The arrest and prosecution of former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and his wife Beatrice by the London Metropolitan Police in the United Kingdom is unfortunate and an embarrassment for Nigeria, given the suspect’s high standing in the country’s polity. While Ekweremadu and his wife remain innocent subject to UK’s legal system, the news can only add to the long list of depressing issues in Nigeria. Nigerians are concerned about the development; and hope for speedy and fair trial of the suspects. Nevertheless, the incident has raised issues on governance of the country, considering that were there to be effective medical facilities at home, the entire saga could have been prevented.
The travails of the Ekweremadus crept on Nigeria surreptitiously, almost belying its weight and purport. Ekweremadu was until recently the Deputy Senate President of Nigeria and a long serving senator. He and his wife appeared before Uxbridge Magistrate’s Court in London, facing charges under Britain’s Modern Slavery Act, specifically to do with organ harvesting allegedly involving one David Ukpo who the prosecutor said was 15 years, despite his passport indicating he was 21.
The story is that Ekweremadu brought Ukpo to London for the purpose of donating his kidney, needed for a transplant for the couple’s daughter, Sonia. The prosecutor is claiming that David Ukpo alleged that he was forced to donate his kidney to the senator’s ailing daughter. Also according to the court, David was allegedly picked off the street in Lagos by a criminal gang some months ago with the plan of harvesting his organ. Ekweremadu was remanded in custody as the court claimed that he is an influential person, a flight risk and the case involves a child and modern slavery.
A large delegation from the Nigeria High Commission was also present in the public gallery alongside the senator’s two adult children. The Ekweremadus have since denied the allegations and have applied and granted access to some official documents in Nigeria to prove the real age of Ukpo and to defend charges against them.
So far, Nigeria has offered some consular support for them as the Senate President Ahmad Lawan, said it was sending a delegation to visit Ekweremadu and his wife. But expectedly, some social media activists are muddling up the issue and his colleagues in the National Assembly are paying solidarity visits. Government should be wary of turning the whole issue into a mere jamboree.
As Nigerians patiently await the verdict of the court, there is no doubt that some lessons can be drawn from the incident so far. This ordeal has, again, given Nigeria negative publicity and further added to the litany of reasons the international community view Nigeria with suspicion. In spite of the exploits of many Nigerians in various fields of endeavour, incidents like this and a generally inept leadership have conspired to drag the country’s image in the mud.
One unfortunate fallout of the unfolding episode is that the Ekweremadus’ daughter, who is in distress will, given the circumstances, be further denied parental attention she needs at this moment. But the rights and wellbeing of all Nigerians must also be respected irrespective of the circumstances of birth and station in life. Mercifully, the wheel of justice is expected to roll faster in the clime where the offence was committed.
But the greater implication is the failure of leadership to deliver the dividends of democracy since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999. It is significant that Ekweremadu has been in government since 1999 and was for 12 years the Deputy Senate President. He is one of those from whom the electorate expected the delivery of the gains of democratic rule. It is therefore an irony that no world class medical facility has been established that will obviate the need to travel abroad for medical attention. On the contrary, the country’s leaders take turns to embark on medical tourism to the best facilities in the world while abandoning hapless Nigerians to their fate. Were it possible to adequately do kidney transplant in Nigerian facilities, this embarrassment may not have happened.
Politicians and other leaders must know that it is in their enlightened self-interest to put Nigeria in order. Primitive acquisition enabled by massive corruption would seem to be the directive principles of state policy rather than the welfare of the people as enshrined in chapter two of the Nigerian Constitution. Antigraft agencies regale the populace with stories of billions being stolen from the public till. Worse still, very few end up being convicted. The elite must find a way of crashing this national greed and replace it with a national creed that emphasises the greater good for the greater number of people. It is increasingly difficult for even the richest members of the elite to enjoy their wealth peacefully. This is an indication that a more enduring wealth can only be enjoyed when a significant majority is lifted out of the poverty belt.
The travails of the Ekweremadus should provide a wake-up call for the elite to commit to fixing the nation. The health sector in Nigeria is in shambles. Other infrastructural facilities are decaying by the day. Inflation rate is galloping and poverty ravages the land. Insecurity is at an all-time high. In the midst of all these, the political class is jostling for positions come 2023 without clear-cut visions on how to fix the rot.
In the specific case of the Ekweremadus, Nigerians call for a fair and speedy trial so that they can hopefully be saved from the agony quickly.