He emerged from his room in a red T-shirt and blue denim on Sunday, August 3, 2014 in a state of despair and sober reflection. Slowly settling down in a white plastic chair in the hotel lobby where he had agreed to speak with our correspondent, he told a rather unusual story of his ordeal in the hands of his close friend who lured him into selling one of his kidneys for just $7,500 (N1.2m). That was 2008.
However, before he could talk, our correspondent had to part away with N10,000, N5,000 paid in cash and the other N5,000 for exotic drinks and meal.
Not knowing that his friend, who had also become an agent in the international organ trade market, was only mindful of what would flood his bank account, he went headlong into deciding that he would do his friend’s bidding.
Martins said he had only one reason why he was willing to sell one of his kidneys for that amount: financial independence.
He had tried to make a meaning out of his life. While growing up, he had dreamt of becoming an engineer. But his parents did not have the wherewithal to support his dream.
So he settled for the less and trained as a plumber. Up till today, he said he is a professional plumber, but not the type that could free him from poverty.
So when he was approached by his childhood friend, he did not think times over before accepting the offer. He would sell his kidney, his friend, who was also the agent, would make about $1,800 (N300,000), while he would pocket the balance — $5,600 (N900,000). He felt it was balanced Mathematics, but the complexity of the deal was none he could have imagined.
According to Martins, his friend, Sola, had a link with some individuals in Nigeria, mostly people who were looking for people who could donate kidneys to loved ones who needed to be flown abroad for kidney transplant.
A part of the money paid for the kidney would go to the agent, while the other part would be given the donor.
As an agent, Sola was called one day in October 2008 by a client who was based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The client was a man whose 27-year-old daughter’s two kidneys had failed and needed to be flown to India for a transplant. N1.2m was the amount agreed upon by both parties to strike a deal.
Then the agent’s work was to look for someone who would sell his kidney and be paid a part of the money put down by the client.
Martins was the donor in this case who was hoping he would make N900,000 when the deal was over, but his friend chose to be ‘smarter’ than him. Instead of being paid, he (Martins) was the one who ‘paid’ and is still ‘paying.’
Martins said, “When I was tricked into selling my kidney for money, it was even a close friend of mine that introduced me into the trade. And I did not doubt him for a second. I wanted my life to change positively. I did not know he would eventually betray me due to the trust I had in him. Things were a bit tough for me then and I was desperate to make a change in my life.
“Sola was looking for someone to donate a kidney to a person, and since I had been living in penury, I decided to take a chance. I thought it was a little issue. He told me the huge amount of money that was usually paid to donors. I told him I would do it.
“The client I was to sell my kidney to was in Port Harcourt at that time, so I travelled there and was lodged in a hotel, the name of which I cannot remember now. The following day, I was taken to the General Hospital in the city for medical tests.”
To be tested by the doctors in the General Hospital, Port Harcourt, Martins said he had to pretend as if he was a relative of the patient, and that he did it ‘gladly.’ All he was hoping for was the money.
He said, “I had to pretend as if I was a family member of the client who needed my kidney so doctors could allow me undergo the tests.
“I was made to undergo different medical tests ranging from HIV, to blood group, and whether my kidney matched with that of the sick.
“That was just the beginning, and everything seemed to work perfect. I was made to understand that assuming I had any disease like gonorrhoea or others, I would be treated here before I travelled out of the country, as far as my kidney matched with the sick’s.
“The second stage was the processing of visa and other travelling documents for me. The agent was to take care of all this. My own responsibility as the donor was just to obey all their commands.
“To process the visa, I took pictures with the family of the patient, which made the officials at the embassy believe I was really a relative of the client. I was also made to bear the name of the family of the client so that there would be no suspicion by the officials at the embassy.”
Martins said he learned that if the client were a Yoruba, he would be given a Yoruba name; in this case, the patient and his father (who was the client) were from Rivers State, and so he was given a name that resembled theirs.
He continued, “Meanwhile, as all these were going on, I never knew that negotiations between the client and the agent were also ongoing, I was just obeying their bidding; at least I thought my friend could be trusted.
“Before we travelled and because everything seemed to be working according to plan, my agent told me I had to get new clothes to travel with to India, so I borrowed some money from them, to be repaid from the money they would pay me.
“Normally, the client would not pay the agent the money until the day of travelling and the agent would not pay the donor until he was sure the operation was successful.
“I never knew all these until I experienced it. My friend was the agent and that was why I did not bother asking for the money before I travelled to India.
“On the day I was to travel with the family of the patient, we were lodged in a hotel in the Ketu area of Lagos. We got to the airport around 5am and I was thinking all through the journey. I was hoping my life would be better if everything was successful.”
MIOT Hospitals in Chennai, India was the destination. Everything had worked very well in Nigeria, but that was just the first step.
Martins continued, “We got to the hospital and we were lodged there. The following day, I began another series of medical tests. The medical personnel, who attended to me there, Doctor Tashir, sat me down and asked who I was to the patient.
“I told the doctor she was my niece. He asked me if I knew the consequence of what I was about to do, and I told him there was no problem. For the next one and a half months, I underwent another series of medical tests. The doctors at the hospital trashed the ones I did in Nigeria.
“While in the hospital, I was just not comfortable with the way things were going. I wanted to be sure if the money I was expecting to do this would really come, so I decided to call my friend who arranged the whole thing how much I was going to be paid.
“But before I called my friend, I called the client to find out how much he paid my friend. He (the client) was in Nigeria; it was only the lady, her mother, and me who were in India. He told me he had paid them on the day we travelled to India, and that was where the trouble began.
“I called the agent (my friend) and asked him why he did not tell me the client had paid him.
“My friend (the agent) had even seized my phone to act as a collateral in case I failed to come back to the country after the operation. When I heard he had been paid, I had to remind him that it was my life I was playing with, and he assured he would pay me once I returned to the country.
“The last stage after the medical tests was that I was taken to their local council to face a panel. They asked me again if I was ready for the operation that would last for 27 hours, and to know if I was ready for death in case it came. To all these I said yes.
“Unfortunately, the patient’s mother started treating me unfairly. She believed I had been paid. At a point, I had to tell my friend that I would not do it again if I was not paid. I even told him to go and give the money to my mother, though she did not know anything about it. But he kept assuring me the money was safe.”
Eventually, Martin’s kidney was removed and everything seemed to go well, but he later realised his woe had just begun.
He said, “After the removal of my kidney, I called the agent again to tell him to send me some money for my flight home. That was when I knew I had been used and dumped.
“He changed the tone of his voice and told me to stay in India. He started asking me what I was coming to do in Nigeria. I had planned to use the N900,000 to buy a bus for transport business here in Lagos, to start life afresh. That had been my thought all along.
“On December 2, 2008, after about three months of being in India and 10 days after the operation, I said I was going home. With no money and no good treatment from the patient’s mother, I was stranded. Even though I had the opportunity of stealing their dollar notes in their wardrobe, I did not do so. I could never do such a thing. I felt pity for the lady.”
On December 3, 2008, Martins eventually got a ticket to be flown to Nigeria and could not believe that he had been made to pass through the horrible situation for nothing.
He said, “I tried all I could, and from the money I had borrowed before leaving, I came back to Nigeria.
“My parents never knew where I went and stayed for almost three months. Things were really pathetic. I met a lot of problems at home which I hoped I could solve with the money I would get. On this same matter, I lost my elder sister who was pregnant because it was her money that I took from home, hoping that I would settle her when I return.
“The baby died, she too died, my world collapsed. Out of the N900,000 I was expecting, my friend paid me only N250,000. That was after I had threatened him. I could not involve the police because I knew it was one of those hard choices I made. That was how I was duped in the process of selling my kidney.”
From the amount he could collect from his agent, Martins was able to set up a football viewing centre, which has since collapsed.
Another person with a similar story to tell is Dayo. Not also willing to remain in financial mediocrity all his life, he thought the ‘mouth-watering’ offer Sola (same agent for Martins) offered him was not too small to sell his kidney. Afterall, he learned in Biology that man needs only one kidney to survive.
So when he was approached at the same time with his friend by Sola, he did not bother to consult with anyone before he decided he would sell his kidney for N1m.
Almost similar experience with Martins’, the same agent, who is also their friend, manipulated him and gave him just N500,000 out of the sum he bargained for.
However, the irony of the whole thing is that through some manipulative means, the agent told Dayo that he was also into travelling agency and that he could help him secure a visa to the United Kingdom, but the unfortunate thing was that Dayo did not think twice before he withdrew the whole money he was paid for selling his kidney.
He said, “I gave him the whole money he gave me back, waiting to fly to London. Up till now, I have not heard anything from Sola again neither have I been given any visa to travel. My whole life is in chaos now.
“I cannot even tell anyone in my family that I did such a horrible thing. I have been lying to many people who saw the mark on my body. Who will ever believe I sold my kidney for money? My life is ruined.
“My mother will not even believe it. In my desperation for money I have destroyed my whole life. I just pray that God will forgive me because this is something I have never told anyone.”
Dayo only allowed our correspondent take his back picture, using his right palm cover the stretch mark. He said his family and friends would identify him if they see his full back.
Professor Itse Sagay, a human rights lawyer, believes that organ trade is criminal and must be fought.
He said, “Definitely it is an infringement of the law against threat to human life. It is contained in the criminal code. It takes on a criminal hue. This matter should be investigated while the people doing this trade should be punished according to the law.”
The Ministry of Health’s spokesperson, Dan Nwomeh, said Nigeria needs to sign the proposed National Health Bill into law before organ trade transactions get out of hand. He clamoured for the prompt signing of the bill into law for the regulation of organ transplant in the country.
He said, “We hear rumours about the trade, but the truth of the matter is that we have a big problem at hand, and this is because there is no law regulating organ transplant in Nigeria. There is no law at all now, and what can the Ministry of Health do when there is no law?
“That is why we have been canvassing for the signing of the National Health Bill. If the bill is signed into law, important health issues like organ transplant and fertility medicine will be regulated. It will not be done in the secret.
“But while we are waiting for the National Health Bill to be signed into law, everything depends on the practitioners to do the proper thing. You cannot say someone who is into the organ trafficking business has committed an offence since there is no law yet that is against or regulating it.”
Nwomeh added that the Ministry of Health would continue to canvass for the signing of the National Health Bill into law.
He said, “The health minister and the Ministry of Health will continue to push forward until this particular bill is signed into law. Until such happens, there are bound to be shady businesses like that.”
The Vice-President of the Commonwealth Medical Association and former President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, corroborated the comment of the health ministry.
He said that the bill takes into account provisions for the regulation of organ transplant and fertility medicine in the country. He said if the bill is not signed, the perpetrators would continue to have a field day.
Enabulele said, “Right now, organ trade is commoner outside the country, especially in India, and so it is not unexpected that the business there is booming due to the fact that people from other countries go there to do it.
“It is definitely illegal and a criminal act, but in the absence of regulation, no one can be blamed. People are doing many things underground and even if you apprehend them, under what law are you going to charge them? What penalties will be levied on them?
“In terms of the robustness of the trade in Nigeria, I think one is certainly not very much aware of how it is, but I know that the usual destination point is India because that is where all sorts of trafficking take place.
“This is one of the reasons that when I was the president of the Nigerian Medical Association, I actively supported the passage of the National Health Bill because it has the provisions for the regulation of organ transaction, including the kidney, to make sure there are rules and strict adherence to the guidelines for organ transactions, unlike having an unregulated market where anything happens.
“It is even now important that there is acceleration in terms of getting the President’s assent to harmonise the National Health Bill to prevent the burgeoning of illegal organ transactions. If it is happening, it is the sign that there needs to be some sort of regulation.
“If the guidelines are not there, there will be an astronomical increase in criminal activities in organ transplant due to the level of poverty. Many unwilling donors will end up in the hands of fraudsters. If people must donate their organs, then it must be according to certain guidelines.
“Normally, organs are not what to be donated for a fee, it should be voluntary out of empathy for a victim (either a relative or friend) just like blood donation. It should be out of one’s empathic disposition.
“Guidelines must be put in place to prevent extortions like this whether they are doing it because of poverty or not. A framework must be put in place to regulate organ transplant in the country through the signing of the health bill.”
Enabulele emphasised that there was nothing wrong in donating human organs, but that it should be done voluntarily and freely under the regulation of the law.
He added, “There is nothing wrong with a doctor offering help out of his own volition in referring a patient who needs an organ replacement to countries like India; however, it must be voluntary or else the whole essence of the human life is gone.”
A mail sent to the MIOT hospitals, Chennai, India was not replied as of the time of going to press.
The spokesperson for the India High Commission in Lagos, Mr. Vyan Choudhauy, expressed surprise that some Nigerians are engaged in the trade in his country. He also promised to send a message to the Consul in India for proper investigation.
He said, “Definitely, it is a wrong thing to do. I will forward a mail to the Indian Consul and I am sure necessary actions will be taken against the situation. No matter the money involved, it is wrong for people to sell their organs. We will do everything possible to investigate this matter and give you the feedback.”[Punch]