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It’s pathetic that 62 years after Nigeria’s independence, medical tourism has remained an unbreakable part of the lives of the Nigerian elite class. Successive political leaders have shown nothing but disdain and utter neglect towards the healthcare system of the country. This clearly explains why Nigerians have been pouring derision on former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu rather than show compassion for him over the imbroglio he has found himself in.
A fortnight ago, Ekweremadu was nabbed in far away United Kingdom and arraigned over allegations of organ harvesting. It was however gathered that his daughter was, sometime last year, diagnosed with renal malfunction which triggered the search for an organ donor and this led them to the discovery of Ukpo Nwamini David, a homeless young boy, who would go on to be the proverbial fly that is perched on the scrotum. The Ekweremadu’s managed to procure a UK visa for him and in no time, he was en route to Royal Free Hospital in the UK where a kidney transplantat was scheduled to take place.
The tale took a different twist after David got to London and the medical test which was performed on him to ascertain if his kidney matched that of Ekeremadu’s daughter came out negative, thus an onward journey back to Nigeria loomed. When the doctor enquired about his age, David reportedly said 15, despite his passport saying he’s 21. This prompted the invitation of the police whom David informed, saying that he was brought into the UK for organ harvesting. Ekweremadu and his wife were subsequently arrested and things have continued to take an unprecedented shape, at least based on their expectations, ever since.
As pitiable as the story appears, it is without a doubt that Ekweremadu deserves whatever he may be going through now. As a lawyer that holds a doctoral degree in law, one would expect him to know the implications of any action he is about embarking on before doing so. One would also expect that he understands what UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 fully entails. The UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, by which Ekeremadu is now being tried, seriously frowns at inducement of any form for any sort of organ donation. Going by the provisions of that act, one can only donate organs to a family member to whom they’re genetically related or to someone they have a close personal relationship with in the UK. What this means is that only your siblings, wife, husband, partners and friends can donate organs to anyone without attracting the attention of the law because it must be established that there was no inducement.
Many people do not know that in developed countries like the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Germany etc, there is nothing like buying a kidney in the open market when a citizen or legal resident requires a kidney transplant. As is usually the case, when the patient can’t get a donor who is legally permissible, it is the government through the National Health Insurance Scheme that is saddled with the responsibility of getting a kidney from the national bank for the patient. Most of the organs in these banks are often donated by people at the point of death. Ekweremadu should have known these things or at least asked questions as a lawyer.
Again, pitying Ekeremadu is not only stupid, but it is equally insensitive. He has been actively involved in politics for well over two decades; he first came into the limelight as a Local Government Chairman, and subsequently, he went on to become a lawmaker and later, Deputy Senate President. In fact, he was Deputy Senate President for three terms of 12 years. In this capacity, he was also the chairman of the Joint Constitution Review Committee of the National Assembly. He presided over the first alteration of the provisions of the Constitution, among other strategic engagements. He had powers over so many budgetary issues including the power to influence provisions for human services, namely, education and healthcare. In all these years, Ekweremadu never deemed it fit to make contributions to the health centre in his local government, he never sponsored any bill to improve the Nigerian dilapidating healthcare system instead he used constituency allocations meant for constituency projects to enrich himself, his family and travel overseas regularly for medical checkups and treatments. Surely, if Ekweremadu had contributed to establishing good health care facilities in Nigeria and even to his own constituency, apparently, he wouldn’t have needed to travel to the UK for such treatment let alone get himself enmeshed in this pitiable situation he has now found himself in.
Looking at the healthcare system in Nigeria, one can only help but weep for the country. Healthcare in Africa’s most populous country is so primitive that it has remained at the neophyte stage while other nations are making serious advancements. The health system in the country is yet to reach the underdeveloped stage, let alone reaching the developing or developed state and her leaders simply don’t care. Sadly, even at a time when there’s a global upsurge in diabetes and that has led to a consequent upsurge in the incidence of diabetes-related kidney failures in the country, the leadership of the country has remained adamant while watching their citizens die hopelessly every year. No wonder the life expectancy of the country is less than 52.
The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari had in 2015 campaigned to abrogate medical tourism but that promise has since been betrayed by him as London is now his second address. He doesn’t even care about what the optics seem like. The budgetary allocation in the 2022 budget for the health ministry is a minuscule 194.6 billion naira. In fact, to show how terrible the situation is, let’s consider the fact that over the past three years (2019 – 2021), the health ministry in Nigeria received about 1.385.36 trillion Naira in budgetary allocations. A breakdown of the figure shows that only 2,178 Naira was allocated to each citizen based on the current population of about 206 million.
The Abuja Declaration of 2001 recommended at least 15% of the budget be allocated to the health sector. In the last twenty years, Nigeria has fallen short of that figure and this year is no exception. Countries like former war-torn Rwanda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Swaziland, Togo, and the Central African Republic have met the target while Africa’s so-called ‘giant’ is still foot-dragging. To even make matters worse, a large chunk of the budgetary allocation for the health ministry goes into recurrent expenditure while little is left for infrastructural development and capital expenditure which makes the noble jobs of healthcare workers extremely hazardous. It is a case of absolute neglect by the ruling class which Ekweremadu is a big part of.
The contempt that the ruling class in Nigeria has for the poor is once again shown in the case of Ekweremadu. Sonia, his daughter has three siblings with six kidneys and two parents with four kidneys who all by virtue of their familial ties had a higher probability of one of them easily being a matching donor to Sonia. Together they had five pairs of kidneys, which would amount to a whopping 10 pieces of kidneys to choose from. The sad reality is that neither Ekweremadu, his wife nor his three children agreed to donate just one of their kidneys to save someone they care so much about. They obviously placed a lot of value on their lives that they never dared to tamper with it, so it had to be that of David. What a world! This clearly shows why he doesn’t deserve pity for anyone who has any bit of humanity in them.
In conclusion, while Sonia deserves pity for her condition, her parents do not. They belong to the group of elites who have failed Nigeria and Nigerians. It is important that other politicians like them get to retrace their steps and fix Nigeria. The lives of millions of Sonias are being lost every day due to their greed, self-centeredness and they don’t even care. It is important that they understand that the day of reckoning is near and nature would surely ask questions one way or the other.