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Nigeria silent organ trafficking crisis

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By Abraham Adekunle

The country must strengthen institutions and enforce laws against the issue.

Organ harvesting, which is the unlawful trafficking of human organs for transplantation, is a global issue. Nigeria is not immune to this like many other countries. The activity has had a significant impact on individuals, families, and society as a whole. It is the illegal removal of organs from people without their consent, usually for transplantation or commercial sale. It can happen as a result of compulsion, fraud, or abduction and may exploit vulnerable persons, particularly those living in poverty or marginalized groups. They may be misled into believing the procedure is both safe and equitable.

Perpetrators can employ abduction or kidnapping. Victims are forcibly taken away and their organs are harvested without their consent. However, this is not the same as lawful organ transplantation, which involves the voluntary and altruistic donation of organs for the purpose of saving lives or improving health. Legal organ transplantation takes place inside a regulated framework with strong ethical criteria and donor and recipient informed consent. But the illegal activity breaches human rights, exploits vulnerable individuals, and poses severe hazards to both donors’ and recipients’ health and well-being. Organs such as the kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, corneas, pancreas, and other body parts from living or deceased people are targeted. Kidneys are the most commonly illegally harvested organs due to their high demand and survival rate.

Country is experiencing a rise in the covert crime.

Essentially, the illegal trade poses significant risks to both donors and recipients, including severe health complications, organ rejection, and even death. Legal organ transplantation ensures safety, ethical standards, and proper medical care for both parties involved. Despite this, it has become a lucrative business in the country. Nigeria is currently experiencing a rise in covert crime. This is as evidenced by a 2013 scandal involving a “baby factory” in a South-Eastern state. It revealed a criminal network involved in illegal activities, including alleged organ harvesting. While it primarily focused on the trafficking of infants, it also implicated organ harvesting in human trafficking. Also, in 2017, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) discovered a criminal network involved in the unlawful removal and trafficking of human kidneys.

A number of people, including doctors and medical staff, have been arrested and accused of crimes related to organ harvesting. There are many cases of this. For instance, an investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) revealed that a private hospital in Ibadan was engaged in illicit kidney transplantation. In June 2023, the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) denied allegations of missing intestines of a 13-year-old patient, Adebola Akin-Bright, after he underwent corrective surgery without willfully removing any organ or structure. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu promised to take up the boy’s treatment abroad, but he died shortly thereafter before the required reprieve.

Weak enforcement of law has contributed to the burden.

However, the weak law enforcement and corruption within Nigeria create a fertile environment conducive to the increase in organ harvesting, as criminal networks exploit loopholes and corrupt officials. There are inadequacies within Nigerian healthcare system, including limited resources and infrastructure, which contribute to the increase in the crime. Technological advancements have also made organ transplantation more accessible, but also increased the demand for organs. But it should be noted that Nigeria has really strong legislation against the activity. One of them is the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act (2015) criminalizes human trafficking, including organ trafficking, and provides penalties for those involved.

Additionally, the National Health Act (2014) regulates healthcare in Nigeria, including organ transplantation, and establishes a legal framework for ethical organ donation and transplantation. The Criminal Code Act and Penal Code Act, which apply to the southern and northern states respectively, contain provisions criminalizing offenses like kidnapping, abduction, and illegal confinement which can be applicable to cases of organ trafficking. The NAPTIP Act (2003) established the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, which is responsible for coordinating efforts to combat human trafficking, including organ trafficking. The Act provides for the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of offenders involved in human trafficking offenses. The laws are there, but the country is lacking in its implementation and enforcement.

How the government can solve this problem in Nigeria.

To protect citizens, the government should strengthen legal frameworks, improve healthcare infrastructure, raise awareness about the trade, and establish ethical donation programs. Victims should also report incidents to law enforcement and relevant agencies like NAPTIP, seek legal assistance, document evidence, and seek support from NGOs and human rights institutions. The government should also invest in medical facilities and trained healthcare professionals. The Federal Government should collaborate with other countries to share intelligence and extradite individuals involved in cross-border trafficking operations. Victims can explore international mechanisms for justice and accountability if domestic avenues for redress are insufficient.

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