Around this time last year, hundreds of Nigerian lawmakers converged at the House of Representatives chamber in Abuja to honour Nigerian top police officer Abba Kyari for “exemplary performance”.
“This is not an award from the House alone but an award from the entire people of Nigeria” said Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila to the deputy commissioner of police – one of Nigeria’s most decorated police officer.
The awards are what lie only on one side of the Kyari coin, with a litany of controversies on the other side. The super cop, as he is popularly called, is back in the spotlight after a grand jury in the US indicted him in the case of money laundering, which Hushpuppi had pleaded guilty to.
Hushpuppi, the notorious ‘Billionaire Gucci Master’, was quoted by US court officials as saying that he bribed the 46-year-old officer to arrest and imprison a rival following their dispute over a $1.1m scam. The police officer denies any wrongdoing, but the revelation did not come as a surprise to many Nigerians.
For some, he is celebrated because of the level of impunity within the police.
“Crime is an institutional thing in the Nigeria police, and senior police officers are caught in what Abba Kyari is doing,” says Okechukwu Nwanguma, executive director of the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), an organisation championing the cause for police reforms in Nigeria.
“The police is not just able to prevent crime, but they commit crime as well: extortion, extrajudicial killings, torture, conversion of crime proceeds.”
One case too many
Police authorities on Sunday 1 August suspended Kyari pending the outcome of a probe into the incident. But analysts and activists say the authorities acted only because the charge had come from America. They cited a litany of allegations levelled against the cop, which the police have been slow in acting on.
The allegations, according to petitions reviewed by The Africa Report, mostly touch on extrajudicial killings, bribery, conversion of crime proceeds as well as illegal detention and torture.
In October 2020, Afeez Mojeed, a Lagos-based businessman accused Kyari of extorting N41 million from him in 2014 when the latter led the now-disbanded Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Lagos. And he is not alone.
Right from his days in SARS up to now in IRT, Abba Kyari has been known for alleged corruption, torture and conversion of properties belonging to crime suspects.
Suspects have been reportedly killed while in the custody of the IGP-Intelligence Response Team, an elite force, which Kyari has led for years, and which is credited for most of the high-profile arrests and investigations by the police.
The IRT personnel, under his watch, have on many occasions, been accused of converting monies and assets belonging to crime suspects after they have been arrested or killed in questionable circumstances in virtually all the big cases they have handled.
No one knows the whereabouts of the millions of naira traced to Evans, one of Nigeria’s most notorious kidnap suspects who was nabbed in 2017. A suspect in a notorious bank robbery incident in Offa in northwest Kwara State died in custody amid reports that he was in possession of monies stolen by his gang, while the other suspects later told a court how Kyari and his team forced them to implicate former Senate President Bukola Saraki in the robbery incident.
“Right from his days in SARS up to now in IRT, Abba Kyari has been known for alleged corruption, torture and conversion of properties belonging to crime suspects. So, it is not a new thing,” Nwanguma says. “The IRT has become a criminal enterprise, just like SARS was.”
A blind – and helpless – police force
The problem transcends Kyari; Nwanguma says that despite the many petitions bothering on cases of impropriety against officers, the police authorities “do not do anything because they are all part of the problem”.
It has been institutionalised such that your case will not move an inch if you don’t grease the palm.
At the Lagos #EndSARS panel, which was set up to probe cases of impunity brought against police officers, Tony Eze, a lawyer who is among the representatives of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) at the hearings, tells The Africa Report that the petitions against officers portray “really terrible situations”.
Eze adds that the police is an institution that has “degenerated to the lowest,” and the rot has “extended to impunity and in the way they recruit officers.”
He continues: “There are no serious considerations in terms of qualifications and integrity. Some of those who go there are those who feel someone is intimidated them, and they want to go and get some kind of powers so that they can also intimidate them.”
Oluwaseyi Adetayo, former officer of the Nigerian secret police Department of State Services (DSS) agrees that the unfolding event about Kyari “is the reality of the Nigerian police.”
“It is not just about Abba Kyari. Will you take a case to the police without them asking you for mobilisation [a bribe]? It has been institutionalised such that your case will not move an inch if you don’t grease the palm,” Adetayo, who runs the security firm Eons Intelligence, tells The Africa Report.
“How much money do they give them for their operations? You want them to go out to pursue cases; they do a lot of surveillance, tracking, before they eventually catch the suspects. So, there is no money, and it is from this money they are using to run the operation,” he said.
Who watches the watchdog?
The Police Service Commission, the statutory body set up to provide oversight on the operations of the Nigeria Police Force, has also been found wanting and sometimes missing in action with leadership and lack of independence among its biggest challenges.
The body is meant to serve as a civilian external oversight mechanism, but the president often appoints retired police chiefs as its chairman. This has contributed to the cold war usually seen between the commission and the police including as it relates to recruitment of new personnel.
“They have been crippled and reduced to look like a department of the police,” Nwanguma says.
Ikechukwu Ani, the commission’s spokesperson, did not respond to a media enquiry sent via phone.
Super cop, super reputation
Kyari is seen as powerful and has his share of enemies.
An incident at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office in Kogi State during one of the recent elections sheds some light on the level if influence wielded by Kyari: The police officer had arrived at the INEC office while results are being collated, accompanied by his team members in about three buses.
To announce their arrival, outside the gate, the IRT team fired sporadically into the air, despite such conduct being considered an offence. The incident unfolded to the awe of those present, including fellow police officers. To them, Kyari was a celebrity cop whose presence is rare except for high-profile assignments.
In March 2021 when the convoy of Benue Governor Samuel Ortom was reportedly attacked by gunmen, Kyari was the messiah sent to probe the incident and return to Abuja with the suspects. Since 2017, when he arrested one of Nigeria’s most wanted kidnap-kingpin Chukwudi Onuamadike aka Evans and was rewarded with a promotion, his profile has continued to rise from glory to glory after numerous successful operations.
For a nation deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines such as Nigeria, some believe the latest controversy is being used against Kyari as an opportunity by perceived enemies and opponents of President Muhammadu Buhari and the north, where both the president and Kyari hails for.
Local media reported a statement from a prominent northern Nigerian group in which it said that the move to arrest Kyari is “totally unacceptable, a slap on the sensibility of our compatriots and a ridicule on one of our finest crack detectives”.
Elsewhere, on social media, hashtags such as #IstandWithAbbaKyari are being shared along with the feats of the police officer. With the hashtags came claims that his ordeal is politically motivated.
In one Facebook group named after the cop, a post tells the more than 50,000 members that “most people are ignorant of the fact that Abba Kyari’s indictment can be politically driven and motivated”. In another Facebook post, a user describes those “celebrating” Kyari’s indictment as “foes of Nigeria”.
Notwithstanding, Nwanguma sees no end in sight regarding the rot in the Nigeria Police Force unless there are adequate mechanisms to check their excesses.
“The Police Service Commissions should be strengthened to effectively deal with police corruption and other excesses,” he says. “It must be truly independent to be able to carry out oversight functions.”
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