May 18, 2023

Ekweremadu’s UK trial: Facts, lessons, way forward


By Ise-Oluwa Ige

In this report, Vanguard’s Law and Human Rights examines the circumstances surrounding the arrest and trial of a top Nigerian politician, Ike Ekweremadu, his wife, Beatrice and one medical doctor, Obinna Obeta over organ trafficking charges in the United Kingdom, with a survey of Nigerian lawyers on the lessons learnt from their travails and the way forward for the convicts.


The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, commonly referred to as the Old Bailey on May 5, 2023, sentenced a former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, his wife, Beatrice and a Nigerian medical doctor based in the United Kingdom, Dr Obinna Obeta, to varying terms of imprisonment after almost 11 months of facing organ trafficking charges in the United Kingdom.

The trial judge in the case, Mr. Justice Jeremy Johnson gave Ekweremadu nine years and eight months term; his wife, Beatrice, got four years and six months prison term while the UK-based doctor, Obinna Obeta got 10 straight years in jail.

The trio who were convicted in March but sentenced on May 5, 2023, were said to have played roles in a despicable trade that took advantage of the poverty, misery and desperation of vulnerable people punishable under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The verdict, considered the first of its kind under UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, is however, presently generating controversy in the polity with some applauding the verdict and others querying the substance of the judgment.

Specifically, some of the lawyers who spoke with Vanguard on the issue said although the matter is not yet over as the Ekweremadus still have the option of contesting the verdict at the UK appellate court, they agreed that the verdict should be a lesson not only to Nigerians who have no respect for their own laws but also the nation’s justice system.

How the case started

On June 23, 2022, the London Metropolitan Police announced the arrest of a Nigerian lawyer and politician from Enugu State, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice.

The duo were accused of conspiracy to bring an alleged 15-year-old boy and street hawker in Lagos, David Ukpo Nwamini, to London for illegal harvesting of his kidney for their sick daughter, Sonia.

A Nigerian medical doctor based in London, Dr Obinna Obeta, was also arrested at a later date in connection with the offence.

A whistleblower was said to have alerted men of the London Metropolitan Police of the potential offences under modern slavery legislation after the boy purportedly told a doctor during preliminary tests at a North London hospital that he was 15 years and that he was coerced by the Ekweremadus into donating his kidney.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the kidney donor’s travel was facilitated between August 1, 2021, and May 5, 2022, with a view to exploitation punishable under UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is designed to combat modern slavery in the UK and consolidate previous offences relating to trafficking and slavery. The Act extends essentially to England and Wales, but some provisions (for example, relating to modern slavery statements and cross-border pursuit) apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Men of the London Metropolitan Police who were on top of the case arrested the Ekweremadus in June last year at London’s Heathrow Airport after flying into the UK.

Ekweremadu, a successful lawyer and politician, became Deputy Senate President, DSP, under the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He was in that position for three consecutive senate assemblies— the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth. In June 2019, he tried again to run as DSP. He lost to OvieOmo-Agege of the All Progressives Congress, APC.

Hours after the arrest, the police dragged the couple before the Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court to face a charge of conspiracy to illegally harvest a minor’s kidney whose identity was not revealed but they pleaded not guilty.

Section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 in the UK makes provisions for restrictions when reporting about “victims, witnesses and defendants under the age of 18 who appear in Magistrates’ court and the Crown Court.

Notwithstanding their pleas of not guilty, the duo were remanded in custody pending their trial fixed for July 7, 2022.
But between June 23, 2022, when the news of their arrest went viral and June 29, 2022, both individuals and institutions of government in Nigeria and England reacted, though more in support for the Ekweremadus.

For instance, a former Senator representing Kogi Central, Dino Melaye, was the first to express concern and support for Ekweremadu in a tweet, saying: “I stand with Ike.” That was June 23, 2002.

The following day, Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi, also declared his support for the lawmaker and assured him that his family would be praying for Ekweremadu over their travails.

Others who expressed concerns for the embattled former Deputy Senate President were Senator Smart Adeyemi, who promised that senators would not abandon Ekweremadu; the Ebonyi State Government which urged the UK Government to act progressively and meticulously, and critically look at the intention and the minds of the detained family; the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila who asked the Nigerian High Commission in the UK to avail the former deputy senate president all the support he requires while the Nigerian High Commission moved into the case by engaging the services of lawyers in the UK to defend Ekweremadu.

But the University of Lincoln which had appointed Ekweremadu as a Visiting Professor of Corporate and International Linkages a week before his arrest, suspended the lawyer from rendering any further service to the university.

The UK varsity said it would not comment further on the matter until the conclusion of UK Police investigation on the case.
“Visiting professors are often, as is in this case, non-resident at the university, unpaid and advisory. We are deeply concerned about the nature of these allegations, but as this is an active police investigation, we cannot comment further at this stage,” a Lincoln University spokesperson said.

Controversy trails biodata of kidney donor

But three days after the Ekweremadus were charged to court for alleged exploitation of a minor punishable under UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, disclosed that the international passport data of David Ukpo shows that he is 21 years old — not 15.

NIS disclosed that Ukpo’s date of birth on his birth certificate issued by the National Population Commission, NPC, indicated that he was born on October 12, 2000 — which means he would be 22 years old in October 2022.

Although, the Comptroller-General of NIS, Mr Isah Idris, disclosed early enough that the said kidney donor was 21, and not 15 as claimed, getting the bio-data of the boy to the UK became an issue, a development that compelled Ekweremadu to sue the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, and two commercial banks at a Federal High Court in Abuja for a release of the correct details of the boy, David Ukpo Nwamini, to Ekweremadu.

In less than one week, the Federal High Court had ordered NIS, NIMC, and the two commercial banks to release the official details of the organ trafficking victim to Ekweremadu and his wife while the court in barely a week interval issued another order directing NIMC to transmit the Certified True Copy, CTC, of the biodata information of the victim to the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, for onward transmission to the UK.

On June 30, 2022, Ekweremadu appeared before the Uxbridge Magistrate Court, UK, for his trial.

During the court proceedings, the prosecutor said bail would not be granted Ekweremadu because he is a “powerful” man who is a flight risk while insisting that the “organ donor” in question is a 15-year-old boy.

“The position is that I have granted bail to Beatrice subject to some fairly stringent conditions but I have refused bail to Ike,” U.K. Daily Mail quoted Judge Richard Marks as saying.

Foundry Chambers representing the Ekweremadus in a statement confirmed the bail granted to Mrs Ekweremadu saying: ”An application for bail on Friday was refused for Ike Ekweremadu but granted for Beatrice on strict conditions to ensure her attendance and obviate any concerns of her being a flight risk ahead of a plea and trial preparation hearing scheduled to take place on 4th August 2022 and a subsequent trial next year.”

The case was again adjourned to July 7 — and transferred to the Westminster Magistrate Court — to allow Suella Braverman, Attorney-General of the UK, to determine whether the case can be tried in Nigeria or UK.

However, on July 7, 2022, the Westminster Magistrate Court in the UK ruled that Ukpo, the purported kidney donor for the daughter of Ekweremadu, is not a minor.

Prior to the ruling, the prosecutor had insisted that Ukpo was a minor.

Meanwhile, on August 30, 2022, Ukpo asked the court to set aside an earlier ruling which ordered the release of his bio-data to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) for transmission to the United Kindom.

In an application filed through his team of lawyers led by BamideleIgbinedion, Ukpo accused Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice, of violating his fundamental human rights, while Ekweremadu joined issues with him.

On September 11, 2022, Ekweremadu asked a federal high court in Abuja to dismiss the suit filed by Ukpo, seeking to stop NIMC and immigration from releasing his bio-data to the AGF.

In a counter affidavit deposed to by his brother, Bright Ekweremadu, the former lawmaker said Ukpo has no basis to fear the release of his information if there is nothing to hide.

Lawyer asked court to declare Ekweremadu’s seat vacant

In what appears a strange development, a political rival of Senator Ekweremadu and lawyer, OgochukwuOnyema, had, on September 22, 2022, asked the federal high court in Abuja to declare the senatorial seat of Ekweremadu vacant amid lawmaker detention in the UK.

The lawyer asked the court to direct IyorchiaAyu, PDP national chairman, to forward his name as a replacement.

Onyema had contested the party’s ticket for the position in 2019 but lost to the former deputy senate president.

Ohanaeze Youth condemn suit

Reacting to the suit, the OhanaezeNdigbo Youth Council expressed dismay over the suit seeking to declare the seat of Ekweremadu vacant, saying the suit was “acidic and satanic”.

Trial begins

At the resumed hearing of the case of child trafficking against Ekweremadu on July 7, before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where the Nigerian High Commission in the UK showed some support, the prosecution accepted that the kidney donor was 21 years old, contrary to earlier claims that he was 15 years old.

The Westminster Magistrate Court in the United Kingdom later ruled that David Ukpowas not a minor.

The case was subsequently transferred to Central Criminal Court in London popularly known as Old Bailey where Mrs Ekweremadu was granted bail on stringent conditions but the senator was denied bail because he was said to be a flight risk.

The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, commonly referred to as the Old Bailey after the street on which it stands, is a criminal court building in central London, one of several that house the Crown Court of England and Wales. The street outside follows the route of the ancient wall around the City of London, which was part of the fortification’s bailey, hence the metonymic name.

The Crown Court sitting in the Old Bailey hears major criminal cases from within Greater London.

In exceptional cases, trials may be referred to the Old Bailey from other parts of England and Wales.

As with most courts in England and Wales, trials at the Old Bailey are open to the public; however, they are subject to stringent security procedures.

After Ekweremadu’s failure to get bail, he approached the court afresh for his temporary freedom but the Central Criminal Court in December 2022 denied him bail on grounds that the senator would flee the country.