The London Metropolitan Police arrested Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife Beatrice Ekweremadu in London and arraigned them at the Uxbridge Magistrate’s Court on 23 June. They were charged with conspiracy to traffic a child and exploit him for organ harvesting.
The immediate background to their case is that Sonia Ekweremadu, one of the four children of 60-year-old Ike and 55-year-old Beatrice, is at an advanced chronic kidney disease (CKD) stage and needs a transplant. David Ukpo, a 15-year-old boy, according to the British police, was brought from Nigeria to be an unwitting living kidney donor for Sonia.
This series of developments has elicited intense discussion in Nigeria. There are otherwise critical commentators who have been quick to argue that what is at stake is merely or at least essentially the concern of a father to save his daughter from the jaws of death. Some public commentators have cast aspersions on David Ukpo, saying that he is not a child, but a full-fledged adult who willingly entered a deal with the Ekweremadus. They backed this argument with pictures of the data page of a passport reportedly belonging to him, which put his age at 21 years.
Federal lawmakers in Nigeria have risen “in solidarity with Ekweremadu”. They resolved to apply whatever diplomatic pressures they could to ensure he gets justice, they say, thus tacitly ruling out his being on the wrong side of the law. Oh, the rich and powerful can hardly be deemed to be on the wrong side of their own laws, can they?
Even the federal government has hired lawyers for Ekweremadu in Britain with taxpayers’ money. This is the same government which barely has any time to even just show concern for the myriad of problems its citizens face across the. The Senate has equally used public funds to send a delegation there as part of its “solidarity.”
The third arm of government has not been found wanting on the Ekweremadu supporters’ club. Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja ordered the National Identity Management Commission and other related bodies to release all Ukpo’s bio-data to Senator Ekweremadu. This is the same judge who was used by reaction forces to try to split and destroy the African Action Congress (AAC) in 2019.
The responses of executive, legislative and judicial officers provide insight into what our perspectives should be, on this unfolding drama, as working-class and youth activists. It is not enough to see the matter as simply the case of a father doing everything possible to save his daughter. This is a story of how the powerful who have wrecked the health system and economy in Nigeria also treat the poor with impunity. It is a story of how the lives of the 99% does not matter, while the 1% super rich can afford to have nine lives.
David Ukpo was a poor laborer who worked at a construction site, where one Mr Okoro met him, and promised to get him a job in Britain. According to the young man, it was only when a doctor was testing him for matching purposes, he realized why he was brought to Europe. And once it was established that his kidney was not compatible with Sonia’s body, Ekweremadu wanted to return him back to Nigeria (and most likely search for another hapless person to be recruited into such “offering” to donate). It was at this point in time that David, who did not want to go back, cried out to the police.
Ekweremadu and his lawyers have maintained that Ukpo “offered to donate” his kidney. But, let us assume, without consenting that David Ukpo actually “offered” to donate his kidney, is this any different from how a worker is “free” to offer himself up exploitation in the name of a job, where the wealth his labour produces is appropriated by the boss?
Such freedom in both cases is no freedom at all. The billionaire senator exploited the state of poverty which David lived in. And the pauperized state of David in the first place directly results from the failure of the system, which the likes of Ike Ekweremadu.
David’s life was expendable because he is poor. If the matter is simply about kidney offers from the heart, we should ask a very simple question: why didn’t Ike Ekweremadu, his wife Beatrice, or any of their other three children offer Sonia one from the five pairs of kidneys, they have in between them? The probability of compatibility match would have been much higher.
It is important to point out the fact that many living kidney donors live healthy and long lives. A single normal kidney experiences “compensatory growth” which enhances filtering capacity. However, there are still associated long-term risks.
Some donors have reported either or several of the following, over the years, after donating a kidney: hypertension, hernia, intestinal obstruction, and recurrent pain.
It is clear why not one of the other five members of the Ekweremadu family was ready to donate a kidney to Sonia. They wanted to avoid any risk that just might arise from a transplant. It is poor people like David whose lives they deem less worthy that they make to bear such risks!
David was good enough to have allegedly been made to “offer” to take the risk for Sonia and the Ekweremadu clan. But he was not good enough to be allowed to enjoy obodo oyinbo (the white man’s land), where the Ekweremadus had residential status, once he was of no use to them.
The odious transaction came out to the open, only because Ike Ekweremadu insisted on having David Ukpo returned to Nigeria, since his kidney failed to match Sonia’s. But for David, this would not happen.
He had seen a land where electricity supply was 24/7, with its dazzling lights and everything seeming to work. He was not going to allow himself to be returned to the suffering of Nigeria.
Even professional medical class people with good jobs and decent living conditions are leaving Nigeria for Europe, North America, Australia, etc. Why would he want to return to that same country, and probably to little better than the labourer’s work that had been his lot?
People like Ekweremadu, rich politicians and businesspeople, are the ones who have turned Nigeria into hell on earth for 99% of Nigerians. Healthcare and education are in tatters. But they do not care because they can access world class social services.
Ike Ekweremadu, who is worth $76 million (at least N32 billion), is one of the longest serving senators in Nigeria, haven been in the senate since 2003. He also served as deputy president of the senate for 12 years! During this period, and till date, not once has Nigeria respected the resolution of the 27 April 2001 Abuja Declaration of heads of states of African countries that 15% of annual budgetary allocations be set aside for health.
In fact, average budget allocation to health has been less than one third of that, hovering around just 4.7%. The National Health Insurance Scheme serves just 1.5 million people out of a population of 210 million. And the procedures it covers are quite basic for most people. It does not cover long-term renal care.
Meanwhile, as Moses Tari, a nephrologist at the Federal Medical Center Birnin Kebbi, informed kidney disease constitutes 40% of referrals to tertiary hospitals in the country. And according to Ifeoma Ulasi, the President of the Nigerian Association of Nephrology, 25 million Nigerians suffer from kidney disease which could lead to renal failure and death.
At least 18,000 of these require regular dialysis or kidney transplant. Regular dialysis means 3 sessions of 3-5 hours every week, to keep the patient alive. Each session costs between N30,000 and N50,000, while a kidney transplant costs not less than N6.5 million.
What this means is death for poor people with kidney diseases in a country where the national minimum wage is N30,000 and where 75% of all money spent on health are out-of-pocket expenditures of individuals due to poor public funding of health.
Even amongst the fast disappearing middle-class, it is becoming increasingly impossible to sustain the required number of weekly dialysis sessions. Premium Times, for example, reports a study of 101 participants in the Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital’s dialysis center. None of them could maintain three sessions per week for three months.
We can see a trend that is common to both the period of APC in power and those of PDP before them. Poor working-class people and even lower middle-class people with chronic kidney diseases are left at the precipice of death. The very rich can access care and transplants in the country, while the super-rich jet out to Western countries to access world-class care, including surgical procedures.
This is what we MUST STOP! “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health”, is a fundamental human right, as clearly stated in the preamble of the constitution of the World Health Organization.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights also states that “every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health.” It goes further to direct governments to “take the necessary measures” to protect people’s health. And Chapter 2 of the 199 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria also supposedly guarantees the right to health.
Trade unions, civil society organizations, and communities need to demand enhanced public funding and delivery of quality health from government and fight for this. It should not only be rich and powerful people like Ike Ekweremadu and his ilk that should be able to access quality health services for themselves and members of their families.