security problems

Nigeria: Hushpuppi, Abba Kyari and the need for police reform

By Damimola Olawuyi

Posted on September 6, 2021 12:43

Recently, the world heard the announcement of the indictment of Abba Alhaji Kyari, Nigeria’s deputy commissioner of police, and five others by a federal grand jury in the US District Court for the Central District of California.

The indictments, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, identity theft, aggravated identity theft, aiding and abetting as well as criminal forfeiture, were announced on 28 July by the United States Department of Justice.

The charges stem from Operation Top Dog, which dismantled a cybercrime ring led by Instagram celebrity Ramon Olorunwa Abbas aka ‘Hushpuppi’.

According to the grand jury charges and the criminal complaint, as part of a plot to defraud a Qatari businessman and his company of over $1.1m, the conspirators engaged in a business email compromise scheme, under the guise of aiding the construction of a school.

When a dispute over the sharing of the proceeds arose, Kelly Chibuzor Vincent – one of the gang members – contacted the victim to expose the fraud. Consequently, Hushpuppi communicated with DCP Kyari on 13 January 2020 and discussed plans to remove Chibuzor ‘from circulation’ for at least a month. A week later, Chibuzor was ‘arrested’.

DCP Kyari also allegedly provided banking information for the transfer of ₦8m (€16,385); payment for the arrest and detention of Chibuzor. A sum of ₦1m was reportedly demanded from the detainee’s girlfriend to facilitate his release.

Hushpuppi would not allow the release of his accomplice until 25 February, and demanded that the electronic devices of the detainee be seized, permanently.

Kyari denies involvement

An arrest warrant and detention order has also been issued for DCP Kyari who, in a now-deleted Facebook post, denied his involvement in the scam. He claimed that Chibuzor was arrested based on Hushpuppi’s  allegation of threats to his life. Kyari also said that once the investigation revealed that the accusation was spurious, he released the accused.

He further shared a post from former minister Femi Fani-Kayode attesting to his credibility. Panels have been established by both the management of the police and the Police Service Commission (PSC) to investigate the matter, while DCP Kyari has been suspended from police duties. The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) has protested to the US embassy in Nigeria, condemning the procedure that led to his indictment and demanding fairness on behalf of the accused police officer.

Nigerian police and the need for reform

This indictment confirms the fears of many, that the venality in Nigeria’s premier law enforcement agency occurred with the knowledge, connivance or behest of their higher ranks.

That the Nigerian police force is desperately in need of reform is not in doubt. However, DCP Kyari has been accused of unsavoury practices in the past. He led the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) in Lagos State as it morphed from a police tactical unit into a criminal gang that terrorised citizens; and was the key focus of the 2020 protests (#EndSARS) that were brutally suppressed by the government.

The fact that DCP Kyari was able to hold on to Chibuzor for over a month under deliberately dehumanising conditions is a reminder that the police continue to pay lip service to human rights and laws on charging suspects in a timely manner.

Had the interaction between DCP Kyari and Hushpuppi not become public knowledge via a judicial process, could it have been held over his head to force him to commit acts contrary to our nation’s interest?

This brings into focus the #5for5 demands of the #EndSARS protests last October. Cases of detainees routinely held for unimaginable periods without arraignment by security and law enforcement are well documented. Torture and extrajudicial killings of suspects have been attested to as the norm. Those charged with oversight have refused to effect meaningful change, meaning it is now less about omission and more of a deliberate attempt to continue to use the police as tools for personal agendas.

As the gatekeepers of the criminal justice system, the police and other executive law enforcement agencies are essential in ensuring justice for all. Once these agencies have been corrupted, the judicial system becomes less about impartial justice and more of a test of access to power and resources to corruptly sway outcomes.

Had the interaction between DCP Kyari and Hushpuppi not become public knowledge via a judicial process, could it have been held over his head to force him to commit acts contrary to our nation’s interest? What portion of the decisions coming from the highest offices in our country are influenced by threats of releasing embarrassing information based on the misbehaviour of government officials?

Bottom line

Ultimately, any steps to resolve this unfortunate incident cannot stop with DCP Abba Kyari but most go further to clean the Augean stable that is the Nigerian police force.

That Deputy Inspector General Joseph Egbunike, DIG in charge of the Force Criminal Investigations Department (FCID) – the very man heading the Special Investigative Panel (SIP) that is examining the allegations against DCP Kyari – has also being accused of corruption and human rights violations, supports assertions that the police culture is a problem in itself; not just a few unethical individuals.

The fact that former IG Tafa Balogun was convicted over fraudulent dealings 17 years ago is a reminder that corruption in the higher echelons of the police is not new. This case is an opportunity for the force to renew itself. If only for its own sake.

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