Sunday, August 1, 2021 10:00 am
By Festus Adedayo
In the Preface to my book entitled Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of an Apala Legend, (2020) I equated stardom and zenith of social ladder with the purport of a Yoruba wise-saying which says, epo ni mo ru, oniyangi, ma ba t’emi je. This literally translates to mean, anyone who shoulders a heavy gallon of palm oil should avoid the destructive tendency of the stone-laced ground he walks upon. I deployed the above to explain the premature death of Omowura, one of Yoruba’s most evocative traditional African musicians, who was killed 41 years ago, at the apogee of his life attainment, in a barroom squabble in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Omowura’s fall, I said, was due to “his inability to positively evaluate the porcelain-like delicate but huge image he carried on his shoulders” because, if he did, “he most probably would have walked less in the neighbourhood of the oniyangi, which eventually ensured his (fatal) stumbling.”
Mortal fall of high-caliber persons, as above, was rekindled last week when an American Central District of California Court fingered, among four others, a highly celebrated Nigerian Sheriff, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari, in a fraud ring. Antihero of the grisly drama was a man who has now pleaded guilty to a $1.1million money laundering fraud, Ramon Abass, alias Huspuppi. After the California judge unsealed the docket which revealed details of Kyari’s alleged involvement in the mess, tongues have wagged endlessly on how this celebrated cop could unconscionably get himself involved in the mess. Among other revelations was Kyari’s alleged instruction to Abass to detain a fellow felon of Huspuppi’s so as to allow the latter perfect a fraud binge. Kyari’s reactions to this allegation are even messier, senseless and at best, tepid. They reveal that, in their thirst for heroes and the peremptory and rigour-less manner such heroism is arrived at, Nigerians may have backed the wrong horse in Kyari. On the part of the top cop, it may also have revealed that tactlessness is the beast that kills the dream of many a high-flying celebrity.
The more Kyari denies involvement in this cesspit, the more his hitherto cocaine-white police uniform is soiled with smelly excrement. To Kyari, the FBI may have fished out alien crocs from a river far unknown to him in the very sophisticated manner it conducted the forensic sourcing for evidence it hoists against him. So when Kyari spurted out the bunkum of some clothes he claimed Huspuppi asked him to procure on his behalf as the only magnet that glues them together, he most probably underrated the investigative prowess of the American security. Conceding to him that this claim wasn’t an afterthought, how naïve could Kyari have been not to know that his acceptance of this exchange spells out a self-indictment which even the Police Act labels as soliciting. How does he rationalize the Dubai tryst where he and the fraud felon allegedly had a pecuniary romance?
Kyari seized the klieg as a responsible, responsive and hardworking police officer. He swam ashore in a murky and brackish Nigerian police river that is notorious for its unpleasant nauseating smell. Nigerians, assailed by a dearth of heroes, singled Kyari out as example of the pitfalls in generalizing the police force as a nest littered with bad elements. The first shock came with the police officer’s self profile as one obsessed with the fripperies of life. His social media pages are said to be littered with material acquisitions which projected him as entangled with sugary icings of life. The final nail rammed into the coffin of his profiling was his appearance at the obscene showcase of apparently unearned wealth of the gangs present at Obi Cubana’s mother’s burial in Oba, Anambra State a few weeks ago. Shell shocked, Nigerians began to realize that Kyari was most probably a creation of their lack of thoroughness in estimation of heroes.
At a more universal level, Kyari’s latest link with criminal elements may be a further confirmation that every man has a prize and is capable of falling face flat in the face of their prized medal. Kyari, the tough cop, had fallen before his own prize. It reminds me of James Hadley Chase’s Have This One On Me, one of the British-born author’s Mark Girland series. This novel is the story of Girland, known to be a worthless, pleasure-loving secret agent whose major and identifiable distinct weakness was the pleasure of money and women. If we dig deeper into his off-the-klieg life, we may shudder to realize that our hero may jolly well be an epicurean, another Girland, who hid behind the protective veneer provided by the police force and whose fall was a matter of when. Their oniyangi is always the trio of alcohol, women and money. Which was Kyari’s?
Many high net-worth individuals, oblivious of or mindless of the purport of the destructive powers of the oniyangi, have fallen fatally because they underrated its destructive ability. In 1974, three highly prized Yoruba, at the crest of their life engagements too, fell from fame to infamy, simply because they disdained the wisdom hidden in this nugget. In a reversed order of their fame, they fell. They were: Mr. Shitta-Bey, Legal Adviser in the employ of the Federal Government, two Generals in the Nigerian Army, Brigadier Sotomi, a.k.a. Showboy and the biggest fish, Nigeria’s civil war hero, Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle. Adekunle, celebrated officer of the Third Marine Commandos, who went by the sobriquet, the Black Scorpion for his gallantry in fighting the Biafran war, was dreaded and revered for his gallantry at the war front.
These three had a mutual Oniyangi in a Lagos socialite and celebrity, 33-year old Iyabo Olorunkoya. Arrested on October 15, 1973 in the United Kingdom for importing 78 kilogrammes of marijuana, Olorunkoya, upon being questioned by the Metropolitan Police, immediately began to sing like a canary. She revealed that the three were her accomplices in the drug business. While she alleged that Adekunle and Sokoya had personally driven her to the airport with the contraband on her way out of Nigeria, salacious details of her relationship with the two were soon to festoon newspaper’s front pages. Her dalliance with Shitta-Bey was discovered by investigators in a letter he sent to her and which was found in her custody at the time of her arrest that simply read, “send details as soon as you arrive in London.’’
During this time in the life of Nigeria, the middle name of the government ran by General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s Head of State, was corruption. Though he was generally viewed as incorrupt due to his austere lifestyle, like President Muhammadu Buhari, he was swamped all over by perceptibly corrupt people. His governors owned properties and assets that were far higher than their incomes. Indeed, it was estimated that, on the average, the governors owned commercial properties and farming estates of at least eight houses each, an amount that averaged between N49,000 to N120,000 by 1975 when Murtala Mohammed took over. To stave off this public perception, Gowon promulgated the Investigation of Assets Decree No. 37 of 1968, as well as frenetically engaging in the process of arresting the Toads of War, a la Eddie Iroh, that is, the post-war inexplicable wealth of Nigerian soldiers, mostly accumulated during the three-year civil war. In achieving this, in 1973, Gowon appointed Alhaji Kam Salem to head the “X-Squad,” a fraud investigation arm of the police which unearthed many scandals within the force.
Same July of this same 1974, buffeted on all fronts by the press, Gowon had to harangue his fellow middle-belter, Federal Communications Commissioner, Joseph Tarka, to resign from his position after Godwin Daboh, allegedly in concert with Paul Unongo, accused Tarka of mind-blowing corruption. Tarka’s resignation was child’s play placed side by side his snide comments which indicated far more humongous corruption in the Gowon government. Tarka had said in a Daily Times newspaper interview, which revealed that he resigned under pressure, that “If I resign, it will set off a chain of reactions of various events, the end of which nobody could foretell.” This was followed by an affidavit sworn to on August 31, 1974 at the Jos High Court by then one Mr. Aper Aku who was a known protégé of Tarka. The affidavit contained accusations against Benue-Plateau Governor, Police Commissioner Joseph Gomwalk, of corruption. Gowon, in a state visit to China, publicly exonerated Gomwalk but public uproar against this police big gun seemed to have just begun afresh. He was eventually later executed by firing squad for his involvement in the 1976 Lt. Col Buka Suka Dimka coup against Murtala Mohammed.
Gowon retired both Brigadiers Adekunle and Sotomi but Shitta-Bey, who was dismissed by the Public Service Commission, headed for the court. Shitta-Bey won at the High Court, lost on appeal but the Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered by Justice Chukwuwenuike Idigbe, in Shitta-Bey v Federal Public Service Commission (1981) 1 S.C 40, found discrepancies in his sack and returned him to the service.
So many other Oniyangi episodes have been recorded in recent history. While President Bill Clinton was almost removed from office by his own Oniyangi, White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, then Bendel State of Nigeria’s Deputy Superintendent of Police, Ize Iyamu, was consumed by a romance with robbery kingpins, Monday Osunbor and Lawrence Anini, the latter having confessed that Iyamu, who was later executed by firing squad, traded the police armoury with them in their robbery operations. Jennifer Maduike, the society lady of the early-1990s also acted as the Olorunkoya of Police Commissioner Fidelis Oyakhilome. At the cusp of a stellar career as the NDLEA chairman, Maduike alleged an affair with Oyakhilome, which took his job.
Without prejudice to how the Kyari matter goes, one fundamental lesson to be learnt from it is that the DCP courted this huge public ignominy due to his inability to realize the ancient sense in the requirement for social comportment by persons who occupy his kind of office. Judges, magistrates, investigators and persons whose opinions matter in society are expected to, aside their qualifications and experience, weaponize the act of taciturnity in their personal armoury, as well as wear an asocial garb. What do I mean by this? This set of people should be seen seldom, eschew every tissue of greed for material acquisition and avoid being social butterflies at owambe occasions. These are dragnets that drag achievers to the gallows. They should also avoid the company of wayward characters. Those among them who are epicureans will sooner than later enter the dragnet because, in social and political history, these elements are always their graveyards. Kyari is perhaps learning this too late.
Good enough that the police top hierarchy is said to be investigating this matter, preparatory to extraditing Kyari to America to answer the charges preferred against him. The news said to have been attributed to an online news medium that Kyari reportedly threatened exploring the Samson option of collapsing the whole police house if he was extradited had better not be true. If it is, it will be bringing back afresh memories of Tarka’s statement cited earlier in the corruption allegation against him. So who said history is dead?
More importantly, the world awaits the reaction of the Nigerian government, headed by Buhari, Kyari’s cousin, whose maternal tribe is Kanuri, Borno state, to this US indictment of the top cop. General Gowon had similarly tried to stave off the splurge of corruption indictments splattered on his Middle Belt kin while he was Head of State. Head or tail, Abba Kyari, the redoubtable and affable police officer, can never be the same cop again.
* Dr Festus Adedayo, journalist, lawyer, biographer and public affairs analyst, writes from Ibadan