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Abba Kyari and festival of a thousand knives 

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Kyari

Martins Oloja’s “Inside Stuff” column in The Guardian of Sunday, August 1, 2021, “Weep Not For Abba Kyari,” exhorts us not to brood over the present travails of Abba Kyari. The poster boy of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, Kyari was recently named as a wanted man by the United States Federal Bureau of Intelligence, FBI, as an accomplice in massive frauds committed by Ramon Abbas, also known as Hushpuppi, and some other international affiliates. Kyari, had, in the last few years, developed the reputation of a crack, no-nonsense, professional police officer who had busted several hitherto knotty criminal cases across the country. From puncturing kidnap rings, to accosting killer gangs, to decimating robbery networks, and thenceforth to emasculating fraudsters of all shapes and colours, Kyari has built a myth around himself, as the Sherrif to-be-dreaded, in the battle against sundry ills and criminalities across the country. 

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His recently publicised entanglement, by the FBI, with one of Nigeria’s most flashy Internet fraudsters, Abbas Ramon, aka Hushpuppy, however, has whipped out the red flag against Kyari’s hitherto mythical name, perception and reputation. But Oloja enjoins us to appreciate Kyari-gate within the context of a police force as an institution, whose leadership and personnel, had, from times past, bedded with the same criminals they were recruited to track. Kyari, he opines, is a product of a system, which has failed to re-engineer, reform and reinvent itself over several decades. Hushpuppi, by the way, has already earned for himself, the reputation of being one of the most notorious globally, in his kind of trade.

Abba Kyari is arguably Nigeria’s most decorated police officer of all time. A former Commander of a squadron of the mobile police force in Lagos State, he also served as Commander of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, which was disbanded by the federal government for its notoriety arising from the lawlessness of the unit, particularly its extrajudicial actions. This was before he became leader of the elite Intelligence Response Team, IRT, of the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Kyari’s medals, awards, honours and decorations will easily fill a museum. For the three years spanning 2011, 2012 and 2013, he was serial recipient of the commendation medal for courage bestowed by various IGPs. Side by side with this, Kyari within the same three years, received the Lagos State Governor’s Award for Gallantry, Leadership and Service Excellence. 

In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari who has yet to host a Nigeria National Awards Ceremony since the inception of his administration over six years ago, decorated Kyari with the presidential medal for courage. The House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, also took its turn in June 2020, to honour Abba Kyari for “hard work and outstanding performance over the years, in the NPF.” Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila observed that the honour was bestowed on Kyari, to demonstrate that despite the generally poor public perception about the police, “there are very good officers in the force.” Beyond Nigeria, Kyari is a Member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, IACP. He has also been recognised as “Best Anti-Crime Police Officer in West Africa” and for “Outstanding Gallantry in Africa” by Security Watch Africa, respectively. With this glittering resume, Kyari could only be destined for the very pinnacle of a security organisation, in search of authentic heroes. 

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In recent weeks, Kyari has been very prominent in the social media. In one instance, he was photographed attending a party in honour of Musiliu Ayinde Akinsanya better known as MC Oluomo, Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW and helping out with the cutting of the commemorative cake. More recently, Kyari was spotted in Oba, Anambra State, attending funeral of the mother of Obinna Iyiegbu, known in social circles as “Obi Cubana,” which has been frequently slammed for its obscene display of grandeur and affluence, in a country presently denominated by lack, hunger and despair. More tellingly, Kyari at the event, was dressed in the theme attire for the ceremony, which underscored his close affinity with the celebrant-in-chief of the event.

Abba Kyari’s siblings have also not helped his cause either. They have been prominent on the social media in recent times, waving sleek cars parked in exquisite premises in the eyes of the media. Usman, one of Kyari’s younger brothers, has been particularly prominent in this regard. No mention has been made about his occupation and source of income these austere times. Usman conjures a “big boy” image in the eyes of the public, a fact, which has thrown up conjectures about whether he is warehousing these assets in trust for his elder brother, the famous Abba Kyari. Photographs of Kyari and two of his brothers wearing the same apparels during the recent Eid-el-Kabir festival, have also emblazoned the social media.

Not a few discerning minds began to question his social visibility, especially against the backdrop of the ultra-sensitivity of his official brief. This ordinarily, should, professionally, make him operate with circumspection, as covertly, anonymously and as under-the-radar, as possible. There were indeed those who situated his identification with these motley characters, possibly as part of his investigative tactics, where he was supposed to make his prospective targets as comfortable as possible, by his open identification with them. Celebrated undercover agents in parts of the world, in select instances have been known to co-habit with the subjects of their inquests, even for years without being found out.

Abba Kyari’s fairytale curriculum vitae has, however, been called to question, by recent revelations by Abbas Ramon who himself has been in the net of the FBI, for a while now. Hushpuppi has been described as “one of the world’s most high profile money launderers.” He lived like an Arabian prince in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, from where he was arrested by the FBI, June 2020. His private collection of automobiles, his grandiose personal villa, his private helicopter are the kind of assets which should be associated with frontrunners of the Forbes magazine listing of the rich and famous. Hushpuppy, according to court documents filed in California, has cost unsuspecting victims over $20 million, over time. 

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In a plot to fleece an entrepreneur who intended to build a new children’s school in Qatar, Hushpuppy attempted to dispossess the businessman of over one million United States dollars. An accomplice in the transnational thievery, Kelly Chibuzo Vincent, however, felt undermined by the crumbs Hushpuppy paid out to him which fell short of his expectations as one of the originators of the deal. Chibuzo threatened to spill the beans before the Qatari who was being robbed. Hushpuppi quickly reached out to Abba Kyari and requested him to arrest and incarcerate Chibuzo, a potential clog in the juicy deal. 

Kyari reportedly did Hushpuppy’s bidding and indeed sent photographs of Chibuzo behind bars, to the former. Hushpuppy has alleged that he paid Kyari over $20,000, which translated to N8million as at that time, to effect the detention of his erstwhile partner. FBI investigations have uncovered conversation threads between Hushpuppy and Kyari, with photographic accompaniments, to validate their inquest. Kyari had also previously availed himself of lavish Dubai-style hospitality on the visit to the city as guest of Hushpuppi. The FBI has since declared Kyari a wanted man for abuse of authority in support of a global fraud ring. 

Abba Kyari’s hasty response to the charges against him by the FBI was not well reasoned. He actually spoke in a panic. He said he only received the sum of N300,000 from Hushpuppy, to help him grow his wardrobe. Kyari said the international fraudster had always admired his fashion sense and desired replicas of his attires. Kyari was at liberty to keep mum after the allegations or come up with a more logical defence befitting of an officer of his experience and accomplishments. Trust the social media in Nigeria to make jokes of the most serious of issues, photoshopped images and cartoons of Kyari as a tailor working hard at his sewing machine, have since popped up. These have not embellished the image of a police force in dire need of holistic renaissance.

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Determined to be seen as complying with the demands of global best practices, the IGP Usman Alkali Baba promptly recommended Kyari’s suspension to the Police Service Commission, PSC, an administrative procedure, which was immediately ratified. The order takes effect from July 31, 2021. This is to allow for non-interference with the intra-service investigation being carried out by the police force. A four-man panel head by Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG, in-charge of Force Criminal Investigation Department, FCID, Joseph Egbunike, was constituted by the IGP, to investigate the FBI’s allegations against Kyari. And as the evergreen lyrics of the inimitable activist-musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti says, in one of his songs,  “soldier go, soldier come.” A replacement has been named for Kyari in Tunji Disu, also a Deputy Commissioner of Police. Disu most recent assignment was at the Department of Operations in the police headquarters, Abuja. He had also served as a former Commander of the Rapid Response Squad, RRS, in Lagos State.

Much as Kyari has very visibly demonstrated zeal, commitment and competence in the discharge of his obligations, by the way, I have always wondered if he is the only police officer capable of the manner of exploits he has undertaken so far. Shouldn’t a police force with a personnel strength of over 300,000, have other officers who are capable of distinguishing themselves in criminal investigation and crime mitigation? Wouldn’t the police be better served if it trains or discovers officers with similar professional inclinations in our collective interest? The US Navy SEALs didn’t have to deploy the same team, which decapitated Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout in 2011, to Sokoto State here October 2020 where the abductors of the American citizen, Philipe Nathan Walton, from Niger Republic, kept their victim. That speaks to the imperative of capacity building across board.

While all of these are going on, the media has been suffused with a lot of hitherto unheard allegations and complaints against Abba Kyari. It reminds of that profound Yoruba adage which tells us it is a festival of glittering knives and gleaming machetes, the day an elephant falls to the ground. Pre-independence Nigerian poet Adeboye Babalola, serenades the creature in his iconic translation titled “Salute To The Elephant.” He acknowledges that it both humongous frame and luminous in size, to underscore its preeminence in the comity of creatures. From the lady who claimed on cyberspace that Kyari arrested her, failed to charge her for any offence, but rather kept her for himself, to the man in Maiduguri who alleged that Kyari offered him a compensation of N70 million to have his house knocked down to accommodate a driveway to Kyari’s ongoing residential development, so much stuff is being poured out about Kyari that we never knew about. 

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Kyari’s name has also been mentioned at the Lagos State Judicial Panel on the #EndSARS riots of 2020. Afeez Mojeed a businessman has alluded to how officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, on Kyari’s watch, broke into his house in 2014 and manhandled his pregnant wife in the process. Mojeed said he was whisked away to the SARS detention facility and brought face-to-face with a certain Edward Obinna who the SARS operatives alleged Mojeed had duped of N97 million. Despite all the cash and valuables taken from Mojeed’s home during the raid, he was forced in the presence of Kyari to wire the sum of N41 million to Obinna’s account. Mojeed alluded several times, to the manner of thuggish lawlessness the SARS officials unleashed on him.
 
I’m not about to join the mob baying for Kyari’s blood, neither am I going to join any form of media trial of my compatriot. In the coming days, weeks and months, we can expect many more allegations and recriminations against Nigeria’s once venerated super-cop. Public breeze will continue to blow at the backside of the hen. This has remained standard practice when issues involving public officers get to the market square of public discourse.

There are aspects of Kyari’s life and comportment, which leave more to be desired. You should not, and you cannot be dancing so animatedly to the performance of the Yoruba fuji music crooner, Sule Atawewe, at a downtown gig in Lagos, the way Kyari was in a three-minute video clip, which is trending on the social media. Not with the kind of security and intelligence agency you are serving in, not with your rank and not with your special brief in that service. Your job demands that you are ever sober, discreet and alert, sometimes even anonymous. The last time I checked, Kyari had not been deployed as commander of the police band and public service rules consider such displays as his “Sule Atawewe” outing as gross misconduct, with prescribed punishments and sanctions. 

Kyari was over-immersed by public and institutional recognitions, adulations and commendations he received over the years for courage and bravery, that it overwhelmed his sense of reasoning. He assumed the media was not doing enough to project him and therefore imposed on himself, the narcissistic responsibility of blowing his own trumpet such that even the deaf would hear. He was unduly active in the media, ever sharing photographs of his exploits and images of his office, which walls droop with shields, medals and mementos. He forgot the Igbo wise saying popularised by Africa’s legendary storyteller and writer, Chinua Achebe that those who had their nuts cracked for them by a benevolent spirit, must learn to be humble.

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Kyari indeed has been favoured in the police force, earning special promotions for his good work, which should be humbling in itself. Unfortunately, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration was culpable in the introduction of this trend, to profit specific officers above others. The pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for instance, was catapulted from his rank as DCP to Assistant Inspector General, AIG, under Obasanjo, to accord him leverage to function properly on his beat. This action was to bring the said officer into collision with the police high command, under IGP Mike Okiro. Okiro refused to recognise the rank when he attended the graduation ceremony of participants at one of the courses of National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, Kuru, Plateau State, at which event the said AIG also graduated.

A serving DIG, similarly savoured the same manner of meteoric elevations under President Goodluck Jonathan, where his contemporaries are most probably DCPs today. These are the manner of aberrations, which have disincentivised several senior officers and engendered low motivation, in the force. Kyari by his present rank, had already overstepped his course mates in the police academy by as much as two ranks. His contemporaries are still Chief Superintendents of Police, CSP, while he is further up on the rungs of the police hierarchy.

In a polity which has become accustomed to blatant nepotism and demagoguery, IGP Alkali Baba, has been brave to set up an inquiry into Kyari-gate. Kyari, by the way, is from the North East of Nigeria, like his boss. While Kyari is from Borno, Baba is from Yobe. The IGP has not acted deaf to reason, the way the President did concerning the very sensitive issue of the complicity of one of his ministers, Isa Ali Pantami, with tangible religious irredentism and collaboration with terrorist groups. The minimum Nigerians expected, was for the President to ask Pantami to step aside, while the matter was reviewed. Secondly, the choice of the chairman of the investigation panel from the South East, on paper creates the impression that Baba intends this to be as dispassionate as possible. Baba has also moved to keep Kyari out of the system for as long as the assignment of the inquest lasts. Literally, these look like good moves from an IGP who has been described as independent-minded.

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While Nigerians in particular and the world at large, anticipate the findings of the probe panel on Abba Kyari, vis-a-vis his indictment by the FBI, the Nigeria Police Force has a unique opportunity to be introspective and to attempt a holistic makeover of itself. How can the force be reformed, reorientated and refocused to fulfil its primary, statutory responsibility to protect lives and property? Is the remuneration of members of the profession commensurate with contemporary market trends? Can we have a police force whose officers and personnel can look the other way even when they are being teased with sundry gratification? Can the accommodation infrastructure of the Service be improved upon, away from the decrepit eyesores regularly beamed in our faces during special reports by television stations? Is the police provided with adequate working tools: arms, ammunition, bullet shields, even automobiles to do its job? I have heard on good authority elsewhere, that essentials as simple as tear gas are oftentimes unavailable. 

Are the various schools and training facilities of the police in functional state? Are policemen regularly trained and retrained to keep them up to speed with contemporary policing trends? What is the agenda of the police for the discovery of personnel with special skills and aptitude who can be the next Abba Kyari or Tunji Disu? Can the Force create a level playing field for people to flourish, such that desk-bound personnel and those in the hinterlands also get opportunities to prove their mettle? Is the Nigeria Police worth dying for? What manner of emoluments are due the families of police personnel who die in the line of duty? Do their families always have to go through the furnace of bottlenecks and bureaucratese while processing such entitlements? Can Nigerian policemen proudly and confidently don their official gears and not be victims of mob action because of perception and misgivings by the public? IGP Baba needs to add answers to these posers to his “to do” list in his plan of action for the Nigeria Police Force and diligently review the issues, every day.

•Olusunle, PhD, is a Member of the Association of Communication Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria, ACSPN.

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