Organ Harvesting Hearing: What Really Happened In Court -By Oke Egoh

Since the story of the organ harvesting broke in the media in August, 2023, I have taken a keen interest in the case and I have followed the story closely with an open mind. 

In order to hear first-hand all the facts of the case, I decided to attend all the court sessions as much as possible. So far, I have not missed any of the court sessions from the time of arraignment of the suspects, to taking the plea and ongoing hearing which took place from Monday, 6th May, to Thursday, May 9, 2024, until the Honourable Justice Kezziah Ogbonnaya adjourned hearing to Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The revelations so far have been quite intriguing and thought provoking.

My experience in court, during the four days of hearing in which six prosecution witnesses testified and were cross-examined was shocking and a big eye opener. The headlines do not always communicate the reality. 

The sensationalism in the media is often divergent from the fact of the matter. Interestingly, the courts do not reckon with sentiments but with facts. It was CP Scott that said in 1921 that ‘comments are free but facts are scared’.

I have not attended too many court sessions in my life, but I am intelligent enough to understand a fair process. I give it to Justice kezziah Ogbonnaya, the presiding judge. She is very detailed, patient and leaves no stone unturned. She often interjected during witness statements with questions for clarity sake and she always informed the audience that she has the right to do so by law.

The Latin Maxim ‘brocard ei incubit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat’ which means ‘the burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies’ clearly played out during the testimonies and cross-examination of the key witnesses. 

The 62 year old judge appeared to be listening with keen attention, waiting for key evidence to do justice to the matter before her.

So far, she appeared to be disappointed with the quality of representation from the prosecution. The key witnesses fumbled several times upon cross-examination by the defence counsel. 

It got so bad that twice in the four days of hearing, on Tuesday, 7th and Wednesday, 8th May, during the cross-examination of prosecution witness two and three respectively, the judge spoke in Pidgin English in utter disappointment and said ‘NAPTIP, una see una self?’.

All three kidney donors, Oluwatobi Saliman (Prosecution witness 1), Musa Yahaya (Prosecution witness 2) and Yahuza Aminu (Prosecution witness 3) admitted upon cross-examination by defence counsel, Afam Osigwe (SAN) that they did not at any time discuss the sale of their kidney with any staff of Alliance Hospital and that they were not offered any money by any staff of the hospital.

Particularly note-worthy is the fact that all the prosecution witnesses so far presented said they never met the Medical Director of Alliance Hospital, Dr. Christopher Otabor until they saw him at the Police Station when he came to bail his staff that were arrested by the police several months after their organ surgery.

The three donors also informed the court that their bargain on the organ sale was with one Abdulrahman and Mayor (the first defendant) and the bargain was outside of Alliance Hospital. They were all paid after the surgery, largely by money transfer from the agents after they were discharged from the hospital. They bought mobile phone and lodged in hotels with the money paid to them, according to the witnesses.

My independent observation shows that the initial story line of the donors followed a particular pattern that portrayed them as ignorant little kids who were lured and or forced to undergo surgery for removal of their kidneys. 

However, following cross-examination and confrontation with documents from the defence counsel which the court admitted as exhibits, it was revealed that there was actually a bargain and agreement of terms between the boys and the agents even before they came to Alliance Hospital.

The defence counsel got permission from the judge to present two documents to each of the three donors: i. The informed consent form which was duly signed by the donors and ii The court affidavit which was carrying their photographs and signatures. All the boys stated in their affidavit that they were above 18 years old and that they were donating willingly to their relatives without any financial inducement. 

The judge asked them if they signed the documents. The first two witnesses said yes, but asserted that the content was not explained to them while the 3rd witness denied every document presented to him including the witness statement he thumb printed on and signed at NAPTIP.

Nevertheless, the documents were bearing his pictures and they all had similar signatures.

On the fourth day of hearing, being Thursday, May 9, one Abdullahi Mohammed, a phone dealer told the court how he received the sum of ₦500,000 as payment for a phone of ₦290,000 on behalf of Oluwatobi Saliman; prosecution witness 1. Oluwatobi lied to the phone dealer that the transfer was from his uncle. He urged the dealer to deduct his ₦290,000 and refund the balance of ₦210,000 to him which the phone dealer obliged. 

Apparently, the ₦500,000 was coming from an agent who was paying Oluwatobi his balance for sale of his kidney. 

All three donors admitted that they agreed to receive one million naira in exchange for their kidneys. From their testimonies so far, the kidney donor recruiting agent is one Abdulrahman who has not appeared in court.

The NAPTIP chief prosecutor informed the court that they have two more witnesses, one of which is Mr. Liman Yusufu, the investigating officer from NAPTIP. 

Hopefully, the other person will be Abdulrahman. Mr. Yusufu Liman was scheduled to testify on Thursday, May 9. Though he was sighted in court, nevertheless, the Chief Prosecution Counsel, Barrister Hassan Tahir, who is also the Director of Legal services department of NAPTIP informed the court that Mr. Liman had developed headaches that morning and he was not disposed to testify. 

The judge urged the prosecution counsel for the hearing to be adjourned to the next day, Friday, May 10, but the prosecution counsel said that they have other engagements for Friday. 

The judge wanted to adjourn hearing to the following week Monday, May 13, but the defence counsel said he was travelling and would be out of Abuja for the whole week. Hearing was therefore adjourned to Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

Earlier on Wednesday, May 8, the prosecution had brought the parents of Oluwatobi Saliman and Musa Yahaya to testify against the Medical Director of Alliance Hospital, Dr. Otabor Christopher. 

They both alleged that while in the Police Station, Dr. Otabor approached them to withdraw the case from the police and embrace out of court settlement. 

They said Dr. Otabor promised to cater for the education of their children if they accept. The prosecution tried to push the alleged negotiation as admittance of guilt on the part of Dr. Otabor. 

The defence counsel moved a motion that the statement of the parents should be expunged from the proceedings of the court on the ground that any statement emanating from the process of settlement cannot be used as an evidence in court on the same case. The prosecution counsel opposed the motion. 

The judge had to take out 30 minutes to write her ruling on the motion moved by the defence counsel. In her ruling, she stated that out of court settlement is an international legal best practice that is encourage by public policy. 

She cited several plethoras of authorities and said that no evidence given in the course of settlement negotiation can be used in court for that case and that where such evidence is used, it is likely to work against the presenter of such evidence, rather than the other side. 

The judge therefore overruled the objection of the prosecution counsel and upheld the submission that the statement by the parents regarding the alleged settlement attempt from the 3rd defendant (Dr. Otabor) be expunged from the court proceeding.

Since the court hearing started, I have read with pain and surprise the reports on this case from a section of the media. 

I sometimes wonder if the media is reporting on the same hearing I attended in person. I took notice of the fact that not more than four media personnel were in court throughout the hearing days, yet hundreds of media outlets have reported the syndicated bias across board. 

As an independent observer, I can deduce that there is a calculated attempt to malign some actors in this case, particularly Alliance hospital and its medical director, Dr Otabor. 

The culprits behind this jaundiced reporting often pick some sensational statements from the prosecution witnesses and blow it out of proportion, while carefully avoiding the cross-examination from the defence counsel that makes mockery of the claims of the witnesses. 

I feel sorry for people who believe the media hook line and sinker, without looking for what is behind the headline. Many have been led astray and this is a disservice to the nation.

Like witnesses in court, journalists should be made to swear an oath to commit to unbiased reporting without fear or favour.

I am looking forward to the continuation of hearing on May 21, 2024 and ultimately for justice, not only to be done, but to be seen to be done.

Mr. Oke Egoh is writing from Abuja.