Nigerian MP Ike Ekweremadu will be sentenced in the UK Friday after being found guilty of an organ harvesting plot, but fellow lawmakers in his country have joined growing calls for leniency in his case.
Ekweremadu, 60, his wife Beatrice, 56, and a middleman Obinna Obeta, 51, were found guilty in March of trafficking a 21-year-old Nigerian street trader to the UK to provide a kidney for the Ekweremadus’ daughter, Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said in a statement.
Prosecutors say the victim was brought to the UK after being offered a reward of up to £7,000 ($8,810) and the promise of work in the country, but he was unaware that he was expected to provide a kidney in return.
A medical consultant called off the planned transplant after becoming suspicious of the circumstances surrounding it and the victim fled, sleeping rough for days before reporting the plan to UK police last May, the CPS said.
Ekweremadu, Beatrice and Obeta will be sentenced at the UK’s Old Bailey Court Friday and face up to 10 years in prison under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
‘A distinguished public servant’
Ekweremadu was a former deputy senate president in Nigeria for 12 years and his case elicited sympathy in Nigeria where some saw him and his wife as victims of circumstance who were desperate to help their sick daughter.
Some of the country’s political class wrote to the UK court appealing for leniency ahead of his sentencing, including Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
President of the Nigerian Senate, Ahmad Lawan, said Wednesday he wrote to the British judiciary on behalf of Ekweremadu asking them to “temper justice with mercy.”
“We are now using this particular intervention to seek for clemency in the sentencing. … The conviction has already been done but we are seeking clemency because this is the first time our colleague is getting involved in this kind of thing,” Lawan said.
Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, the country’s junior parliament, described Ekweremadu as “a brilliant lawyer, a distinguished public servant and a dedicated family man.”
The speaker of parliament of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, Sidie Mohamed Tunis said he also written to the chief clerk of the Old Bailey Court seeking leniency for the Ekweremadus.
Ekweremadu served as speaker of the ECOWAS parliament between 2011 and 2015.
But the calls for clemency failed to hold sway over the UK court and some in Nigeria questioned why high profile politicians were using their influence to advocate for a convicted criminal.
IPC Justice, a non-governmental organization dedicated to fighting corruption in politics wrote on Twitter: “… Nigeria has a reputation for not enforcing laws against political elites, which could lead to the perception of condoning criminal activity if the Speaker advocates for clemency for someone convicted of a serious crime.”
Prosecutors in the UK have described the Ekweremadus guilty verdict as “a landmark conviction.”