Hushpuppi: Abba Kyari’s alleged role intensifies calls for police reform

The alleged corrupt acts of police officers like the suspended Commander of the Intelligence Response Team of the Inspector General of Police, Abba Kyari, are going to further batter the already dwindling image of the Nigeria Police Force if the needed reform doesn’t happen, writes JESUSEGUN ALAGBE

When the phrase, ‘He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon,’ originated in 14th century England, people at the time reportedly had a real and everyday fear of the devil, who was believed to be a tangible physical entity capable of corrupting and tricking humans into wicked ways.

The first form of the proverb was first found in ‘The Squire’s Tale,’ a 1390 book written by Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet and author who lived from 1340-1400.

In his book, Chaucer wrote, ‘Therfore bihoveth hire a ful long spoon that shal ete with a feend,’ which was later translated to, ‘It well behoves him to take a lengthy spoon who eats with devils.’

The expression was also in common use in the 16th century – for example, in ‘The Tempest,’ a play by English playwright William Shakespeare.

In the play, Stephano, a boisterous and often drunk butler of King Alonso, said of character Caliban, ‘This is a devil, and no monster; I will leave him; I have no long spoon.”

Today, the proverbial saying suggests that if at all someone wants to have dealings with corrupt people, they should be cautious when doing so, or else they may be corrupted into the wicked people’s evil ways. Emphatically, the proverb is considered to be a cautionary warning against being in friendship with corrupt persons.

The expression comes to mind in light of the recent corruption allegations against Abba Kyari, a celebrated police officer and suspended leader of the Intelligence Response Team of the Inspector General of Police.

Involvement with Hushpuppi

According to the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, it appeared Kyari had long been dining with alleged infamous cyber fraudster, Ramon Abbas, also known as ‘Hushpuppi’ and other names like ‘Billionaire Gucci Master.’

Hushpuppi, who is currently facing charges of money laundering levelled against him by the United States Government after his arrest in Dubai in 2020, implicated Kyari as a party to an international scheme to defraud a Qatari businessman and school founder and then launder over $1.1m (N452.7m) in illicit proceeds.

A 69-page court document by the United States District Court for the Central District of California dated February 12, 2021, alleged that Hushpuppi paid $20,600 (N8.5m) to Kyari to arrest and detain a “co-conspirator,” Chibuzo Kelly Vincent over a disagreement on the sharing of proceeds of the crime.

The court document alleged that Kyari sent Hushpuppi’s account details into which he could deposit payment for Vincent’s arrest and imprisonment.

“Kyari provided the account information for a bank account at a Nigerian bank, Zenith Bank, in the name of a person other than Kyari himself,” page 59, item 145 of the document read.

A report by online news medium Peoples Gazette also highlighted how Kyari allegedly travelled to Dubai on the invitation of Hushpuppi and was treated to a good time with airport pickup, luxury hotel accommodation and city tour.

Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, has debunked the allegations levelled against him by the FBI, but the United States Department of Justice has issued a warrant of arrest and ordered his extradition to the US for questioning.

The extradition has yet to be done. However, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, recomended the suspension of Kyari to the Police Service Commission and ordered an investigation into the allegations against him. The PSC accepted the IG’s recommendation immediately,

Kyari’s interrogation is being carried out by the Special Investigation Panel, headed by the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of the Force Criminal Investigations Department, Joseph Egbunike.

Need for police reform

Although some analysts are seeing a silver lining based on the fact that rather than the usual official cover-up, the police suspended and are investigating a top police official like Kyari, some commentators said the Kyari saga had shown the need for better police reform.

“Whatever Nigeria’s reputation, that of the police is poor, both at home and abroad. Among Nigerians, the police are a byword for corruption – grand and petty – and harassment, especially of the poor,” a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, and a Research Associate at Africa Policy Studies, Nolan Quinn, co-wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank based in Washington, DC.

Campbell and Quinn noted that anti-police sentiment boiled over during the #EndSARS protests against the notoriously brutal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, for which Kyari formerly served as the officer-in-charge.

In the middle of the protest, the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), promised police reform to address the alleged corruption in the Nigeria Police Force.

But, according to Campbell and Quinn, “…there has been little evidence.”

“However, the investigation of Kyari could be a hopeful sign,” they said.

Also, the President, Initiative for Global Change, Lagos, Mr David Owaboye, said if the allegations against Kyari were found to be true, it could further erode the image of the police, hence the need for reform.

He said, “Abba Kyari’s case came as a surprise to many, bearing in mind that this was a ‘super cop’– crime-fighter who has made a ‘name’ for himself with an ‘enviable’ record in crime-fighting that mere mentioning his name sent jitters down the spine of criminals.

“So, even being mentioned alongside Hushpuppi, who has pleaded guilty to multimillion-dollar fraud charges by the US government, was absolute absurdity!

“He was called a super cop and ‘top-notch’ crime-fighter – one of the best in the country, if not the best. So for him to be even alleged to be involved in such a shameful act is a slap on the police uniform, the Nigerian security network and the nation at large.”

Owaboye added, “The fact that it was the US authorities who indicted him (.Kyari) as part of the Hushpuppi syndicate is depressing and is not looking good because one thing is certain: the FBI would have done its homework very well before coming up with Kyari’s name as they cannot afford to make mistakes and face the charge of defamation of character.

“If at the end of the day, the whole allegation turns out to be true, it would be a big shame on our security agencies, especially on the issue of trust that the people we entrusted our lives into failed us.”

Also, a former aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr Reuben Abati, said in a recent article that Kyari’s alleged involvement with Hushpuppi signalled negativity for the police and Nigeria, stating why reform was needed.

He said, “Whatever anyone may say, this is not good for the country’s image. Ordinarily, Nigeria has been labelled a prolific source of potential or actual fraudsters, even when this same country has produced some of the brightest and most accomplished persons in all fields of human endeavour. Few foreigners give us the benefit of the doubt.

“What has happened to DCP Kyari is also not good for the image of the Nigeria Police. Even before the October 2020 #EndSARS protests, the average Nigerian policeman was routinely criticised for bribe collection, brutality and abuse of human rights. It is for this reason that Kyari may not have too many people out there who are ready to sympathise with him.

“Since the FBI incident, there have been remarks not just about Kyari but also about the Nigeria Police Force…It is enough to insist that nothing should be swept under the carpet and that due process must be strictly followed.”

Also calling for police reform in light of the Hushpuppi-Kyari case, a lawyer and social commentator based in Abuja, Mrs Oluyemisi Folorunso, told our correspondent that now was the time for the Nigeria Police Force to carry out wide-ranging reforms.

She said, “In October last year, perhaps thousands of Nigerian youths took to the street to demand an end to police corruption, which President Buhari agreed to do. But since then, we have not heard much about any concrete actions being taken to make the reform happen.

“I think the failure of the government and the police to reform the police means no changes are going to be seen. But maybe in light of Kyari’s case, there will be actions taken, especially when it is the US that indicted the police officer.

“When the people demand police reform, they want to see a police system devoid of corrupt elements. The people want to see officers being paid decent salaries and living in good apartments and not some rundown barracks.

“Police reform means giving adequate training to the officers and equipping them with the tools to fight crime. Without all these, we will see more of policemen who would collude with the criminals they are supposed to fight. This is not the Nigeria we dream of!”

However, while calls for police reform seem to be perpetual, an Africa-focused research and consulting firm, SB Morgen, in a report last December doubted whether the Federal Government had the will to make it happen.

The Federal Government had established the Presidential Panel on Police Reform following the #EndSARS protests. But SBM threw into doubt the capacity of the Federal Government to drive the police reform.

“Police reform will not be achieved because reform costs money and political will, both of which the Federal Government lacks,” the Head of Research, SBM, Ikemesit Effiong, said.

Liam O’Shea, a Dinam Fellow at the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, argued that police reform could only happen when done in partnership with civil society organisations.

O’Shea, previously a Governance and Programmes Advisor at the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, stated this in a piece on Medium titled, ‘Nigerian police reform: Five key measures and why civil society is key to achieving them.

He said, “Ultimately, reform of the police can only happen where there is political will. Within their policy toolkit, donors tend to prefer diplomatic and government-to-government technical assistance. However, serious consideration needs to be given to supporting civil society given the profound political impact civil society organisations can have.

“Civil society also provides the ideas and concepts for reformers to draw from, helping to generate public support, build alliances and work with interior ministries to instigate change. From a donor perspective, another key advantage of supporting local civil society actors is that they have a strong political understanding of police practices and are in for the long haul.”

“Supporting civil society is no ‘magic band-aid.’ Political pressure and technical assistance remain important. But reform moments such as those in Nigeria are rare and if they are to be seized to generate sustainable, deep reform effectively buttressing local civil society is vital,” O’Shea added. PUNCH

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