For days now, the former Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice, have been trending in the social and mainstream media on account of an alleged human part harvesting plot in the United Kingdom (UK).
The Metropolitan Police in that country have arrested him and his wife in connection with the matter, at the centre of which is a person, also a Nigerian, presumed to be a minor. The Ekweremadus have since been charged in court and held on remand till the next hearing on July 7.
The offence for which the suspects have been charged is a very serious one, especially under British law. In Nigeria where the suspects are domiciled, however, while there is legislation against human trafficking – Trafficking in Persons [Prohibition] Enforcement and Administration Act 2015) – there is currently no law against organ harvesting or its regulation.
The veracity or otherwise of their alleged involvement in the matter is not the subject of this editorial. The court is already looking into it. Any comment at this time is not only premature, it could potentially hinder the cause of justice.
This is precisely why this newspaper is worried. Comments already in the media, especially on social media, are alarmingly worse than inaccurate. They are bereft of facts and capable of endangering the right to fair trial of the suspects, innocent until proven guilty by the court. This trial by ordeal must stop.
For instance, the report that the couple was arrested on their way to Turkey for alternative human-organ shopping, is false. Ike Ekweremadu was arrested in the UK on Tuesday where he had arrived on a diplomatic passport.
The trip was apparently in connection with the health of a seriously ill member of the family, believed to be Ekweremadu’s daughter.
His wife, who was already in the UK, was also arrested at about this same time. Their daughter, whose precarious health led to this state of affairs, is now regrettably left to struggle for her life – the very nightmare her parents wanted to prevent.
To suggest, wildly and thoughtlessly, as we have seen in a number of media outlets that the Ekweremadus were loaded with cash on their way to hunt for human organs in Turkey when they were arrested at London Heathrow, is to feed presumptive guilt.
We know that the ingredients of this story make it quite tempting to do so. A rich and powerful Nigerian big man and politician and his wife caught in an unlikely situation in a place where neither wealth nor power can avail them. For the local press that is the legend of “divine justice”.
For the British press that habitually thinks the worst of the average Nigerian and whose former Prime Minister David Cameron once quipped that Nigeria is “fantastically corrupt”, it is yet another grist for the mill of prejudice. What, by the way, would Cameron have said if a Nigerian leader received from a Sheikh €1million in crisp cash stuffed in a suitcase as was reported of Prince Charles only on Sunday?
No matter. We must stay on the point at issue. The media must restrain its love of circus and let the facts and the evidence lead the way in this trial. And the call for restraint is not just for the Ekweremadus, but also for the person in this case presumed to be a minor who has been roundly demonised even before his identity is fully known or his motive fully examined in the court.
The Nigerian government cannot stand idly by. It is tempting to do so in this political season, yet the information that Ike Ekweremadu was travelling on a diplomatic passport when he was arrested cannot be overlooked. It would be a travesty of Convention if his diplomatic passport were indeed breached.
It should be a matter of interest for the Nigerian government, through the country’s High Commission in the UK, to ensure that the Ekweremadus get all the support they can for a free and unimpeded trial. And the current leadership of the High Commission is on a good footing to do so.
We would still have insisted on this even if Ekweremadu were an ordinary Nigerian traveller on the green passport. But he’s not. He was a former deputy Senate President for 12 years and remains a senator. His position does not – and should not – put him above the law. Yet, it would be hypocritical to pretend that its symbolism does not matter.
We recall, for example, that when a US court issued a warrant of arrest against the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, and later requested his extradition to face charges of defiling a minor whom he knew was a minor and also a victim of sex trafficking, the Metropolitan Police declared after months of investigation that it could not establish any case of wrongdoing against the Prince.
The UK also refused to extradite him – a privilege that may not have availed an ordinary subject in Her Majesty’s kingdom, given the gravity of the charge. Of course, the matter was later settled out of court three years later.
Also, the fairly recent case of the wife of a CIA employee in the UK who escaped after a traffic accident which killed a young British biker exemplifies the extent countries would sometimes go to protect their citizens.
Till date, and in spite of the demands by the UK authorities, the wife of the diplomat has not been extradited to the UK to face trial. To the displeasure and shock of the bereaved family, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, even tried to negotiate “a settlement” during his visit to the US!
We also recall that often when Nigerians carrying UK passports have been involved in crimes – even crimes that raise serious national security concerns in Nigeria – the British authorities have not hidden their interest, sometimes annoyingly and at other times condescendingly, in expressing the view that such persons should be given free and fair trial.
This is the same courtesy that the Nigerian authorities are obliged to demand of the British government. The government must resist the temptation to view the matter from the lens of local politics – the APC v PDP shenanigans that have brought Nigeria to near ruin. It must work through the High Commission in the UK to ensure that the Ekweremadus get the best support and that justice is done, transparently.
It is gratifying that the Senate has offered its support, but that would not be enough. The government of President Muhammadu Buhari must step in, as the British Prime Minister would surely have done if the Ekweremadus were British citizens.
Not just for the sake of the Ekweremadus, but also for the sake of the presumed minor, who has also faced the most vicious and vile attacks from spin doctors and trolls.
We insist on free and fair trial and deem the accused innocent until they have had their day in court.