Sunday Magazine

Organ Trafficking: A thriving illicit trade in Nigeria

In a bid to escape economic hardships, many Nigerians have been lured into lifelong miseries in search of greener pastures. In this piece, LADESOPE LADELOKUN writes on why organ trafficking thrives and why the Nigerian government must be alive to its responsibilities

 

Hit by poverty,imprisoned by hopelessness, weakened by an uncertain future, the offer to escape what is deemed an economic hellhole could appear irresistible to long-suffering Nigerians.

 

With sordid tales of migrants in search of greener pastures, who fell for the lure of seeming paradise on earth but lost their vital organs suffusing the cyberspace, ,they, for many observers, give validity to the saying that “All that glitters is not gold”.

 

In what appears to explain why the organ harvesting menace flourishes, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that 10 per cent of all organ transplants, including lungs, heart and liver, are done through trafficked organs. With the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that 10,000 kidneys are traded on the black market worldwide annually, or more than one every hour,the kidney is said to be the most traded organ.

 

The criminal masterminds behind the illegal trade of human body parts, according ABC News, raked in $2.3 billion around the globe in 2017 alone.

 

Disturbed by the allegation of mysterious deaths and organ harvesting among Nigerians serving terms in Chinese jail, a Non-Governmental Organisation, Patriotic Citizen Initiative,PCI, had said there were no fewer than 8,000 Nigerians languishing in various Chinese prisons as of 2016.

 

According to the Executive Director of PCI, Osemene Osita, Nigerians serving time in China had inundated the group with calls, intimating it on how Nigerian inmates often disappear in manners suspicious that they were being taken out and killed extrajudicially by Chinese prison officials for the purposes of harvesting and trading in their organs.

 

While the PCI admitted that there are Nigerians who genuinely committed crimes, majority, it said, of those languishing in Chinese prisons are victims of circumstances, who were convicted based on improper investigations.

 

Also, speaking during a protest to draw attention to the plight of Nigerians in Chinese prisons, the Executive Director of Black African Re-orientation Development, Nkem Anyata-Lafia, had alleged that records available to the organisation revealed that organs of Nigerians in prison were used to treat rich businessmen with failing health.

 

“In some cases, death sentence are passed carelessly and secret executions carried out in questionable conditions.There are even alleged cases of organ harvesting to treat their rich industrialists with failing health.

 

They are daily subjected to slavery and hard labour with nothing other than white rice which is offered to them once. This is even to say nothing about those who are made to die slowly by being forced to handle harmful industrial chemicals without any form of protection around their bodies against all known industrial safety standard,’’ she said. But, several reports indicate that victims of organ harvesting are not just restricted to Nigerians seeking greener pastures in countries deemed more livable than Nigeria.

 

For example, a 2021 report from INTERPOL, which assessed the problem of trafficking in human beings for organ removal (THBOR), posited that while organ trafficking exists in all regions of the world, it is of particular concern in North and West Africa, where impoverished communities and displaced populations are at greater risk of exploitation. Information, according to the report, suggested that a wide spectrum of actors are involved in organ trafficking in North and West Africa with connections to the medical sector in countries from Africa and beyond, notably in Asia and the Middle East.

 

“Organized criminal groups profit from the desperation of the unemployed, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to coerce them into selling an organ. Victims of human trafficking for sexual and labour   purposes also find themselves at additional risk.

 

“The techniques used for the recruitment and control of the victims are the same as those used for other types of human trafficking, such as promises of job opportunities abroad, as well as the use of threats and violence.

 

“Most often, victim-donors receive a smaller amount of the money than had been agreed with the recruiter or broker, and in some cases, they may not get any of the promised payment. Many victim-donors have suffered post-operative complications and health issues.”

 

On why organ harvesting is underreported, Cyril Gout, INTERPOL’s Director of Operational Support and Analysis, said: “While trafficking in human beings for organ removal is not a new phenomenon, it is underreported due to the clandestine nature of the crime, combined with a lack of awareness by law enforcement agencies and the deficiency of information sharing channels between the medical and police sectors.”

Following the resolution on the consideration of a motion, titled “Need to the Illicit Trade in Human Organs”, co-moved by Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum from Taraba State, the House of Representatives revealed that organ traffickers generate between $600 million and $1.2 billion dollars profit annually, stating that deplorable security situations had made organ harvesters turn to third world countries for body parts.

“The increasing cases of missing persons, ritual killings and trafficking of persons out of the country may be linked to the Red Market which can be attributed to the trafficking of young men and women who end up being victims of organ harvesting.

“The increased banditry, kidnappings and spiraling violence in several parts of the country today make those parts of the country vulnerable and provide safe havens and ready supply channels for the illicit activities. “If nothing is done to curb this criminal act, more criminals will set up shops dealing in human organs in Nigeria, taking advantage of the insecurity,”

 

Kwewum said. In the same vein, former Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in persons (NAPTIP) ,Basheer Garba Muhammed, said there was a need to worry about many Nigerians, who are trapped in sexual and labour exploitation in various African and European countries.

 

Muhammed had at a meeting with the Governor of Kano State, Abdulahi Umar Ganduje, revealed that a farm had been identified in Libya, where Black African migrants were allegedly kept in cages like animals, adding that their vital organs such as eyes, kidneys and lungs would thereafter be harvested and sold in the black market to service the medical needs of Europe. “NAPTIP vulnerability index analysis showed that human trafficking is endemic in Kano.

Out of the 482 convicted persons by the agency from inception, 110 are from Kano Zonal Command, representing the highest in the country . “NAPTIP is worried over this ugly trend of the trafficking of young Nigerian women to the Middle East, who are mostly from Kano and neighbouring states. The problem of human trafficking and irregular migration has become national and international concerns,” he said.

 

 

In 2016, the PCI had told how Nigerians were being taken out and “killed extra-judicially by Chinese prison officials for the purpose of harvesting and trading their body organs.” The NGO added that 40 Nigerians were victims of organ harvesting trade in China every year.

China as organ harvesting capital of the world?

 

Piqued by reports of forced organ harvesting in China, the United Nations human rights experts said it appeared to be targeting specific ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities held in detention, often without the reasons for arrest or given arrest warrants explained, at different locations. “We are deeply concerned by reports of discriminatory treatment of the prisoners or detainees based on their ethnicity and religion or belief.

 

“According to the allegations received, the most common organs removed from the prisoners are reportedly hearts, kidneys, livers, corneas and, less commonly, parts of livers.

 

This form of trafficking with a medical nature allegedly involves health sector professionals, including surgeons, anaesthetists and other medical specialists,” they said. Despite the gradual development of a voluntary organ donation system, according to the experts, information continues to emerge regarding serious human rights violations in the procurement of organs for transplants in China.

Meanwhile, in 2019, the China Tribunal, an independent judicial investigation into forced organ transplantation in China, released its final judgement. Relying on the evidence and testimony provided by more than 50 witnesses, it found that forced organ harvesting had been going on for years on a significant scale.

 

“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one – and probably the main – source of organ supply.

The concerted persecution and medical testing of the Uyghurs is more recent, and it may be that evidence of forced organ harvesting of this group may emerge in due course,” the tribunal submitted. Presenting the Tribunal’s findings to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, Counsel to the China Tribunal, Hamid Sabi, said :“Commission of crimes against humanity against Falun Gong and Uyghurs has been proved beyond reasonable doubt. Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.

“Organ transplantation to save life is a scientific and social triumph – but killing the donor is criminal. Government and international bodies must do their duty not only in regard to the possible charge of genocide but also in regard to crimes against humanity, which the Tribunal does not consider to be less heinous. It is the legal obligation of UN Member States and the duty of this council to address this criminal conduct.”

Also, in a 2015 documentary with the title, “Human Harvest: China’s Organ Trafficking,” it was alleged that state-run hospitals were killing prisoners for the purposes of trading in body parts. According to the documentary, 10,000 organs were transplanted in China every year.

How police frustrated my fight against organ trafficking – Ex-NAPTIP DG Julie Okah Donli

Despite concerns triggered by reported case of ritual killings across Nigeria, the argument in some quarters is that cases of organ harvesting are only mistaken for ritual killings. In a chat with Sunday Telegraph, former Director General of NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah Donli, said that organ traffickers are having a field day because the crime is often mistaken for ritual killings by the police, making it difficult to carry out a thorough investigation to crack “this criminal network gang”.

 

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing like ritual killings. What we are seeing is just a pure case of organ harvesting.

And because there is no focus on it per se, all the traffickers of organs are just getting away with murder.When the police carry out their investigation, they say it is ritual murder. I’m not sure whether they try to find out where these organs are going to? Who are those buying the organs? If they are able to concentrate more on diligent investigation, they will be able to break this racket.

 

“So, I think the police and NAPTIP should work together -which I tried to do but did not work- to have joint operations. I cannot really say how organ harvesters get their supplies because there were no investigations concerning organ harvesting as the police would say it is ritual murder and that is where it would end.”

Aligning his thoughts with Donli, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police, Ogun State Command, Abimbola Oyeyemi,said there was nothing like organ harvesting. He, however, maintained that any form of murder should be condemned.

 

“There is nothing like organ harvesting. Killing is killing and ritual is ritual; no other name for it. Is it possible to harvest organs without killing the owner of the organ?All security agencies in the state are collaborating well, not only in the area of ritual killing but in all efforts to fight crime and criminality to a stand still. It is not that the menace has reached alarming stage, but no matter how minute it may be, it has to be condemned by all,” he said.

No evidence doctors are involved – NMA

President,Prof Uja

Amid calls for medical doctors to stop aiding and abetting organ harvesting, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof Innocent Uja, in an interview with Sunday Telegraph, dismissed such calls on the police to investigate and bring to book the perpetrators.

 

“If a doctor discovers an organ is no longer viable, he has a right to remove the organ. For example, if you’re going to remove the kidney, we call it nephrectomy. It could be total or partial nephrectomy. That cannot be organ harvesting.

“As a matter of fact, we have not received any story that a doctor is involved in organ harvesting, and there is no evidence that doctors are involved. I’m a member of the Investigative Tribunal. There is no report against any doctor. It’s the responsibility of the police to investigate and bring to book anyone found culpable. ”

‘State complicit’

 

The biggest illicit trade, according to Dr Temitope Fagunwa, is illegal exportation and transportation of human organs. The lecturer and social activist lamented how organ harvesting is mistaken for ritual killings.

 

“What they call ritual killings does exist but it is camouflage that hides the bigger issue. Killings are going on in this country but not for the purpose of ritualism as we have been told. Killings in some cases happened for the purpose of human organ harvesting.”

 

On how the state is complicit, he said:” Classified information in the public domain show that state agents were complicit in death of the employment seeker that was killed in Calabar( or Akwa Ibom if I’m correct).”

 

The said classified information, he said, point to the fact that the alleged murderer was calling security operatives “on that very day and was calling big individuals in the community, so just for them to know what to do with the organs of the unfortunate woman.

 

So, the point I’m making is there is a state complicity going on in some of these cases.Of course,magic exists but there is also a bigger picture to it. And that is organ harvestation that has been going on for quite some time but we are not paying enough attention to it.”

 

How to buck the trend

Organ harvesting, Fagunwa argues, can be curbed by tackling poverty. ” Everything boils down to poverty and greed. The question of killing a fellow human for the sake of organ harvesting is diabolic and primitive. But to solve this problem is to solve the problem of poverty.Once you solve the problem of poverty, you will be able to tackle ignorance and superstitious beliefs.

 

“Majority of the people involved in this barbaric act are poor people.The rich guys make use of the poor in the society to gain from their level of ignorance.You cannot have poverty and not have ignorance. Once you solve the problem of poverty,organ harvesting will naturally fizzle out.”

 

Meanwhile, narrating his experience as a prisoner in China, Emmanuel Ugochukwu had told the Nigerian news agency, NAN, that the influx of Nigerians into China could be blamed on lack of job opportunities in Nigeria. “We were made to go through hard labour without pay; you have to work tirelessly in order to make little money to buy toiletries,” he said.

 

He, however, called on Nigerian government to ensure the release of Nigerians still trapped in Chinese prisons. According to him, providing jobs for the youth would reduce the number of Nigerian young people seeking greener pastures in foreign lands.

 

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