About the most intriguing moments in the WhatsApp exchanges between DCP Abba Kyari (aka Super Cop) and Hushpuppi (aka Ramon Abbas) that the FBI shared recently were when Kyari sent a photograph of himself and his vanity wall, and also when he sent a news article that stated he would be honoured for “exceptional service.” Kyari’s choice of materials to share with an acquaintance of suspect means is revealing of his narcissism. An officer that sends photographs of his garland to a character like Hushpuppi, while adorned with official paraphernalia, is no different from sex workers who send nudes to prospective customers just so they know how their goods should be priced. Obviously, Kyari wanted to establish an intimate and transactional relationship with Hushpuppi.
When you look into the content of their exchanges, particularly the parts where Kyari was perversely soliciting Hushpuppi’s acquaintanceship, it clarifies why he has been overly invested in building a public image through social media. Ideally, police officers should not be as visible as Kyari has been in his public career. Unlike what we see on dedicated crime channels, much of police job anywhere in the world is boring. There is no glamour in stealthily sniffing around to detect people trying to hide their crimes. Also, the police represent an institution that supposedly dispenses justice, and an individual is not supposed to be more visible than the ethos and ideals of the institution they represent. An officer like Kyari, who attends Owambe parties in aso-ebi, snags photo ops with socialites (some of whom he should be investigating), updates his social media accounts with photographs of himself while supposedly investigating a case, is a misnomer. Turning himself into a social media spectacle was to attain visibility, and ultimately importune VIPs with his services. So, Kyari was no super cop; he was a pimp of the institutional power that he personified.
Those trying to defend Kyari by pointing out his record of wrecking-ball service have still not caught on to the whole game. This is not a police officer that is distinguished himself because he was driven by the passion to keep Nigeria safe. No, he went out of his way to build a phenomenal profile so he could prostitute the accolades the society gives him to the socially privileged. His “super cop” ruse has been the ticket with which he accessed the spaces where the rich and powerful, celebrities, and even the moneyed criminals occupy. It is funny that some people would think that his dalliance with Hushpuppi is a singular moral slip and should not overshadow his entire outstanding career. In retrospect, what looked like a superlative service record was, all along, a hustler building and abusing institutional power to manipulate people for selfish ends. He was not doing anyone a favour by pursuing criminals.
Supposedly the “most decorated officer” in Nigerian history, several organisations rained him with awards without actually looking beyond the hype. Much of what earned Kyari his “super cop” profile was a long record of arresting suspects, not actual prosecution and convictions. Yes, court processes in Nigeria are notoriously drawn out, and it is probably not his fault that his high-profile arrests have not resulted in successful convictions. Still, on what basis did his mythmakers turn him into a super cop when much of what he did was arrest suspects? If not Nigeria where we celebrate mediocrity, why should a police officer who arrests suspects be considered exemplary? With the pathetic excuse Kyari gave about his relationship to Hushpuppi, even his much-vaunted professional acuity is now quite debatable. If, as a so-called detective, he could not spot the gaping holes in the self-defence account he gave the public, he could not possibly have been the bright cop they say he is.
If his cases had gone from arrests to the conviction of the suspects, there would have been a more substantial basis to establish that he and his crew maintained procedural integrity in the course of their criminal investigations. But such a record of diligent and ethical work was not what Nigeria garlanded when they labelled Kyari a super cop. Even his WhatsApp exchanges with Hushpuppi did not give him away as an idealistic police officer. I could not help but cringe at him telling Hushpuppi that Chibuzo-whom Hushpuppi wanted out of the way-has been picked up. He shared the mugshot with Hushpuppi and myopically added, “he is in my cell now.” Please note the use of a personal pronoun by an officer who takes institutional instruments of punishment as personal toys.
If Kyari had no moral compunction acceding to the request of a reputed fraudster who tasked him to breach the fundamental human rights of someone who had double-crossed him in an illegal transaction, how do we know that such privatisation of institutional power and the abuse of official privilege that he displayed in his exchange with Hushpuppi are not the entire story of his so-called excellent record? What if the many arrests of alleged abductors that he made are similar to the cases of Chibuzo -not that they were guilty of the crimes for which they were accused, but merely people that some influential figures want disappeared? If he could run such an errand for Hushpuppi, who is to say he has not been rendering the same service to his many socialite friends who reward him with social capital?
Now that we know the unethical underbelly of the “super cop” image Kyari cultivated, the Police Service Commission should go beyond merely suspending him. They should start to review all his records. Someone that could arrest Chibuzo and laugh at the suggestion “to give him a serious beating of his life” could not have adhered to professional principles in discharging his duties. He would have taken professional standards for granted at some point, and it is crucial to start crosschecking his records. We cannot assume that Kyari’s professional conduct as an officer is separable from the kind of errands he ran for Hushpuppi. Some of those celebrated arrests will likely be phony. Whether the PSC reviews his arrest records or not, the lawyers of those he arrested will bring up his conduct with Hushpuppi in court anyway. In the cases where Kyari was the lead investigating officer and facilitated the arrests of certain people, they will legitimately argue that his tendency to abuse power put his entire life’s work under suspicion.
After being investigated and found guilty, Kyari should be stripped of every award he was ever given by institutions that honoured him based on his supposed hard work. Last year, the House of Representatives celebrated him during a plenary session for having distinguished himself in discharging his duties. Even the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), honoured him with a presidential medal for courage in 2016. Both state governments and media houses have draped him with undeserved garlands. Those honours should be withdrawn as a lesson to others like him who use a supposedly public profile of excellence to hide abuse of power.
Finally, they should take seriously the petitions that allege abuse of power against him and his team in the discharge of their duties. There is no point pretending this development was a one-off slip by someone who was otherwise a shining light in a country benighted by corruption and poor work ethic. His lack of curiosity about Hushpuppi’s source of wealth, the ease with which he accepted a one-sided account of what transpired between Hushpuppi and Chibuzo, and the willingness to be used reveals him as someone who has crossed the line so many times. It says a lot about police culture that after the report of his misdeeds came out, he even tried to make light of it on social media. He obviously has no respect for the institution he represented, and his lack of self-awareness says a lot about what even the top brass of the police privately condones. Kyari’s travails should be an opportunity for self-examination, a purge of bad behaviour, and relearning the ethics of professional conduct.