ABUJA — Nigerian rights activists are reacting with outrage after a Nigerian politician and his wife were charged by British prosecutors with human trafficking with the intent to harvest organs.
Ike Ekweremadu is alleged to have smuggled a Nigerian boy into Britain to harvest his kidney for their sick daughter. The former deputy senate president and his wife appeared before the Uxbridge Magistrate's Court on Thursday, two days after they were arrested by London police.
Prosecutors accused them of luring 15-year-old David Nwamini Ukpo from Nigeria to the UK to donate his kidney to their daughter. Prosecutors also accused them of forging documents to make Ukpo appear to be 21 years old.
It's not clear if Ukpo was aware of the reason he was traveling, but a letter written by Ekweremadu to the British High Commission in December stated they were going to the UK for organ donation.
Ekweremadu's daughter is reportedly battling a kidney disease. He and his wife were arrested on their way to Turkey to procure another organ after they allegedly were unable to continue the process with Ukpo.
They denied the allegations on Thursday but did not enter a plea and were held without bail.
Prominent Nigerian human rights activists have denounced the politician on social media. The co-founder of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) Movement, Aisha Yesufu, tweeted, "How many missing people are related to organ harvesting? This is scary."
Another activist, Rinu Oduala, said, "They really thought they would get away with it in the UK. Because Nigeria is a place where criminals occupy public offices, commit crimes and go scot-free."
"That the former deputy Senate president might be involved in organ trafficking is disappointing to say the very least," Oduala told VOA via a voice messaging app. "The Nigerian image, our reputation keeps dwindling out there. Every day our public officials make it harder for Nigerians to thrive out there, we're forced to prove a point that we're not that image of our country."
Ekweremadu's defense attorney, Gavin Irwin, described the allegations as "preposterous" Thursday.
On Friday, supporters on social media pledged their support for Ekweremadu, including a colleague, senator Dino Melaye, who twitted, "I stand with Ike."
Ariyo-Dare Atoye, founder of the Nigeria Liberty Center, says it is too early to make conclusions.
"It is the aggregate of the records available to the UK embassy and the hospital that will be able to expose whether they followed due process," he said. "Has any document been forged? Has there been any manipulation? All of this will come to the fore possibly in the next adjourned date. This is not something that anybody can cover up."
The World Health Organization says one-tenth of all global organ transplants are performed using illegally acquired organs.
Under the UK's Modern Slavery Act of 2015, conspiracy to harvest the organs of a child is a serious offense and perpetrators could face life imprisonment if found guilty.
Ekweremadu's next hearing is July 7.