By Farooq A. Kperogi
Although there is no art to decipher the cunning of crooked cops, DPC Abba Kyari gave us many red flags to cause us to be suspicious of his policing, but many people ignored it. I, for one, have an abiding suspicion of people who are given to gratuitous self-congratulation and ostentation, who are aggressively self-promotional, and who perpetually have a need to invite the public to witness their good deeds.
I think excessive showiness often betrays an inner emptiness at best and an artful concealment of untoward impulses and deeds at worst. This sentiment is encapsulated in such enduring pieces of folk wisdom as “Empty vessels make the most noise,” “Still waters run deep,” etc.
This isn’t universally true, of course. Some genuinely ethical and kind people may be outwardly flashy and given to offensive displays of self-importance. And some businesses thrive on vulgar outward displays, so people who are in these kinds of businesses can’t help but be showy out of a professional imperative.
But policing is no show business. Governance isn’t, either. Nor is morality. And so on. For the most part, it is my experience that people who are overly exhibitionistic in the performance of morality and of such run-of-the-mill duties as policing and governance are often shady and use exhibitionism to conceal their shadiness.
Although he has been accused of being a brutal SARS operative in Lagos, Abba Kyari clearly has his good sides. I have read many accounts of his kindness to total strangers, of his pan-Nigerian cosmopolitanism, and of his dogged sleuthing that resolved knotty criminal cases. His admirable detective work attracted notice and approbation. But then he got intoxicated by praise and attention, and made it his life’s calling to hanker after the limelight— in a job that should be done in the sedate quietude of the background.
He routinely invites cameras and press people to record him doing his job. One of the absurd extremes of his exhibitionism, for me, was when he invited journalists, videographers, and photographers to show him looking for kidnappers in the bushes. Of course, he apprehended no kidnapper because those crafty monsters of depravity aren’t imbecilic sitting ducks waiting for Abba Kyari to capture them on camera. He just wanted to showboat.
And he got a lot of reputational mileage from this dumb stunt. I didn’t see any groundswell of discursive repudiation against a famed sleuthhound ignoring detective work that is central to the fight against kidnapping and instead staging a fatuous media show.
What is worse, the man who earned a reputation as a ruthless annihilator of criminals started to openly cavort with people that, at the very least, he should be suspicious of. He has been photographed with people whose source of wealth is questionable and whose conspicuous consumption should put them on his investigatory radar.
Now we know why. FBI’s charge sheet against Ramon “Hushpuppi” Abbas revealed phone chats that Kyari and Abbas exchanged in which Abbas instructed Kyari to arrest Abbas’ rival in internet fraud. It is reasonable to draw the conclusion that the wealthy but dodgy people Kyari frolics with use him as a cudgel against their enemies and rivals.
The FBI’s affidavit implicating Abba Kyari in Hushpuppi’s fraud captures this sentiment. It reads: “Kyari is a highly decorated deputy commissioner of the Nigeria Police Force who is alleged to have arranged for Vincent [Abbas’ rival in crime] to be arrested and jailed at Abbas’ behest, and then sent Abbas photographs of Vincent after his arrest.
“Kyari also allegedly sent Abbas bank account details for an account into which Abbas could deposit payment for Vincent’s arrest and imprisonment.”
In other words, Kyari was probably initially a good cop whose excellent work earned him plaudits from his superiors, plausive publicity from the news media, and veneration from a grateful public. Then he gradually started to seek out the news media, insert himself into public consciousness, and promote opportunistically self-serving narratives about his unparalleled detective machismo with a predetermined motive to profit from it.
He parlayed his popularity and carefully cultivated larger-than-life media image into “big-men-protection” security gigs. He obviously not only protects “big men”; he also torments their less connected rivals and victims for financial gain, as the FBI’s court documents indicate.
But the fact that he flaunts his association with flashy, questionable characters without fear of consequences from his superiors suggests that he is not alone. He obviously has powerful backers in the police establishment who also benefit materially from his ethically stained exploits.
Given how morally rotten the institution of the police is in Nigeria—and the rampant crab mentality in its ranks—the fact that the only “consequence” Kyari has faced for his unconventional, publicity-seeking, show-and-tell policing and open cavorting with suspicious personages is a meteoric climb up the promotional ladder is an indication that the police establishment is in on what he does.
Unfortunately for the police establishment, Kyari’s transgressions have now transcended the bounds of Nigeria and can’t be dismissed with the same blithe impunity with which previous indiscretions were treated. For instance, on October 28, 2020, TheCable reported that a Lagos businessman by the name of Afeez Mojeed accused Abba Kyari of defrauding him of up to 41 million naira.
In a petition to the judicial panel set up by the Lagos State government to address abuses by SARS, Mojeed alleged that Kyari and his SARS team forcefully broke into his home in 2014, accused him of being an internet fraudster, seized 280,000 naira from his wardrobe, another 50,000 from his car, which they took away and never returned, detained him for 14 days, and later charged him to court but never showed up or brought any witness against him, forcing the court to strike out the internet fraud charge against him.
Mojeed also alleged that Kyari forced him to reveal the password to some of his bank cards, sign checks, and electronically transfer money to designated bank accounts, which added up to tens of millions. When Mojeed’s lawyer reached out to Kyari to resolve the matter, the petition alleged, Kyari told the lawyer that Mojeed was an internet fraudster, and that he proposed a deal with the lawyer to help him get another 15 million naira from one of Mojeed’s bank accounts. Kyari allegedly offered the lawyer a 5-million-naira reward as compensation for his cooperation, but the lawyer declined the offer.
Neither the EFCC nor the ICPC even acknowledged, much less acted on, Mojeed’s petition for a redress of what he said was gross injustice against him by Kyari. And Kyari didn’t even find it worth his while to respond to TheCable’s request to hear his own side of the story.
So, clearly, Kyari is habituated to immunity from the consequences of his transgressions and indiscretions. That happens only when you have powerful backers. But it’s different this time around. You don’t mess with the FBI and get away with it.
Court documents quote the FBI to have pointedly said Abba Kyari, “together with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, knowingly conspired to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343.” This leaves no room for rigmarole. I think the game is over for the “super cop.”
I also think the Nigerian society should take some blame for nurturing personas like Abba Kyari. Our insatiable but often unmet hunger for heroes predisposes us to be susceptible to frauds masquerading as saviors. We can avoid this if we take as a rule of thumb the idea that most people who have a compulsive need to be overly showy and self-congratulatory about a virtue or a deed often have something to hide.
• Kperogi is a newspaper columnist and Professor of Journalism.