.
They prayed the court for an order directing the NIMC to bring out the Certified True Copy of the biodata of David Ukpo Nwamini.
Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Adegboyega Awomolo, who represented the lawmaker and his family, was of the opinion Nwamini’s National Identification Number, which is in the possession of the NIMC, should be produced for the purpose of facilitating the criminal investigation and tendering same to establish his client’s innocence.
Fast-tracked “Modern Slavery” case
With a prominent Nigerian lawmaker in custody within the UK, even the Nigerian government was moved to hire lawyers to defend the nation’s honour and plead Ekweremadu’s innocence.
This mounted pressure on the UK government and all agencies tied to the case and by June 3oth, there was a fast-tracked hearing of the matter.
At the hearing, the prosecutor claimed that David Ukpo Nwamini, who alleged that he was coerced to donate his kidney to the Senator’s daughter, is 15 years.
According to court, David was allegedly picked up off the street in Lagos by a criminal gang some months ago with the intention of organ harvesting.
Ekweremadu was remanded in custody as the court argued that he is an influential person, a flight risk and the case involved a child and modern slavery.
The case was adjourned to July 7 at Westminster Magistrate Court to enable the UK Attorney General, Suella Braverman, to determine whether the case will be tried in the country or Nigeria.
Few days to the next hearing, the Federal High Court Abuja ordered the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to transmit the Certified True Copy (CTC) of the biodata information of an alleged Minor in the Ekweremadus’ case.
The court also ordered two commercial banks to release the details in their possession to the couple, details which would go a long way in helping the embattled Senator’s family to establish the victim in their was indeed eligible to donate an organ.
Organ donor not underage
By July 7, 2022, the Ekweremadu’s were back in the West Minister Magistrates Court for the continuation of the trial.
At the resumed hearing, the court determined that the kidney donor in the case of the former Deputy Senate President and his wife, is not a minor.
The prosecution accepted that the individual is 21years old, but that was as much as was achieved. The Ekweremadus pleaded not guilty to the charge preferred against them and the court thereafter fixed August 4 as the date for the next hearing.
UK doctor accused of plotting with Ekweremadu
About two weeks after the hearing, a doctor was charged with plotting with Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice, to traffic a “man” into the United Kingdom to harvest a kidney for their daughter.
The doctor was identified as Obinna Obeta and is said to be residing in Southwark in south London.
He was charged under the Modern Slavery Act with arranging the travel of the 21-year-old man with a view to him being exploited between August and May.
In another charge, the doctor was alleged to have conspired with the couple to arrange or facilitate the travel of the man with a view to him being exploited, namely organ harvesting.
Fifty-year-old Obeta was first brought to the Bexley Magistrates’ Court on July 13, while arguments in the case were heard about 10 days after.
In what seemed like light at the end of a dark tunnel, the UK court granted bail to the wife of Senator Ekweremadu.
She was granted bail on fairly stringent conditions, however, the court refused to grant bail to her husband.
The couple were made to appear again in court by August 4, 2022, and this time, Obinna Obeta, who is a practicing medical doctor in London, appeared alongside the duo.
After a brief hearing in which only Beatrice Ekweremadu appeared in the flesh, the judge set a pre-trial to begin the week of October 31. According to the authorities, the lawmaker would appear via a video link on the proposed date.
There were indications that more individuals would be arrested in connection with the organ harvesting case.
No application for bail (for the Senator) was put to the judge and there were no signs of the lawmaker’s adult children during the trial. However, Beatrice Ekweremadu, remained on bail.
A bio-data suit/immunity comments declined
On September 13, Ekweremadu asked the Federal High Court Abuja to dismiss the suit by David Ukpo seeking to stop the release of his bio-data to London Court in the alleged organ harvesting case.
In a counter affidavit, Ekweremadu said Ukpo has no basis to entertain any fear in the release of his visa application information and his bank account opening package except if he had lied on his real age.
In the counter affidavit, Ekweremadu denied the allegations that he demanded Ukpo’s bio-data.
Rather, the deponent averred that what the Federal High Court ordered to be released to London Court was Ukpo’s bank account opening package and the information supplied in his visa application request.
Meanwhile, the British High Commission in Nigeria declined to comment on the alleged organ harvesting case.
A spokesperson at the British High Commission in Abuja stated that “the British Government and therefore, in this instance, the British High Commission in Abuja do not comment on ongoing legal matters”.
More troubles back at home
For Ekweremadu the troubles kept coming, both abroad and at home. While still in custody within the UK, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja, ordered an interim forfeiture of 40 landed properties belonging to the former Deputy Senate President.
Justice Ekwo made the order following an ex-parte motion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In a short ruling on the motion, the Judge ordered the anti-graft agency to publish the interim forfeiture order of the properties in a national daily within seven days from the date the order was given.
Justice Ekwo specifically asked anybody interested in the properties covered by the interim forfeiture order to indicate within 14 days of the publication of the interim forfeiture order of the court.
This judgement sparked various reactions in various quarters, with Ekweremadu himself accusing the EFCC of being responsible for his travails at the London Court where he was being detained.
Trial moved, bail denied
Before long the Ekweremadus were back in court. The November 7th 2022 hearing was almost as brief as previous court appearances.
The Central Criminal Court in London moved the trial after brief deliberations, with the Old Bailey agreeing that arguments will be heard on the 16th or 19th of December 2022 before the commencement of the trial in January 31, 2023.
Meanwhile, the court denied Ekweremadu’s bail appeal on the 21st of December, 2022.
In the bail application, Ekweremadu’s lawyer had argued that the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and the Attorney-General of the Federal had written to the court that Ekweremadu was not a flight risk.
The lawyer further argued that a guarantee to produce him should he pose a flight risk was given and that the Nigeria High Commission in the UK had equally given the option of tagging Ekweremadu electronically to monitor his movement.
As regards attestation of Ekweremadu’s character by respected Nigerians and organisations, his lawyer also argued that the lawmaker had proven to be a caring and responsible father and could not escape from London, abandoning his wife and sick daughter.
However, the court after hearing the prosecution argue how Ekweremadu is a flight risk, denied his bail application, stressing that the bail would not make much difference even as the trial is just over a month away.
Back in grey tracksuit top
By Tuesday, January 31st, Ekweremadu and his wife were back in court, but their accused daughter was unable to attend as she was in hospital.
The parliamentarian appeared at the Old Bailey court wearing a grey tracksuit top, speaking only to say “Yes, miss” when asked to confirm his name.
Prosecutors said the defendants allegedly planned to have a kidney removed from the man so that it could be given to Sonia (Ekeweremadu’s daughter).
Again the case was moved to February 6th and this time Ike and Beatrice Ekweremadu, their 25-year-old daughter Sonia and doctor Obinna Obeta, were in London’s famous Central Criminal Court for the official start of their trial.
At this time it was hinted that they face life imprisonment if convicted.
In Britain, it is legal to donate a kidney, but not for reward. Prosecutors say regardless of whether the Lagos street trader gave his consent or not, a crime was committed by the Ekweremadus.
By February the 20th, the trial continued. The court’s gallery was filled with people who were eager to monitor the events in the temple of justice.
Speaking through an interpreter, the victim said he arrived in the UK on February 20, 2022, to provide his kidney to Sonia Ekweremadu.
Prosecutors insisted that this act was an exploitation under UK legislation on modern slavery.
The case was again moved.
I thought I was being scammed
Giving evidence in his defence on March 7, Ike Ekweremadu said he thought he was being scammed within the period of trying to get a donor for Sonia.
He, however, said he could not back out of the process to bring Ukpo because his daughter’s life was on the line and stopping would mean putting his daughter’s life in danger.
“Everybody was obviously taking advantage of my daughter’s ill health,” he stressed.
Ekweremadu told the court that Sonia was doing a masters degree at Newcastle University when she started experiencing “swollen limbs” in December 2019.
She was later diagnosed with a “kidney issue”, which caused her “distress”, and withdrew from her studies after she “collapsed” in class.
Ekweremadu said his daughter’s deteriorating condition was “scary”, adding: “Medicines she was getting (were) not essentially working, so her situation was getting worse.”
Lawyers for the Ekweremadus and the doctor, told the London’s central criminal court that the alleged victim was acting “altruistically”.
The kidney was allegedly intended for Sonia, who remains on dialysis with a renal condition, in return for up to £7,000 ($8,430) and the promise of a new life in Britain for the 21-year-old trader.
A Doctor’s advice
Again on March 10, the lawmaker told the court that he sought to buy a kidney for his sick daughter and failed to request from family members based on an advice by a medical practitioner.
Prosecutor Hugh Davies KC during cross-examination of the lawmaker, said, “On the question of whether a family member could, in principle, act as a donor, you decided that was not possible based on a reported conversation between your non-nephrologist brother and Dr Obeta, a non-nephrologist?”
Responding, Ekweremadu said, “He would have had basic knowledge. I’m not a doctor, so if he says so, I believe him.”
But Davies said, “All you had to do, rather than rely on a second-hand account from non-nephrologists, was to ask one of the specialists you were consulting whether a family member could donate a kidney.”
Ekweremadu, however, suggested he had “limited intelligence,” a claim that was rejected by the prosecutor, who said, “It is incredible. You do not lack intelligence.”
He’s a good man
On Tuesday the 14th of March, 2023, Mrs Beatrice Ekweremadu told the Old Bailey in London that her husband is a good man, one who she has come to trust.
On the other hand, the victim had testified that he had no knowledge of the fact that he was being brought to the UK for his organs to be harvested.
He added that he only knew about the organ donation when he visited private doctors at the Royal Free Hospital.
By Thursday, March 23rd, the verdict was in. The former Deputy Senate President, his wife and their doctor were convicted of organ trafficking.
The jury said Ekweremadu, his wife and their doctor criminally conspired to bring the 21-year-old Lagos street trader to London to exploit him for his kidney.
However, the lawmaker’s daughter, Sonia, was cleared by the court.
The prosecutor Hugh Davies KC told the court the Ekweremadus and Obeta had treated the man and other potential donours as “disposable assets – spare parts for reward”.
He argued that the doctor entered an “emotionally cold commercial transaction” with the young man from Lagos.
The behaviour of Ekweremadu showed “entitlement, dishonesty and hypocrisy”, Davies told the jury.
Ekweremadu denied the charges and allegations brought against him, telling the court he was the victim of a scam. Obeta, who also denied the charge, claimed the man was not offered a reward for his kidney and was acting altruistically.
While Sonia did not give any evidence, her mother, Beatrice, denied any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy.
The sentence for the three accused has been set for a later date, when the Judge, Justice Jeremy Johnson, will make the pronouncements.