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Abba Kyari and the demands of public office

By Editorial board
18 August 2021   |   3:08 am
Simultaneous investigation going on in the United States and Nigeria over alleged complicity between Internet fraudster, Ramon Olorunwa Abbass, popularly known as Hushpuppi

Simultaneous investigation going on in the United States and Nigeria over alleged complicity between Internet fraudster, Ramon Olorunwa Abbass, popularly known as Hushpuppi and Deputy Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari has naturally raised public debate over the propriety of Nigeria’s law enforcement system. Indeed, many people, in their excitement tend to forget that the whole scenario is at the stage of investigation and it would therefore be hasty to return a verdict of guilty on the police officer.

It is important therefore to emphasise that Kyari in particular should not be seen as a criminal accomplice until a court of justice with proper jurisdiction has pronounced him as such. Nevertheless, the allegations already in the public domain on the subject raise salient concerns about the conduct of public service.

For so long in Nigeria, many public officers have failed to realise that holding public office requires an extra tact beyond what is stipulated in the schedule of duties. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost. The case of Kyari and his alleged entanglement with Hushpuppi is a relevant case in point.

Hushpuppi and his gang have been pulled in by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and is standing trial for money laundering offences to which he has actually pleaded guilty. Before then, Hushpuppi was an Instagram celebrity who enjoyed flaunting his exotic acquisitions of luxury items and wears. Not a few wondered where his money was coming from. If he were Bill Gates, the world would look in the direction of computers and software and be satisfied. If he were Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, they would have looked in the direction of cement and some other fast-moving consumable items for which the entrepreneur was known. But he was an upstart who spent dollars as if it was going into extinction. The puzzle was unravelled when Hushpuppi was arrested in the U.S. painstakingly assembled intelligence operation.

However, the bombshell that followed was not so much about Hushpuppi but some prominent names that popped up in the course of prosecution. Nigeria’s celebrated “super cop” and former Head of Intelligence Response Team of the Inspector-General of Police, Abba Kyari was fingered. Kyari was implicated as a party to an international scheme to defraud a Qatari businessman. His alleged role was to detain another party to the fraud, Chibuzor Kelly Vincent with whom Hushpuppi had a disagreement over sharing of the proceeds of the scam, worth $1.1 million. Without prejudice, to the veracity or otherwise of this ongoing case certain tentative inferences may be assumed as Kyari awaits prosecution being demanded by the FBI, which has already secured an order of a court in America for his arrest. It is embarrassing that in the 69-page report of the FBI, Kyari’s name appeared 221 times not for busting a crime but allegedly to aid the commission of the crime. It is another big dent in the image of Kyari, the police and Nigeria as an entity.

Undoubtedly, there are grave lessons in the episode that Nigerian public officials and figures need to imbibe. There have been hush talks on the public appearance of Kyari in parties and shindigs gyrating to pulsating rhythms and posting same on the social media. Recently, a celebrity buried his mother with an opulent display and abuse of various currencies. Nigeria’s ‘super cop’ was there regaling in the splendour of the moment.

It might be argued that an officer deserves his moments of enjoyment away from work but for a crime buster, those moments must be carefully chosen. Time was in Nigeria that you would not find judges in open parties and other unofficial festivities. They knew how delicate their work was and how a little misstep may compromise their revered positions as arbiters in the temple of justice and court of public opinion. Not anymore. These days, public officers cavort with all sorts of people and thereby increase the chances of being exposed to corrupting influences; or being perceived as such.

One of the big lessons to be learnt from the travails of Kyari is for public officials to watch the company they keep. Like Caesar’s wife, they must be above board and be seen to be so. A strict boundary must be drawn to keep a safe distance from corrupting influences. Those influences creep in surreptitiously and probably unsolicited.

It is also important for the authorities to investigate this matter diligently with the aim of getting to the root of the matter and determining the culpability or otherwise of the officer, or any other public officer that may be involved. If he is proven guiltless it will be a booster to the rising profile of the officer. If otherwise, he should be prepared to face the full wrath of the law to serve as deterrence not only to other police officers but to other public officers in adhering to the code of conduct for public officers. All authorities in Nigeria and the United States must observe due process and respect all international conventions on fair investigation and trial in this matter.

The travails of Kyari are a manifestation of institutional failure that has almost taken over in all sectors of the polity. Nigeria prematurely celebrates public officers for merely doing what they are paid to do. We are witnesses to many award-winning chief executives whose tenures end in revelations of malfeasance. For public officials and indeed, all Nigerians, it is time to watch the company they keep. Public office demands extra caution and tact.