By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire
Today, as expected, Senator Ike Ekweremadu was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment to be served in a British prison for human trafficking. His wife got four years. Their doctor friend got 10 years. The case is over and everything else is history. At 60, by the time he is out of prison, he will be approaching 70. What a sad reality and an ironic turn of events. He will now rely on whatever network of friends he has in Nigeria, particularly Enugu State, to hope that he will still retain the ownership of the numerous properties he acquired in Nigeria. As for those he has in Dubai and other places outside Nigeria, unless there is an effort by Nigerian officials to seek to take the properties from him, they will remain for him and he will still be a very rich man when he finally comes out of prison.
I prayed for the judge to reduce the sentence, but apparently, my prayers did not work. I shall now pray for him to be safe in prison. In fact, when I visit the UK this Summer, I will like to pay him a visit in prison. Even before I visit him, I will like to send him a message on how to endure his time in prison without depression. There are some books I will like to send to him. The first is the Law of Human Nature by Robert Greene. I will also encourage him to keep a diary of his experience, which he can turn into a best seller when he is out. Generally, Ekweremadu should learn how to adopt a positive attitude and turn his adversity into a fortune. For him, the battle is over. It is now time to regroup.
Having said that, I shall now focus on identifying the points where Ekweremadu made mistakes in the way he tried to obtain organ for his daughter. Those mistakes got him where he is now. Had he been able to avoid those mistakes, he would not be in prison today.
NO. 1: FAILURE TO USE LAWYERS:
It is actually not too difficult to get a kidney. You just have to be patient and join the waitlist. It will eventually get to your turn. The only problem with waiting is that it may be too expensive to be paying for dialysis for a long wait period. But this was not a problem for Ekweremadu. He could afford to keep his daughter on dialysis till there would be a kidney available for her. If you don’t want to wait, you must find a donor. That was the option Ekweremadu took, unfortunately to his detriment.
There is some regulation governing organ donation all over the world. The details of such regulation vary from country to country, with UK and the United States being among countries with the most stringent regulatory standards. If you are a wealthy person undergoing such a thing in the UK or the US, the first step is to hire a law firm with good practice in the field of health law. Ask the law firm to give you advisory opinion on how to go about it. Such law firm would examine the law and present to you a step-by-step guide on what to do and what not to do. The benefit of working with a legal opinion is that nobody can blame you if you followed a wrong legal opinion do something wrong in the process. Once you can show that you followed a legal opinion, you are excused almost in all circumstances. A person who relied on his lawyers advice is rarely blamed for doing so.
Unfortunately, Ekweremadu did not realize that organ donation is the UK is more of a regulatory concern than scientific details. So, he relied on the opinions and advice of Dr. Obinna Obeta, a British-based Nigerian doctor, and Dr. Oweh (his own brother), who are both medical doctors, though nephrologists. During his trial, Ekweremadu repeatedly stated in court that he lacked knowledge on the subject and that he had to rely on the advice of Obeta and his brother. But the prosecutor repeatedly reminded him that those men were not experts on kidney. He was invariably telling the court that Ekweremadu did not have a reasonable reliance because he relied on the wrong people.
Assuming that Ekweremadu had had his lawyers involved, those lawyers would have interviewed David upon his arrival in the UK. They would have appointed a British lawyer for David. A document would have been generated and the issue of whether David was properly informed or not would have been out of the question. Failure to engage British lawyers for himself and failure to engage any lawyer for David was fatal. In fact, if Ekweremadu had managed to get a lawyer for David in Nigeria, even a quack lawyer in Nigeria acting as lawyer for David would have saved him a lot. Such Nigerian lawyer would have signed any document stating that he fully informed his client (David) of all the health risks associated with the procedure and he freely and willingly consented to the procedure. That alone would have saved Ekweremadu. Ekweremadu could have paid that lawyer any amount he liked. It is okay to pay David’s lawyer, but not to pay David. But, though a lawyer himself, Ekweremadu did not appreciate the benefit of using lawyers in a matter that could end up having him tried by lawyers.
With the use of lawyers, Ekweremadu would have avoided the following problems:
(1) The problem of not complying fully with the British law on organ harvesting.
(2) The problem of whether there was full disclosure to David of what the procedure was about.
(3) The problem of paying for organ contrary to law,
(4) The need of shielding Ekweremadu’s family (wife and daughter) from exposure to legal liability,
(5) The problem of how to handle David if the procedure failed to go through, and
(6) The problem of how to respond to any criminal investigation if there was a problem
Due to the fact that Ekweremadu had no lawyers on the matter, it did not occur to him that when the procedure failed and David was let loose in the street of London, he would became a time bomb under Ekweremadu’s seat waiting to burst his ass. Because he never used lawyers and never understood the role of lawyers in such delicate and complex transactions, Ekweremadu was totally impervious to the numerous legal dangers he faced. When they arrested him in London, he was smiling, expecting that he would be released after a few questions, only to realize later that he as heading to prison for a long time.
To underscore the importance of lawyers in this kind of transaction, when the doctors decided that they would not go ahead with the procedure, the reason they gave was that there was a “mismatch”. This term was actually a technical legal language. It meant there were discrepancies. But what were the discrepancies? It actually meant that the process of identifying and procuring the organ donor did not comply with the law. A good lawyer would have immediately understood what that meant, and he would have acted timely either by advising Ekweremadu and his wife not to come to enter the UK or to take steps to preempt the catastrophe that eventually befell him.
Also, the absence of lawyers meant that Ekweremadu was not able to detect the duplicity of Dr. Obeta. Dr. Obeta was lying to Ekweremadu and lying to David, and cheating both. He was basically swindling the two, and a dishonest middleman. That was because Ekweremadu allowed Obeta to play the role of the lawyer. It was Obeta that was assuring Ekweremadu that everything was good and was going according to plan, and that there was no problem. And after the doctors declared a mismatch, either that Obeta misunderstood the implications or he misled Ekweremadu into treating it casually.
The lesson from this is that when you are engaged in a complex transaction in the developed world, hire lawyers, especially very experienced lawyers that are experts in the field and ask them to guide you. A good British law firm would have guided Ekweremadu and his family well. They would have had everybody involved signing all the necessary documents. David’s lawyers would have signed off that he was well advised and that the law has been complied with. Such a legal opinion is your bulletproof if eventually your action comes under scrutiny. Let them blame your lawyers for giving you the wrong advice that led to the violation than blame you for committing a crime. A person who acted under the advice of a competent lawyer cannot be said to have intended to commit a crime even if his action would have amounted to a crime otherwise.
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