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Organ Harvesting Hearing: The Other Narrative of Nigerian Media



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Since the organ harvesting story broke in August 2023, I have taken a keen interest in the case and followed it closely with an open mind. To understand the facts firsthand, I attended as many court sessions as possible. So far, I have not missed any, from the arraignment of the suspects to the ongoing hearings, which took place from Monday, 6th May, to Thursday, 9th May, 2024, until Honourable Justice Kezziah Ogbonnaya adjourned the hearing to Tuesday, 21st May, 2024. The revelations have been both intriguing and thought-provoking.

My experience in court during the four days of hearings, in which six prosecution witnesses testified and were cross-examined, was shocking and eye-opening. The headlines do not always communicate reality; media sensationalism often diverges from the facts. The courts, however, deal strictly with facts, not sentiments. As CP Scott said in 1921, “comments are free but facts are sacred.”

Although I have not attended many court sessions in my life, I am intelligent enough to recognize a fair process. I commend Justice Kezziah Ogbonnaya, the presiding judge, who is detailed, patient, and thorough. She frequently interjects during witness statements for clarity and reminds the audience of her legal right to do so.

The Latin maxim “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” (the burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies) played out during the testimonies and cross-examinations of the key witnesses. The 62-year-old judge listened attentively, waiting for key evidence to do justice to the matter before her.

So far, she appears disappointed with the prosecution’s representation. The key witnesses faltered several times under cross-examination by the defense counsel. On two occasions, Tuesday, 7th May, and Wednesday, 8th May, during the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses two and three respectively, the judge expressed her disappointment in Pidgin English, saying, “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 under cross-examination by defense counsel, Afam Osigwe, SAN, that they did not discuss the sale of their kidneys with any staff of Alliance Hospital and were not offered any money by the hospital staff. Notably, all prosecution witnesses stated that they never met the Medical Director of Alliance Hospital until they saw him at the police station when he came to bail his staff months after their surgeries.

The three donors testified that their agreement for the organ sale was with Abdulrahman and Mayor (the first defendant) and was made outside of Alliance Hospital. They were paid after the surgery, mainly via money transfers from the agents after their discharge from the hospital. They used the money to buy mobile phones and stay in hotels, according to their testimonies.

My independent observation shows that the initial storyline of the donors portrayed them as ignorant kids lured or forced into surgery. However, cross-examination and confrontation with defense documents revealed a pre-existing bargain and agreement of terms between the boys and the agents before they arrived at Alliance Hospital.

The defense counsel presented two documents to each of the three donors with the judge’s permission: an informed consent form signed by the donors and a court affidavit with their photographs and signatures. All the boys stated in their affidavit that they were above 18 and donated willingly without financial inducement. The judge asked if they signed the documents. The first two witnesses confirmed but claimed the content was not explained to them, while the third witness denied all documents presented, including his witness statement at NAPTIP. Nevertheless, the documents bore his pictures and similar signatures.

On the fourth day of the hearing, Thursday, 9th May, Abdullahi Mohammed, a phone dealer, testified that he received ₦500,000 as payment for a ₦290,000 phone on behalf of Oluwatobi Saliman, who lied that the transfer was from his uncle. The dealer deducted ₦290,000 and refunded the ₦210,000 balance. Apparently, the ₦500,000 was from an agent paying Oluwatobi for his kidney. All three donors admitted agreeing to receive one million naira for their kidneys. According to their testimonies, the recruiting agent was Abdulrahman, who has not appeared in court.

The NAPTIP chief prosecutor informed the court they have two more witnesses, including Mr. Liman Yusufu, the investigating officer. Hopefully, the other will be Abdulrahman. Mr. Yusufu was scheduled to testify on Thursday, 9th May, but the chief prosecution counsel, Barrister Hassan Tahir, reported that he developed headaches and was unable to testify. The judge suggested adjourning the hearing to the next day, Friday, 10th May, but the prosecution had other engagements. The hearing was rescheduled to Tuesday, 21st May, 2024.


Earlier, on Wednesday, 8th May, the prosecution brought the parents of Oluwatobi Saliman and Musa Yahaya to testify against Dr. Otabor Christopher, the Medical Director of Alliance Hospital. They alleged that Dr. Otabor approached them at the police station to withdraw the case in exchange for an out-of-court settlement, offering to cater to their children’s education. The prosecution tried to present this as an admission of guilt. The defense counsel moved to expunge the statement, arguing that settlement statements cannot be used as evidence in court. The judge ruled in favor of the defense, emphasizing that out-of-court settlements are encouraged by public policy and that using such statements as evidence could backfire.

Since the hearing began, I have read with surprise and pain the biased reports from some media outlets. Despite fewer than four media personnel in court, hundreds of media outlets have reported a syndicated bias. As an independent observer, I deduce a calculated attempt to malign certain actors, particularly Alliance Hospital and its medical director, Dr. Otabor. Sensational statements from prosecution witnesses are blown out of proportion, while cross-examinations that challenge these claims are ignored. This is a disservice to the nation, misleading the public.

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

I look forward to the continuation of the hearing on 21st May, 2024, and ultimately for justice to be done and seen to be done.

***Comrade Muhammed Suleman writes from Abuja.

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