Kidney harvesting, new twists and matters arising

KEHINDE OSASONA in this piece looks at new revelations in the alleged kidney harvesting allegations brought against Alliance Hospital.

Background

There appears to be new twists in the ensuing litigation regarding the alleged organ harvesting case preferred against Alliance Hospital by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Person, (NAPTIP).

Beforehand, the hospital management together with its medical director, Dr Christopher Otabor, had in 2023 filed a suit before the FCT High Court in Abuja, seeking redress over what it called ‘scandaliding’ publication in a daily newspaper.

The management went further by setting the record straight, maintaining that the hospital does not source for kidney donors but only ensures that donors are qualified and compatible with patients to donate.

The management, who is the (Claimant) after describing the publication as ‘complete fabrication and lies without any truth’ went ahead to seek an order of perpetual injunction restraining the media entity from further scandalising, degrading, embarrassing and defaming it.

However, when a case relating to ‘alleged organ harvesting’ was instituted against the hospital management, it became an opportunity for it to state its side of the story.

In the suit instituted by NAPTIP, four persons, including Dr Christopher Otabor, were arraigned before Justice Kezia Ogbonnaya on 11-count charge.

They were alleged to have performed an operation on three patients at the hospital between February and May 2023.

The accused persons have promptly pleaded not guilty to the allegations and had been granted bail by Justice Kezia Ogbonnaya.

It could be recalled that a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) recently quashed the detention order made by Mohammed Abba Bello of an Abuja Magistrate’s Court, against Dr Otabor, the medical director of the hospital.

Justice Hamza Muazu voided the detention order while delivering ruling in a motion on notice marked: MN/01/2024, drawn from suit no. CV/W2ZZ/37/2024, between the federal government and Otabor.

Following a request by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Magistrate Bello had ordered the remand of Otabor in NAPTIP’s custody pending investigation, an order which prompted the instant suit at the FCT High Court.

However, Otabor in his motion specifically sought for a judicial review of the January 22 order of the Magistrate Court which had ordered NAPTIP to detain him for 14 days. 

His lawyer, Chidi Dimgba argued that the magistrate made the order in excess of jurisdiction in violation of Section 294 of Administration of Criminal Justice ACT (ACJA) 2015, which limits the powers of magistrates to grant a remand order. 

Ruling on the matter, Justice Muazu discountenanced all the issues canvassed by NAPTIP’s lawyer in opposition to the motion by Otabor for judicial review of the Magistrate Court order.  

After reviewing the procedure that led to the detention order, the Judge held that it did not believe that the Magistrate’s Court was right in its decision as it acted in excess of its jurisdiction.

Justice Muazu noted further that the magistrate failed to consider the issue of bail, stressing that an allegation of organ harvesting is a bailable offence.

“The remand order is hereby quashed. Applicant is to be released pending arraignment, if any,” the court ordered. 

New twists

When NAPTIP introduced its primary witness, Oluwatobi Saliman at the proceedings, under cross-examinations, Saliman, who is also a donor recounted visiting the Federal High Court in Abuja to sign a declaration of age and upon returning to the hospital, confirmed that he signed a document stating that his kidney donation was voluntary and not for financial gain.

He also emphasised further before the court that the recipient was a family member.

Led in evidence by NAPTIP’s legal representative, Hassan Tahir, Saliman equally detailed the process of signing pertinent documents prior to the surgery.

He stated further that following the surgery, he contacted Emmanuel Olorunlaye (also known as Mayor), the individual who escorted him to the hospital, and requested for the remaining balance of N1 million from him as he had spent the little funds previously provided.

The whole scenario later became theatrical when another key witness, and phone seller, Abdullahi Mohammed, was called upon to testify.

Mohammed, the sixth prosecution witness while testifying before the court recounted a peculiar incident involving Oluwatobi Sulaimon, one of the alleged kidney donors and the first prosecution witness.

According to the 6th witness, Oluwatobi, who claimed to have received funds from his uncle for the phone, actually received the money from a kidney agent post-surgery, thereby contradicting his earlier statement.

Abdullahi told the court that Oluwatobi Sulaimon approached him to buy a phone from his shop sometimes in February 2023, picked a phone of N290,000 and requested for an account number to credit.

“The phone dealer later got a credit alert of N500,000 which Oluwatobi claimed was from him. When the phone dealer asked why the credit of N500,000 instead of N290,000, Oluwatobi lied and said the money was from his uncle and requested for the excess to be given back to him in cash which Mr. Abdullahi reluctantly obliged.

“The money was actually transferred by a kidney agent in favour of Oluwatobi several days after his surgery and discharge from Alliance hospital, a viewpoint that had lent credence to the fact that transactions between the kidney donor and the agent were actually done in secret without the knowledge of the hospital and the officials.

At that point, it was observed that neither the prosecution nor the defense could question the witness further.

In the midst of the big revelation made by Mohammed, Liman Yesufu, a NAPTIP staff and investigator could not be brought forward to give his testimony.

The lead prosecutor, Mr Tahir, told the court that Liman was suffering from headache and not disposed to testify, thereby making NAPTIP’s initial eagerness to expedite the case suffer a setback.

In the cross-examination led by the defense counsel, Afam Osigwe (SAN), the witness was asked whether he had signed an affidavit and could verify that he declared himself to be 18 years old in the affidavit at the time of signing, he answered in the affirmative.

The development raised significant inconsistencies in his age, as he had informed the court that he was 16 years old, but claimed to be 17 in his sworn affidavit in another civil case.

In regards to his connection with the recipient, the senior attorney sought confirmation from him whether the patient, Egbuson Samson, to whom he graciously donated his kidney, was a blood relative, as captured in the consent form. Additionally, he sought confirmation that the decision to donate his kidney was made of his own volition.

During his testimony, he mentioned that after the surgery he journeyed to Ibadan; however, in a sworn statement to NAPTIP, he indicated that he traveled to Lagos.

The witness unequivocally stated that at no point was he coerced or pressured by any individual to donate his kidney.

He emphasized that the decision to undergo the organ donation procedure was entirely voluntary and made of his own free will.

While cross-examining another NAPTIP witness, Aminu Yahuza for instance, the defence counsel presented a statement he made on oath to him but he vehemently denied, saying he neither made the statement nor signed it.

Another discrepancy which later came up was place of origin. He initially said he was from Yelwa LGA of Plaeau state, only to discover that it contradicted the information documented in the NAPTIP statement which indicated that he hailed from Mangu LGA.

His encounter with Dr Otabor and other accused individuals was also found to be lacking in coherence.

The witness adamantly affirmed that he was never manipulated or influenced by anyone to donate his kidney, insisting that the choice to proceed with the organ donation process was completely voluntary and a result of his own volition.

He also maintained that he had not come into contact with any hospital staff until the mayor escorted him to the medical facility.

The Judge, Kezziah Ogbonnaya had before adjourning the matter to May 21st expressed reservations over inconsistencies in the witnesses’ submission, emphasising the need for coherence between witness testimony and material evidence before court.