The recent conviction and subsequent sentencing of Nigeria’s former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, elicited mixed reactions among Nigerians. While some were sympathetic and mild, quite a lot of Nigerians were full of condemnation for the jailed politician. However, regardless of the side of the divide one chooses to belong to, one indisputable truth is that his sentencing left big lessons for the ruling class and members of the elite club in Nigeria.
It is no longer news that a court in the United Kingdom, a fortnight ago, sentenced Senator Ike Ekweremadu, his wife, Beatrice, and doctor, Obinna Obeta to various jail terms after finding them guilty. Ekweremadu, his wife, Beatrice, 56, and the doctor-middleman, Obeta, 51, were jailed, for 10 years and 8 months, 6 years, and 10 years, respectively.
The UK court convicted them for facilitating the travel of a young man whose name was given as David Nwamini to Britain with a view to his exploitation. The victim, a street trader from Lagos, was brought to the UK last year to provide a kidney in an £80,000 private transplant at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
One of the most interesting things one will notice about the judgment is the speed with which the London Central Criminal Court dealt with the matter and dispensed it. Ekweremadu and his wife were arrested in London on the 23rd of June, 2022. And barely 11 months later, the matter was already done with. This is surely an incredible situation for anyone who lives in Nigeria.
The trial of the powerful and their cohorts takes several years in Nigeria. Most times, there is an intentional effort to stall it depending on whose ox is gored. It is so brazen such that the relevance of justice is lost because the lessons the society should have learned from the crimes committed are all comprehensively thrashed in the long period of legal abracadabra.
Perhaps, it is high time Nigerians started asking themselves, why is it that it is only foreign countries that can arrest, prosecute, and jail Nigerian politicians without making noise about it. They walk free in the country but get apprehended outside and humiliated. A two-term former governor of Delta state, James Ibori, was jailed in the UK for looting funds belonging to the state and laundering in the UK. He served his jail time and returned to the country to a rosy welcome to resume his position as the godfather of Delta state politics. A former Governor of Bayelsa State, Late Dieppreye Alamieyeseigha, was arrested in the UK for the same reason of laundering stolen money. Late Kashamu Buruji was a Senator of the Federal Republic in the 8th Assembly who was arrested in the UK while he was trying to enter the country with $230,000 in cash. After five years in prison, he returned to Nigeria to resume his popularity. The list continues if we would list non-politicians who walk free in the country but are apprehended overseas for offences the country ought to have tried. So the question Nigerians ought to be asking themselves is whether or not the laws of the country are too weak or if it is the absence of institutions.
Another key lesson was how the UK justice system showed sensitivity to the power imbalance and how the vulnerability of the boy may have been exploited for the gains of the Ekweremadus. In Justice Johnson’s words: ‘Sonia’s uncle, Diwe Ekweremadu, knew Obinna Obeta from medical school. He got in touch. Obinna Obeta offered to help find a donor. A possible donor was identified. He had grown up in a village where he had no electricity or running water. He left school at the age of 15. He went to Lagos, where he sold phone accessories from a wheelbarrow in a market. He was earning approximately 3,500 Naira a day, equivalent to about £7. Tests in Nigeria showed that his blood group was the same as Sonia. He agreed to come to the UK. He did not at any point agree to donate a kidney to Sonia altruistically. There was no reason why he should do so. He was not related to your family. He did not know Sonia, or any other member of your family. Nothing was put in place to secure his future health-care needs if he donated a kidney. The wealth and power inequality and disparity between them could not be more marked. You, Ike Ekweremadu, are a senator in Nigeria’s National Assembly. You have held high political office. You had many members of staff, including domestic staff, chefs, maids, and drivers. You own multiple properties across the globe – there is evidence of as many as 40. More than £400,000 went into your bank account over a six-month period. By contrast, the young man involved was unable to afford the £25 fare to travel from Lagos to Abuja. You each conspired together to bring him to the UK in order to exploit him. You all knew that was unlawful. You, Ike Ekweremadu had been part of the legislature that had introduced the law that made that conduct a criminal offence in Nigeria’. In very lucid terms, the Justice showed how power, influence, and structure were deployed by one side of the divide to manipulate a boy in abject poverty and hopelessness on the other side of the divide.
For Nigerian elites, it was surely a powerful reality check because, for the first time in their lives, they came to the rude realisation that a system can actually refuse to ‘sacrifice’ the poor for the rich. They found out that unlike the system in Nigeria which considers the poor as dangerous for the society and pampers and venerates the exploitative cabals, the UK justice system was not willing to do that.
A society should have ethical thresholds that individuals should not cross. Whenever anyone crosses such borders, they should face the consequences prescribed by law, irrespective of status, position, or wealth. The only way a society can remain sane is by respecting and protecting the dignity of every human being, regardless of status, origin, or creed. It is incidentally, one thing that Nigeria lacks.
In working societies, the law actually exists to protect the poor against the manipulation of the powerful and the influential, sadly, that is not the case in Nigeria. Again, while the system in London is not fraud or corruption proof which was established by the fact that the whole conspiracy process involved a corrupt relationship established with one of the staffer in a UK Hospital, the justice system was there to checkmate it and ensure that justice is done.
The biggest lesson here for Nigeria’s ruling class is the need to overhaul the healthcare system in Nigeria. Ekweremadu wouldn’t have had any business in the UK with his daughter Sonia if there was a good hospital in Nsukka. Nigeria’s political class has always hidden under medical tourism to find solutions to their healthcare needs, thereby neglecting the healthcare system in the country. This should not be allowed to continue.
In exactly two weeks, it would have been exactly eight years since President Muhammadu Buhari became president of Nigeria. Yet, in all of that eight years, Buhari travelled abroad on several occasions to seek medical attention. He didn’t give a hoot about the healthcare system in Nigeria. By the time he leaves and retires to Daura or Niger, he would have left the health sector far worse than he met it.
Ekweremadu’s ordeal should serve as a reality check to the high and powerful in Nigeria who have appropriated the right of the average person to justice for themselves. How do they do that? By deploying the same resources, they pilfer from the people to subjugate the same people. Since the erosion of access to justice, the people have taken the law into their own hands. This is the root of the social unrest that is clear in insurgencies, civil disobedience, crimes, deviance, and the desperate desire for money that has consumed Nigeria it is time to fix that.