Sunday, August 8, 2021 4:00 pm
By Chidi Amuta
MAGODO GRA, LAGOS. 10 am. Saturday, 10th June, 2017. My ordinarily serene estate neighborhood suddenly erupted in unusual cacophony. Loud shouts of joy broke the Saturday morning peace on the streets close by. Collections of residents gathered to celebrate some unexpected but apparently cheery event. Unknown to this reporter, the police had just made an unusually remarkable arrest two streets away. I enquired from my domestic staff what was going on. It turned out that a team of crack detectives mostly in mufti had just arrested the notorious alleged kidnapper, Chukwudidumeme Onwuamadike alias Evans, right in my neighborhood. The relief radiated throughout Lagos and neighboring states that had for months been traumatized by the kidnapping exploits of Evans and his franchise network of vicious kidnappers. Mr. Evans did regale the media with accounts of his exploits soon after his arrest though he is still standing trial for the offences.
Unknown to me, Evans was a close neighbor, having recently bought a newly completed luxury duplex two streets away from mine. The buildings , which were going for some frightening nine figure price tags, had recently been snapped up by a new set of moneyed landlords. The story of Evans’ arrest quickly spread in the media. It turned out that the Inspector General of Police’s Intelligence Response Team (IRT) had meticulously scoped the estate for weeks in a bid to track down the suspected kidnapper. Sometimes, the undercover detectives had reportedly disguised as refuse collectors or power company technicians on duty around the suspected neighborhood. On this fateful Saturday morning, they zeroed in on Mr. Evans right in his bedroom and arrested him with minimum effort or resistance. In a dramatic exclamation resonant with his Catholic upbringing, the alleged villain exclaimed at the moment of his arrest: “It is finished. This is my end…!” Among the trove of exhibits the police recovered in his house were a jute sack containing several military grade assault rifles, countless rounds of ammunition and several cell phones and numerous sim cards. The police team was led by a Deputy Superintendent of Police, Mr. Phillips, under the overall command of then Assistant Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari as head of the IG’s Intelligence Response Team(IRT).
Mr. Abba Kyari’s name subsequently and gradually assumed mythic dimensions as the ‘super cop’ who would deploy the latest tracking technologies to unravel the communications and itinerary of tough criminal lords around the country. But in 2019, Mr. Kyari’s winning team, including some of the heroes of the Evans Lagos operation, ran into a storm in Taraba state. A special operation by the team was dispatched to arrest the notorious kidnaper Hamisu Wadume. On their way back to Jalingo with their quarry, they were attacked by soldiers who killed three of the police officers and freed the kidnap kingpin. The subsequent inter agency bickering and investigations led nowhere. It was a good operation that suddenly went bad. Nonetheless, this unfortunate incident did not quite dim Abba Kyari’s rising profile both in the police hierarchy and among the public.
At the height of the recent wave of IPOB related violence and criminality in the South East, President Buhari ordered a special security crackdown in the region. The new Inspector General of Police, Mr Usman Alkali Baba, drafted Mr. Abba Kyari to lead the police component of the operation. Some degree of progress was being recorded in the pacification of South Eastern Nigeria through a rough combination of indiscriminate arrests and a spate of extra judicial liquidations by the police and the military.
Amnesty International has just released a report indicating that at least 150 innocent persons may have been killed by security forces in the South East operation so far. Legal minded civil society activists and lawyers in the South East have raised uneasy eye brows about Mr. Abba Kyari’s methods and those of his counterparts in the military contingents deployed in the South East.
In spite of a trove of suspicious awards and accolades, Mr. Abba Kyari’s trajectory of heroism has been trailed by clouds of allegations of professional impropriety, controversy and sometimes outright infamy. While he held sway in the Lagos police command, Mr. Kyari was once in charge of the notorious SARS unit. A 2017 Amnesty International review returned a damning indictment of this officer on grounds of a not so glorious record of human rights infractions. The report pointed to arbitrary arrests, ill treatment of suspects and alleged corrupt entanglements with proceeds of crime in cases that came under his purview. Unconfirmed eye witness chatter from his native Maiduguri home base have spoken of massive multi million Naira real estate acquisitions traceable to Mr. Kyari. Even if these end up being typical Nigerian beer parlor guesses, Mr. Kyari’s choice of company and undue visibility may have earned him such inglorious reputation.
For instance, on October 28, 2020, a Lagos businessman, Afeez Mojeed, accused Kyari of defrauding him of the sum of N41m. He had petitioned the Judicial panel investigating the abuses of SARS to complain that in 2014, Kyari ordered his men to break into his home, accusing him of being an internet fraudster. During the operation, the complainant alleged that the combined sums of N280,000 and N50,000 were taken away from his wardrobe and car respectively. These monies were never returned even after he was charged to court by Kyari and his men who never showed up in court. The case was struck out for lack of prosecutorial interest or substantiated evidence.
Nonetheless, Mr. Kyari is widely acknowledged as a pan Nigerian officer with a cosmopolitan outlook. A man who is widely recognized as a very good detective also enjoyed celebrity limelight and worrisome media visibility. He loved publicity and routinely invited camera crews to make video recordings of him and his team hunting down kidnappers even if he found none in most of those escapades of foolish showmanship.
Deliberate showmanship and attention seeking in the media would ordinarily not be among the qualities of a good detective. Worse still, Mr. Kyari was severally on display in the company of sundry celebrities and wealthy men of doubtful enterprise at social occasions. For instance, he was a sight of public interest at the recent lavish funeral ceremony of the mother of one Mr. Obi Cubana in Oba at which there was an excessively vulgar display of sickening affluence and trivialization of cash. A cop who deliberately courts such wide media publicity and who is comfortable in the company of businessmen of unclear wealth and undefined specialization undermines his basic credibility as a law enforcement agent.
Correspondingly, businessmen with murky lines of trade and fuzzy income streams who desperately court the friendship of prominent police chiefs may have something to hide or paths to cover. The most elementary attribute of good detectives is their love for the shadows, almost like professional spies. Mr. Abba Kyari frequently failed this test as has been revealed in the FBI documents on his murky association with Mr. Abbas Rammon, alias Hushpuppi, the opulent former Dubai based internet fraudster now on trial in California.
The FBI’s charges against Mr. Kyari in the Hushpuppi case range from the bizarre to the sublime and outrageously laughable. In one of the charges, Mr. Kyari is said to have briefly converted his detective’s office into a fashion fitting and purchasing agency for the procurement of traditional attires for Mr. Abbas. Mr. Kyari served as the receiving clerk for payments to the dress maker in respect of which he generously supplied his account details for all manner of payments. The pledge of mutual allegiance between Kyari and Hushpuppi reads more like an adolescents’ playground script. For Mr. Kyari’s faithfulness in doing his criminal biddings, Hushpuppi undertakes to be Abba Kyari’s ‘boy’ forever! In a Facebook reaction to the FBI order of his arrest, Mr. Kyari admitted playing the ignominious role of garment procurement agent for Hushpuppi and saw nothing unethical or criminal about it. Neither did he regret such close association with a widely known internet fraudster.
In another instance, he was charged with indirectly receiving orders or tips about criminals from Hushpuppi. On the directives of Hushpuppi, Mr. Kyari is alleged to have arrested a certain Vincent Chibuzor who was spuriously accused by Hushpuppi of threatening the life of his family back in Nigeria. It turned out that the fingered man-Vincent Chibuzor- was an ally of Mr. Abbas (Hushpuppi) in an internet scam operation in which the victim was a Qatar based businessman. Mr. Kyari had Vincent Chibuzor arrested and detained and sent the photos to Abbas as proof of mission accomplished. This ended up as a paid service for which Abbas requested for Kyari’s bank accounts for wire transfer payments which the FBI tracked and documented. It is further alleged that a total of N8 million was transferred to Abba Kyari by Hushpuppi for this single assignment.
The FBI court documents further indicated that Mr. Kyari ran protection rings for ‘big men’ in society while restricting the freedom of their less privileged victims and rivals. His reputation as an effective cop and detective earned him a popularity that attracted more high profile ‘clients’. This revelation may eventually cast doubts on some of the successes for which Kyari was celebrated and rewarded.
While the specific details of the full FBI indictment of Mr. Kyari remain classified, the Americans seem determined in their bid to have Mr. Kyari extradited to the US for prosecution. As is typical with the FBI, the full details of Kyari’s criminal involvements with Hushpuppi will only be revealed when he is extradited and arraigned. His initial bluster has yielded place to administrative procedures by an embarrassed Nigerian police establishment.
At first the Inspector General of Police ordered an internal investigation of the charge while granting audience to visiting FBI agents. Thereafter the IGP and the Police Service Commission have both instructed the suspension of Mr. Kyari who is now facing the internal police investigation panel. These are sensible due process measures on the part of Nigeria’s police authorities.
In quick succession also, the Inspector General of Police has replaced the embattled Mr. Kyari with Mr. Tunji Disu, a Deputy Commissioner of Police in the Lagos Police Command as the new commander of the Intelligence Response Team. The mere fact of being fingered in the FBI inspired investigations is bad enough news for a cop who had shown considerable career promise. In all likelihood, Mr. Kyari is unlikely to regain his former position let alone enjoy the visibility and social media hype that brought him both past success and present perdition. He might as well say good bye to the loud ovations of Nigeria’s evanescent celebrity circus.
The matter of Mr. Kyari’s possible extradition to the US to answer the charges against him is different matter entirely. It is not likely to be a very straightforward process. In spite of a subsisting extradition agreement between Nigeria and the US, there are complicated issues of judicial sovereignty and independence that must be addressed. Complicated legal processes in Nigerian courts must be overcome in order to clear the way for a possible extradition of Mr. Kyari. It is also quite possible that legal battles could become poisoned by Nigeria’s familiar noisy politics of religion and ethnocentrism guided by silly compass reading of straightforward matters. I hear that Miyetti Allah, the noisy cattle breeders association has already accused the US FBI of acting on behalf of Southern political interests! There could be more from where that came!
Even without such predictable political posturing, I do not see Mr. Kyari’s extradition happening so quickly or easily. There is a precedent in the endless extradition procedures of late Kasumu Buruji of Ogun state. He was indicted by a US court and related drug enforcement agencies for narcotics related infractions. He launched a series of protracted legal procedures in Nigeria that stalemated the extradition process. He even went ahead to contest elections and became a senator. In the last general elections, Mr. Kasumu Buruji ran for the governorship of Ogun state and lost. He could not be extradited till he died in 2020.
In the Abba Kyari case, the things that can happen quickly have already taken place. The Inspector General of Police has already initiated an internal investigation while Mr. Kyari has been suspended from service. The Police Service Commission has similarly suspended Mr. Kyari from service. The IG can still take further steps if the internal investigations return a verdict of guilty on the officer.
While the public awaits the outcome of the police investigations into the Abba Kyari matter, we might as well bid Mr. Abba Kyari farewell from the Nigeria police as he regains the freedom to join the ranks of his favorite businessmen friends and associates as an ex-cop. However, his plight throws into bold relief so many issues in the relationship between police officers and the cult of money and celebrity. It even goes to the root of a corruption riddled police culture in Nigeria.
There is a whole bag full of anecdotes on the troublesome relationship between police bosses and criminal gang leaders and people with murky money around the world. It is often said that if you are looking for the address of organized crime syndicates in New York, Mexico City or Sicily, you can save time by going straight to the office of the police chief. Include Lagos and Johannesburg to the mix of bad places and you are near home.
The rationale is simple and ancient. The first quality of any good police boss is his familiarity with the whereabouts of all prominent criminals in his precinct. When politicians and the public get too noisy about rising crime figures, the exceptional police boss is the one who knows exactly where to go and fetch some inconsequential bad guys for display before television cameras. Accolades and promotions follow for the ‘super cop’. Thereafter, the most prized criminal kingpins may leave town for a while or get missing as a contingent occupational hazard.
No one can blame a police boss for getting to know major criminals. That is their constituency. But knowledge is different from consciously enrolling into the cult of criminals or getting on their pay roll or running their errands. The ability to walk the treacherous tightrope between familiarity with the dark underground world of bad guys and enrolling into their brotherhood is what distinguishes the real super cop from a desperate hustler. From the FBI files, there is reason to conclude that Mr. Abba Kyari may have scammed the Nigerian police establishment and the general public into abetting his enrolment into the shady cult of mammon.
Mr. Abba Kyari’s journey into the shadows of tragic failure is not quite a solo flight. He is cascading down with the already tattered reputation of the Nigeria police and the increasing sad perception of the nation itself. Internationally, our police force has variously been rated at the bottom of the ladder of police forces in the world. At home, the public distrusts the police and readily associates the force with sordid corruption and epic incompetence. Yet, the Nigeria Police has produced some brilliant and reasonably honest and professional officers in the past and even now. Without the FBI and Hushpuppi fallout, it was reasonable to expect that Mr. Abba Kyari could have risen steadily to the rank of even Inspector General or close to it. This incident has now dimmed his personal aspiration while further damning the tattered reputation of the Nigeria police force.
An FBI indictment of a top Nigerian cop is a major public relations disaster for Nigeria. His association with an internet fraudster of international repute even casts doubts on his reputation as a detective with basic common sense. In a country that has earned wide international notoriety for all manner of internet scams, the Hushpuppi?Kyari debacle is particularly consequential. This makes the Abba Kyari case a major political test for the Buhari administration. For the police as an institution, the challenge is straightforward: rigorous internal disciplinary processes which have already been activated. But for the Buhari administration, the case is a symbolic test of the level of commitment of the the president to it’s a rhetorical anti-corruption drive. The indiscretion of this one toxic cop could further poison the chalice in Mr. Buhari’s much tainted legacy banquet.
*Dr. Chidi Amuta, academic, writer, journalist and public relations expert and Chairman, Wilson & Weizmann Associates (Nigeria) wrote this piece for Thisday. He is the author of Prince of the Niger: The Babangida Years. E-mail: [email protected]