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Nigerian politician and wife jailed for human trafficking in the UK

A wealthy Nigerian politician, his wife and their ‘middleman’ have been jailed for conspiring to sell organs, after bringing a man from Lagos to the UK. Senator Ike Ekweremadu, 60, and his wife Beatrice, 56, wanted organs for their 25-year-old daughter Sonia, the couple’s lawsuit at the Old Bailey hearing.

The couple and doctor Obinna Obeta, 50, were previously found guilty of conspiring to exploit the man for his kidney. This would be the first such case under modern slavery law.

Ike Ekweremadu, who the judge described as “the driving force throughout”, was sentenced to nine years and eight months in prison. Dr Obeta was sentenced to 10 years after a judge found he had targeted potential donors who were young, poor and vulnerable.

Beatrice Ekweremadu was jailed for four years and six months due to her more limited involvement. Their victim, a poor Lagos street merchant, was brought to Great Britain to provide a kidney for Ekweremadus’ daughter.

He fled in fear for his life and walked into the police station exactly a year ago to report what had happened after the Royal Free Hospital finished the £80,000 procedure.

During the televised sentencing hearing, Judge Johnson acknowledged Ike Ekweremadu’s “significant setbacks”. He described the politician as a high-status man with many properties, domestic staff, maids, cooks and drivers, compared to the victim who couldn’t afford  £25 note to go tourism in Abuja.

The form of slavery

Obeta, he said, lied to doctors and falsely claimed that the potential young donor was a cousin of the senator’s daughter, who was in dire need of a transplant. All three, he said, expose the potential donor to a “significant, lasting impact on his daily life”. “Trafficking people across international borders for human organs is a form of slavery,” the judge added.

In a personal statement from the victim, the 21-year-old Nigerian trader, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the court he used to ‘pray every day’ for the chance to come to the UK to work or study.

He said that to “make this happen” he had agreed to undergo medical examinations in Lagos and meet doctors in London, believing they were needed to obtain a UK visa.

The 21-year-old said he only realized what was planned when he met doctors at the Royal Free Hospital in London, who began discussing the kidney transplant. He told the court he would not accept, adding:

“My body is not for sale.” The victim is currently being helped by a charity in the UK, according to his lawyer in Nigeria.

In his statement, he said he “couldn’t think of returning home to Nigeria” because “these people are extremely powerful and I am concerned for my safety.”

He also denied a financial claim from the Ekweremadu family, telling a detective he “didn’t need or want anything from the wrong person”.

First faith

Prosecutor Hugh Davies KC said all three defendants were guilty of human trafficking with the highest degree of responsibility. Lynette Woodrow, Deputy Prosecutor General and National Modern Slavery Officer at the Royal Prosecution Service (CPS), said it was “our first conviction for trafficking in persons for the purpose of obtaining organs in England and Wales”.

She said this highlights an important legal principle that makes it irrelevant whether trafficked people know they are coming to the UK to provide a kidney. “With all crimes of human trafficking,” Ms. Woodrow said, “the consent of the trafficked person is inexcusable.

The law is clear; you cannot consent to your own exploitation. Following the incident, the Metropolitan Police and CPS worked with hospitals and the Human Tissue Authority on what actions they should take when there is concern about organ trafficking.

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