Nigerian Senator and Wife Convicted in UK of Buying Kidney for Daughter in Landmark Legal Case

Politician faces jail sentence after organ harvesting trial
By Chris Summers
Chris Summers
Chris Summers
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
March 23, 2023Updated: March 27, 2023

A senior Nigerian politician, his wife, and a middleman have been convicted of exploiting a young street trader from Lagos, Nigeria, whose kidney they needed in order to save the life of the couple’s seriously ill daughter.

Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, 60, his wife Beatrice, 56, and medical “middleman” Obinna Obeta, 50, were found guilty of conspiring to arrange or facilitate the travel of the young man to the UK to exploit him for his kidney.

Their 25-year-old daughter, Sonia Ekweremadu—who has been diagnosed with a serious kidney condition called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis with nephrotic syndrome—was acquitted of the same offence.

It’s the first conviction for this kind of offence under the Modern Slavery Act, which was passed in 2015.

The trial at the Old Bailey heard that the 21-year-old man—who can’t be named for legal reasons—was falsely presented as Sonia’s cousin in a bid to persuade surgeons to carry out the 80,000-pound operation at the Royal Free Hospital in north London.

Ike Ekweremadu
Ike Ekweremadu (L) and Nigerian Senate president Bukola Saraki (R) leave a courtroom after being charged with falsifying parliamentary rules to get elected in Abuja, Nigeria, on June 27, 2016. (Philip Ojisua AFP via Getty Images)

The donor was rejected by nephrologists at the hospital and the transplant didn’t proceed, but the couple then sought out other donors in Nigeria and switched their attention to Turkey, where the rules on unrelated people donating organs are more lax.

Ike Ekweremadu and Obeta, who both gave evidence, insisted that the young man was an “altruistic donor” and claimed that such selfless acts were common among the Ibo tribe to which they belonged.

Sonia Ekweremadu didn’t give evidence, while her mother said she had no involvement in the arrangements for the donor and had only lied about him being related to her daughter because she didn’t want to get him in trouble.

Beatrice Ekweremadu told the jury: “My family means everything to me. Our children are the most important gift God has given to us, and we cherish them.

“What I teach my children is this family, each and every one of us, that’s the only thing we have, so if anything is happening to your siblings you have to get on it. When something is happening to one of us, one of our siblings, nobody will rest until that is solved.”

Archbishop: Senator’s Character ‘Unquestionable’

Among those who gave character references for Ike Ekweremadu was the Archbishop of Enugu, Emmanuel Chukwuma, who said he had known the senator for 29 years.

Chukwuma said Ekweremadu was “always helping the poor.”

“His character was unquestionable,” Chukwuma said.

Another character witness described Ekweremadu as “naturally humble,” “selfless,” and an “icon of integrity.”

Epoch Times Photo
Beatrice Ekweremadu, wife of Nigeria’s former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, leaves the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, on Jan. 31, 2023. (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Giving evidence, Obeta—who had undergone a kidney transplant himself in London in 2021—admitted that he had lied on his paperwork, claiming his donor was his cousin, but he said, “I was desperate to survive.”

Ike Ekweremadu’s brother, Diwe, was a former classmate of Obeta at medical school and knew he had undergone a kidney transplant in the UK.

Diwe reached out to Obeta, asking his own donor—who was also a Lagos street trader—to ask around, and that’s how they found the young man who was chosen to donate a kidney to Sonia.

But the donor told the trial that he had no idea he was being brought to the UK for a kidney transplant.

The witness said he earned 300–400 naira (55 to 72 pence) per day selling mobile phone accessories when he was contacted in late 2021 by a stranger—Obeta—who called him from England and offered to bring him to London and find him work.

Asked about what happened when he arrived at the Royal Free Hospital, he said: “The doctor asked me if I knew why I was there, and I said I didn’t. He said he wanted to do a kidney transplant. I was shocked. That was the first time I heard about a kidney transplant.”

He said the doctor told him not to worry and that they wouldn’t be going ahead with the operation.

The witness said, “The doctor said I’m not going to touch you and I should stop worrying and not be afraid, because I was crying and shaking.”

Although the donor denied agreeing to be paid for his kidney, prosecutor Hugh Davies KC maintained that the Ekweremadus agreed to pay him 3.5 million naira (7,000 pounds).

Senator Claimed He Thought He Was Being Scammed

Ike Ekweremadu, giving evidence, said he received an invoice for 4.5 million naira—3.5 million for the donor and 1 million for the agent, Obeta—and felt he was being “scammed.”

He said he was sure the donor wasn’t being paid.

Defence barrister Martin Hicks KC asked Ike Ekweremadu, “Why not at this stage say we are being scammed Dr. Obeta, end of, stop?”

Ike Ekweremadu replied: “My daughter’s life was on the line, so if we stop we will be putting my daughter’s life in danger. So we just keep moving. Everybody was obviously taking advantage of my daughter’s ill health.”

Ike Ekweremadu, from the opposition People’s Democratic Party, has been a senator representing Enugu West constituency since 2003. He was deputy president of Nigeria’s Senate between 2007 and 2019.

He was remanded in custody, along with his wife and Obeta, and they’re to be sentenced on May 5.

Detective Inspector Esther Richardson, who led the investigation, said: “This conviction sends out a clear message across the world, the UK will not tolerate the international industry in illegal organ removal.

“We could not have achieved this conviction without the help of one man, the victim survivor. I commend him for his utmost bravery.”

The Human Tissue Authority (HTA) stated: “The HTA welcomes the verdict reached in the trial today. This was a crime where an individual was trafficked to the UK for the purpose of organ removal and transplantation.

“The HTA regulates the donation of organs in the UK from living people. We make decisions on whether each donation can go ahead based on criteria set out in law.

“The processes, standards and checks in the living donation system are thorough, robust and independent. This was a case that never reached the HTA for review. We are proud of all of those who work tirelessly within the UK system to ensure that living organ donations are made with consent, free of any duress, coercion or reward.

“The HTA will continue to work closely with the police to ensure those trying to carry out any illegal activity associated with organ donation are brought to justice.”