By Olusegun Adeniyi
The moment the news broke of his indictment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last Thursday, the suspended Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Abba Alhaji Kyari did not wait for details before releasing a telling statement that has elicited all manner of jokes on the social media. Even when more damning revelations came out about how he was allegedly recruited and paid by an internet fraudster to deal with an opponent, Kyari remained unfazed. Last Friday evening, the embattled DCP posted a screenshot from someone else’s platform which quoted a lady as saying ‘Abba Kyari arrested me, didn’t charge me to court but kept me to himself’. And below it, he inserted this message: ‘Hahahahaha. This is the funniest One so far, we are enjoying the Show.’
Although he deleted the post shortly after, it was evident Kyari considered the entire scandal just another allegation of impropriety he has weathered over the years. As it would happen, he misread the situation this time. Within a period of 72 hours, Kyari bagged suspension from duty, a panel was established by the Police Service Commission (PSC) to investigate the charges against him as provided by extant laws and his position as head of the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) in the Office of the Inspector General of Police was given to another officer. No matter what happens now, Abba Kyari’s career as a ‘super cop’ is over. Yet, if we will be honest, his fall did not happen because of any sense of moral outrage in Nigeria but rather because of American might.
By charging Kyari to their court, asking for his arrest and placing emphasis on the fact that “he is a highly decorated deputy commissioner of the Nigeria Police Force …”, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was implicitly making a connection between criminality and law enforcement in our country. That was enough for the same NPF that had serially ignored allegations against Kyari, including by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Amnesty International, to act swiftly. But there are lessons in this tragedy that should not be lost on the authorities in our country. Having allowed the police to degenerate as an institution, it is little surprise that many of their personnel now embody the worst vices of society.
Before I make my point, we must recognize that Kyari is still an innocent man in the eyes of the law. It is also important for us to understand that this case goes beyond the career of one man to the issue of accountability and rule of law in the Nigerian public space, as well as our reputation as a nation. In June last year, following the arrest of a number of our nationals in the United States, the Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a statement that included these damning lines: “Foreign citizens perpetrate many BEC (Business Email Compromise) scams. Those individuals are often members of transnational criminal organizations, which originated in Nigeria but have spread throughout the world.”
That Nigeria is profiled as a country that breeds scammers is what makes the link between Kyari, a celebrated law enforcement officer, and Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, commonly known as Hushpuppi, very damaging. Hushpupi, who has already pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the United States, is an Instagram celebrity who laundered millions of dollars made from internet scams, until he was arrested and extradited from Dubai last year to answer for his crimes. At issue in the Kyari case is that Hushpuppi in 2019 asked the DCP to detain and torture one Kelly Chibuzor Vincent, a colleague with whom he (Hushpuppi) had a dispute over how to share the $1.1 million scammed from a Qatari businessperson.
Meanwhile, what Kyari initially put up as his defence has done more damage to him and the Police he serves. “Abbas who we later came to know as Hushpuppi called our office about two years ago that somebody in Nigeria seriously threatened to kill his Family here in Nigeria and he sent the person’s phone number and pleaded we take action before the Person attacks his family,” Kyari wrote last Thursday in his statement that has been deleted. “We traced and arrested the suspect and after investigations, we discovered there wasn’t an actual threat to anyone’s life and they are longtime friends who have money issues between them hence we released the Suspect on bail to go and he was not taken to any jail. Nobody demanded for a kobo from Abbas Hushpuppi. Our focus was to save people’s lives that were purported to have been threatened.”
It is trite that in criminal investigation, whatever suspects say (or write) would be used against them. Yet, Kyari keeps digging while still inside a hole. For a man who headed a critical intelligence unit of the police, it is very telling that he cannot understand the implication of the various contradictory and self-incriminating statements he has been making. How do you explain this convoluted admission by Kyari on the N8 million allegedly collected from Hushpuppi, which was not in his earlier social media post? “He (Hushpuppi) also called for another case in June 2020 and complained about a financial transaction with a second person whom he said his friend sent 8 million naira to and pleaded for his friend’s money to be recovered. He sent transaction slips and other evidences to prove their case against the person,” wrote Kyari before he deleted. “All these can be verified from the Hushpuppi since he is still in custody. And it can be verified from person who collected 8 million naira from Hushpuppi’s friend whom they complained about is alive and is in Nigeria.”
We may choose to ignore the other details about how a police officer became a fashion consultant for someone who just reported a case to him. Or that he served as the courier for money transfer to a ‘tailor’ and a fund recovery agent for a foreign-based complainant. But we cannot ignore the little details that several of our police personnel are indeed muscle men for connected people or that abuse of power is rampant in most of the institutions that deal with law and order in Nigeria. Even if we ignore the documented evidence presented by the FBI and go with the line by Kyari, neither he nor the institution he serves comes out good. Hushpuppi phoned from Dubai that a friend was threatening his family and without any investigation to establish the veracity of the claim, the ‘suspect’ was arrested and locked up by Kyari. Or, as it is in another matter, Kyari deployed his men to recover N8 million from another friend of Hushpuppi—all of these supposedly in public interest.
The real issue here is the way personnel of our security agencies are deployed to settle personal scores and generally run personal errands that conflict with their duties. There is a way we can connect this to our colonial legacy when policemen were mere brutes for the enforcement of the whims of Frederick Lugard and his henchmen. That explains why, even today, police details of senior public officials would kill and maim for their principals and family members. Some are used to collect debts, chase away recalcitrant tenants, terrorise political/business opponents, enforce contracts, including those ‘drafted’ in The Other Room etc. It is the way we roll in Nigeria.
We have unwittingly created a situation in which those who bear arms on behalf of the state have become mercenaries for hire by just about anybody who can pay for their services. And to imagine it started with the case of Hushpuppi or that it will end with him is to live on fantasy island. I enjoin readers to do a simple Google search: Hundreds of innocent citizens are currently languishing in police or State Security Services (SSS) detention centres across the country, following arrests ordered by powerful men and women.
The procurement of the arrest, detention and torture of his partner-in-crime by Hushpuppi speaks to the abuse of power related to illicit transaction flows in our country. This is a problem that has permeated practically all critical sectors. For instance, ahead of the November Anambra gubernatorial election, politicians from the state are procuring court judgements from Abuja, Kano, Jigawa, Imo and several other states. The Judges outside Anambra State who are dishing out ‘extracurricular’ orders/judgements and courts with coordinate jurisdictions nullifying one another must know that they are abusing their power. But nobody should be surprised if some of them, in the spirit of the season, are also sending account details to beneficiaries of these orders/judgements. Such payments of course would be for their ‘tailors’!
Overall, the lurid details in the Abba Kyari casefile with the FBI result from the lack of accountability that defines public conduct in our country today. When you run a system where officials permit themselves the indulgence of acting above the law and there are no consequences for bad behaviour, it becomes easy for those who ordinarily should uphold the law to also become outlaws. That, sadly, is where we are in Nigeria today. So, whatever may be the eventual outcome of the Abba Kyari tragic saga, we must begin to enthrone a culture that demands accountability in the public space.