• Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Nigerian street trader trafficked to UK in kidney donor plot

Mar 24, 2023

***Blow by Blow Accounts of Ike Ekweremadu’s Kidney Saga

Nigerian senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife Beatrice have been convicted of exploiting a young man from a poor village by bringing him to London to donate a kidney.

Student Sonia Ekweremadu appeared to have an ideal life – wealthy parents at the heart of Nigeria’s political system and a place at a leading UK university – but she was also desperately sick and needed a kidney transplant. Her dad, Ike Ekweremadu, paid fixers and middlemen thousands of pounds to arrange a donor.

Daniel, whose real name cannot be reported for legal reasons, grew up in a big family in rural Nigeria, without running water or electricity. Aged 15, he was selling mobile phone accessories from a barrow in the capital Lagos and sending money home. 

In 2022, aged 21, he walked into a police station near Heathrow, tired, homeless and terrified. He told police he had run away because people wanted to take one of his kidneys. 

While Daniel pushed his barrow, at the other end of the Nigerian social ladder, Ike Ekweremadu and his wife Beatrice grew increasingly worried about their daughter’s health.

The Ekweremadus approached a middleman, Dr Obinna Obeta, who in July 2021, had himself received a kidney donation, using his connections to make it happen: a Nigerian doctor friend in Cambridge organised fundraising, a young donor was found in Nigeria, and the private operation took place at London’s Royal Free Hospital.

Ike Ekweremadu
Image caption, Ike Ekweremadu is an opposition senator 2003

The Ekweremadu family wanted Dr Obeta to repeat the process for Sonia. Dr Obeta asked his donor to find someone willing to provide a kidney for Sonia. He suggested Daniel. 

Daniel claimed Dr Obeta had promised to bring him to Britain and never mentioned a kidney transplant. “I will live in his house and he will get work for me. He asked me not to tell people that I’m coming to the UK,” Daniel told the court. When Dr Obeta asked Daniel to undergo medical tests, Daniel thought they were for a visa application. 

His UK visa was granted in January 2022. Good news, Daniel thought. Dr Obeta’s help was as if “from God”, he said. Once in London, however, he had to sleep on Dr Obeta’s sofa and says the doctor used him as a houseboy. 

Behind the scenes, Ike Ekweremadu, communicating through his brother, a doctor, was being asked to pay Dr Obeta nearly £2,000. Daniel was to receive £6,000 for a kidney, while the operation, at the Royal Free private wing, would cost £80,000.

In the UK it is a breach of the Human Tissue Act to pay or reward transplant donors who should, in any event, be family members or people with close emotional ties to the recipient. 

The Ekweremadus seemed aware of this. They invited Daniel to lunch at a West African restaurant in south London, telling him to dress up. Sonia was there and her picture was taken with Daniel. Her parents and Dr Obeta were pretending they were cousins. Sonia was acquitted of being involved in the conspiracy. 

Sonia Ekweremadu poses with potential kidney donor
Image caption, Sonia Ekweremadu (left) posing with Daniel at a restaurant

The donor, the recipient and senior kidney consultant Dr Peter Dupont all met for the first time on 22 February 2022. 

Daniel told the Old Bailey jury: “He asked me did I know I was going to do a kidney transplant. I was shocked. That was the first time I heard about the kidney transplant.” It was also, he said, the first day he had ever heard the name Ekweremadu: “I was crying and shaking.”

In a letter asking a colleague for a second opinion, Dr Dupont noted Daniel had not seen his supposed cousin Sonia for a decade and had “significant reservations about donation”.

Meanwhile, the Ekweremadus and Dr Obeta sent Daniel prompts to improve his cover story, paying a translator to coach the 21-year-old for his meetings with doctors. 

The second doctor, Dr Philip Masson, was also concerned Daniel could not understand the risks of donating. Dr Dupont stopped the process, concluding Daniel was “medically borderline”, had a “tenuous relationship with the recipient”, lacked maturity and could not fund his future medical care. 

Sonia Ekweremadu on Instagram
Image caption, Sonia Ekweremadu desperately needed a kidney transplant

Within weeks, Ike Ekweremadu was texting Sonia pictures of new potential donors. She replied: “The dark one looks better. The light one looks like he will run away.”

Meanwhile, Daniel was visited by two men at Dr Obeta’s south London flat. He said one of them, a doctor, pressed on his stomach, leaving Daniel terrified they might try to remove a kidney once he returned to Nigeria. 

He ran to the police and Ike, Beatrice and Sonia were arrested, along with Dr Obeta.

At the Old Bailey, three of them have now been convicted of breaking modern slavery laws by bringing Daniel to the UK to provide a kidney for Sonia. 

Sonia’s transplant was halted – but the Royal Free had previously carried out the transplant received by Dr Obeta, who had also falsely claimed he was a relative of the donor. 

A key figure in both cases was Cambridge-based NHS doctor Chris Agbo, who runs a side business helping foreign patients get treatment in Britain. 

It was Dr Agbo who fundraised for Dr Obeta’s transplant, organised meetings with the hospital and discussed payments with the Royal Free hospital’s private wing. 

He appears to have believed he should be rewarded for his company’s work by the Royal Free. 

On 8 December 2021, he wrote to Dr Dupont: “This is the third transplant patient that my company has brought to the Royal Free… We have never received any form of incentive from Royal Free Hospital. Hope this time my company, Vintage Health Group, will be treated differently and fairly.”

No money was paid. Dr Agbo is being investigated by both the police and the General Medical Council, which has imposed conditions on his medical licence. When the BBC asked him what he knew about Daniel being brought to the UK seemingly unaware of the potential transplant, he declined to answer. 

The Human Tissue Authority says it has referred other questionable cases, not linked to Dr Agbo, to the police in recent years. 

As for the young Nigerian who was flown to London to provide a kidney for Dr Obeta, the BBC found him living in a small east London flat with condensation on the windows, still suffering from pain and weakness, the consequences of giving up a vital organ.


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