Ekweremadu: Impunity thriving in Nigeria because spirit of the law is missing, says lawyer
Not many saw it coming. On May 5, Nigeria’s former deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremmadu, was sentenced to almost 10 years in jail by a UK court after being convicted of organ trafficking.
Beatrice, the lawmaker’s wife, and Obinna Obeta, the doctor who facilitated the kidney donor, were also jailed.
The development has continued to elicit reactions on social media. Many Nigerians who followed the case applauded the speed of the trial and wondered when Nigeria’s judiciary will replicate such efficiency.
In this interview with CrispNG, Blossom Ezeibe, a lawyer passionate about Nigeria’s development, reflects on the senator’s ordeals and how Nigeria’s judiciary system can be effective.
CrispNG: From a legal perspective, can you give us an insight into Ekweremadu’s case?
Blossom: When Ekweremadu was charged to court, the prosecutor made a case of him bringing an underage child to the UK for organ trafficking. But eventually, the court did not agree with the prosecution as the boy in question was not an underage child.
So, the prosecution’s case was that he wanted to exploit the boy and the issue there has to do with the Organ trafficking laws in the UK. It was also an issue of safeguarding vulnerable people and young persons. At the end of the day, the court agreed with the defence counsel that the boy was actually 21 years old. However, he’s still considered a young person and vulnerable. If you listened to the judge while delivering his judgments, he did mention specifically the issue of poverty.
That Ekweremadu tried to exploit the boy due to his poverty. I read a lot of comments on social media saying “Oh, why did he just want to pay just N4.5 million? Why did pay the boy just 270k?” That is not the issue to be honest. Organs are not supposed to be trafficked. Organs are not supposed to be commercialized. The NHS has a website on organ trafficking laws which covers going abroad to get organs. Organs should be willingly donated.
Funny enough, many people don’t know that Nigeria also has a similar law about organ and tissue donation. So, you should not be paying anything for organs. The fact that he even offered to pay N4.5 million — whether the boy ended up getting 270k or not — is a problem.
It means you’re commercialising organs and that itself is a criminal offense. Another thing that has to do with organ donation is consent which is of utmost importance. In law, they say consent must be expressed, so, you cannot have implied consent. Another issue with Ekweremadu’s case was the care plan; if you want to donate an organ, you’re supposed to have a care plan. This care plan usually is multidisciplinary. Generally, a care plan would be developed with the general practitioner (GP) and social worker for aftercare. In the case of the supposed donor for Ekweremadu, there was no care plan.
These are things that raised issues. Basically, Ekweremmadu did not follow the NHS guidelines for organ donation.
Organs are not supposed to be trafficked. Organs are not supposed to be commercialized.
CrispNG: What do you make of Ekweremadu’s case, especially looking at the UK’s speedy trial and sentencing of the embattled lawmaker?
Blossom: The case took about 10 months to conclude. In Nigeria, it’s not usually the same, as there are cases that have been in court since 1999 till date. Even though Nigeria uses the common law which is an abridged version of the UK’s form of common law, we don’t have specialised courts in Nigeria as in the UK.
In Lagos, there are some specialised courts which is not obtainable in some states, but in the UK there are lots of specialised courts and one of the things that help in the speedy dispensation of justice is specialised courts.
In the UK, there are cases that will go to the Crown Court while some go to the magistrate court. There are specialized courts that handle cases of human trafficking, there are welfare courts, children courts and that is one of the things that contributes to speedy dispensation of justice. In Nigeria, we have magistrate courts but more specialised courts are needed.
Another reason why it seems like the Nigerian justice system takes time to run its course is that we have not been able to maximise or use technology optimally. So, most of the things that we still do manually in Nigeria can be done with your computer and if you do them with your computer it reduces the amount of time. That’s basically why it seems like our justice system is slow and we have so much backlog of cases.
I remember reading Peter Obi’s manifesto during his election campaign and one of the things he said he was going to work on (if elected president) is the speedy dispensation of justice. He was going to make sure that every geo-political zone in Nigeria gets a supreme court and one of the things that he promised to do is to make sure that all our cases don’t end up in the supreme court.
There are situations whereby if you don’t like the decision of the high court you appeal to the court of appeal, then to the supreme court and all these stays for like 20 years before they are concluded because it’s just one supreme court that we have in Nigeria unlike in the UK where different counties have different supreme courts, although they still have an overall supreme court. So, these are the reasons why it seems like justice is usually being delayed in Nigeria.
CrispNG: Do you think the factors you mentioned are due to bureaucracy or is it just the system in Nigeria?
Blossom: Yeah, bureaucracy contributes to delayed justice in Nigeria. It has to do with the civil service because if you go to the court there is a clerk, there are registers ampng others and they all contribute to the dispensation of justice and sometimes it’s not unusual to hear that judiciary workers are on strike. I think in 2001, judiciary workers went on strike for like six months. And if judiciary workers are on strik, courts will not sit because a registrar must be present to register the cases. So, during the six months, no cases were filed and already filed cases were pending. After the strike, a lot of cases were filed which is cumbersome. So, our civil service culture also contributes to the delays in the Nigerian legal system.
CrispNg: Do you think that we have strong institutions in Nigeria?
Blossom: Of a truth, we do not have strong institutions in Nigeria. Strong institutions are institutions that are able to function without fear or favour and that is something that is lacking in our country. Though our legal system is not as robust as you see in the UK, we have a national health act that talks about organ trafficking, but a lot of people and even doctors are ignorant of the fact that you are not supposed to commercialize or trade kidney. Well, one interesting contrast I found while reading the Nigerian version is that the maximum sentencing is two years with the option of N1 million fine as opposed to the UK version which talks about 10 years jail term. I started wondering why it is so. Imagine someone with the money to get a kidney, and he only had to go through two years imprisonment or N1 million naira fine.
So, apart from the fact that we have very weak institutions, our laws are not encompassing. There’s something called the letter and the spirit of the law. I think the spirit is missing from our laws. For instance, the spirit of the national health law is to deter people from buying kidneys but if it carries a light punishment, it would not discourage anybody from getting involved in it. A two-year jail term or N1 million naira fine is nothing. So, we need strong institutions that are able to function without fear or favour.
There’s something called the letter and the spirit of the law. I think the spirit is missing from our laws.
CrispNG: What are the lessons for Nigeria from UK justice system and what do you think we need to put in place to make our judiciary system effective?
Blossom: So, I think that the that apart from legal lessons, the moral and ethical lessons we can learn is that there are consequences for impunity, and this is a lesson that I think everybody, even young people should learn and carry with them. I recall that the judge said even after Ekweremmadu heard that the boy in question was a mismatch, he actually still kept on making attempts to purchase another donor. If you recall, they were arrested on their way to Turkey. So, if you indulge impunity, if you encourage impunity, and you think “I’m gonna get away with it, because nothing is gonna happen”, there are consequences for it. Even if there are no short term consequences, there are long term consequences.
The lesson for us as a nation is about the quality and the caliber of people that we elect into government. I cannot overemphasize this because I’m very sure in the next 10 years I’m going to be alive and probably Ekweremmadu will be out of jail and he’s going to come back to Nigeria and Nigerians who may or may not know the situation are going to whitewash him to run for elections.
As a nation, this issue calls to our consciousness the need to evaluate our values and the kind of people we elect into political offices. Believe me, Ekweremmadu is not the only fraudulent person we have in the judiciary, there are others who are also fraudulent and many of us know what their values are, but just go ahead and whitewash them, support them and even carry out their campaigns on social media. So basically, it’s a sober reflection for Nigeria as a people about the caliber of people that we elect.
Another take home is accountability, strong institutions. What makes institutions is trust. What makes a nation is the trust and confidence that people have on their nation or institutions. I think that the Nigerian Judiciary has the opportunity to redeem itself and the present electoral process is an opportunity to rebuild the confidence of the electorate in the judiciary.
I think that as a nation, our civil service needs to be revamped. If our civil service is revamped we are going to have speedy dispensation of justice. It also goes back to our lawmakers, we shouldn’t make laws for the sake of them, the spirit behind the law must be emphasized when making laws. Laws should make the society better and reflect values of the society. Summarily, it boils down to we as citizens ensuring that the people who we put in elective positions reflect our values, and the kind of values we embrace as a country is very crucial to the administration of justice and, of course, the revamping of the entire system.
CrispNG: What do you think are the lessons for politicians?
Blossom: I am from Enugu and I used to live there. I know Ekweremadu is from Enugu West district, but to be honest, I don’t know of his impacts, but I have seen people come and say “Oh, he erected one secondary school, he did give some scholarships to some people”, but I don’t have any personnel encounter as regards his impact. But then, despite the things that he did, I think that as a Nigerian politician he could have done better. By the way, kidney transplant can be done in Nigeria. There are hospitals where you can do kidney transplants in Lagos and Abuja, but I don’t know why he didn’t want to use them. It may be that they don’t trust the Nigerian medical system or maybe as politicians they didn’t want the public to know that they were using an organ donor or that their child was having some kidney problems.
However, I don’t think that Ekweremadu built any world class hospital in his village because if he did I would have known about it. So, if I don’t know about it, that means he didn’t build any world class hospital. I think that the lesson for politicians is that if you are elected, you should really have the interest of the people that elected you into those positions at heart. I know that most of them were not elected, most of them find their way into power, but if you find yourself there why don’t you make it worth it?. I’m sure that there are Nigerian doctors, then why did he leave Nigerian doctors in Nigeria to go to the West to meet a Nigerian doctor in the UK?
Why would Nigerian doctors be running away if the system was working? So, the lessons for politicians goes back to accountability, being accountable to the people that elected you into office, helping to build working institutions and it cannot be overemphasized. I saw a lot of outrage. People were angry with Ekweremmadu, saying he was one of the people that put us in this mess, and it’s true. He could have done better, he had the opportunity to use his office to do better, maybe build a world class hospital or a world class kidney dialysis center in Enugu West or even in Abuja if he prefers, but he didn’t do any of these.
Although, if this had happened in Nigeria, Ekweremmadu would not have been in jail. Obviously, we all know that he would have gotten away with it but that doesn’t rule out the need to build institutions in your own country, as well as having the interest of the people first before thinking of your own pocket or personal interest.
CrispNG: What do you have say about the concept of politicians building world class institutions just to get away with crimes?
Blossom: The fact is that when we say if he built a word class hospital in Nigeria he would not be in jail, we will be justifying his crime. But the context I’m looking at it from is the Nigerian laws regarding organ trafficking and tissue donation, which is different from the UK. For instance, in Nigeria, you are not required to work with social workers or to have a support plan for an organ or tissue donation. I’m still alluding to the fact that we have very weak institutions and a very weak legal system.
By Blessing Chukwuneke