It turns out Nigeria’s most famous, most celebrated, most decorated and super cop is a common criminal after all, worse than the criminals he was supposedly going after. And for years, the signs were all there for us to see. But, desperate for heroes, we bluntly refused to “see no evil, speak no evil” as evidence of the malfeasance of our celebrated super cop and his carefully assembled team – the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) – keeps mounting. But we ignored them all.
He was the archetypal Nigerian hero, who must be celebrated! And trust us, we celebrated him, full measured, pressed down and running over. For over a decade, he was the darling of the police hierarchy, politicians, the National Assembly, and the press. In June 2020, he was given a standing ovation at a session of the Nigerian House of Representatives for his exceptional work in the fight against criminality in Nigeria. Earlier in 2016, he received the Presidential Medal for Courage; and in 2018, he was declared Africa’s Best Detective and Presented with Silverbird Group’s Best Officer of the Decade Award. Even the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) joined in the ululation with a 51-minute documentary on Kyari and the IRT’s heroics. Not a few Nigerians and politicians even made him the Inspector General of Police in waiting.
Meanwhile, underground, Kyari and his team were just another layer of Nigeria’s huge crime scene. They were mainly into killings, kidnapping, extortion, and drug-running. Despite the flurry of petitions against the IRT and the many testimonies of Nigerians who have suffered in their hands even at the properly constituted EndSARS panels, we refused to believe them all. It took the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to finally burst Kyari’s bubble and shake us out of our collective delusion.
In July last year, the United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California issued an arrest warrant against Kyari and five others for their roles in the internet financial crimes perpetrated by the Nigerian Instagram celebrity, Ramon Abbas or Hushpuppi.
In shame, he was suspended and a wishy-washy panel set up to investigate the details of the FBI’s indictment against him. The goal of the panel was to buy time, allow the matter to fade from public memory and then quietly dispose of the matter. The thinking in the top echelon of the police and the political administration was that the suspended Kyari knows quite a lot about the inner workings of Nigeria’s security architecture and has dirty secrets of many politicians and the police hierarchy and can’t be handed over to the FBI. The panel dragged its foot from July 2021 and finally recommended only “a one-step demotion and reprimand” for all his crimes.
That was until the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) blew the whistle on the suspended Kyari and how, despite being suspended, still leads his team at the IRT to run drugs and aid drug cartels in the shipment and trafficking of drugs.
We may be tempted to read the whole Abba Kyari saga as an isolated case of a celebrated cop who let us all down and went fully rogue. That will miss the point. Abba Kyari fully represents the Nigerian institutional set-up where institutions are just an isomorphic mimicry – a camouflage arrangement to present the image of real and legitimate institutions but, which, in reality, are the antithesis of those same institutions. That is precisely why no institution works in Nigeria. Rather, virtually every institution acts in contradiction of its very purpose of existence. Governments at all levels actively work against law and order, peace and security, which are their primary functions. Poll after poll in Nigeria continues to rank the police – the supposed primary agency of maintaining law and order and fighting crime – as the most criminal and corrupt organization in Nigeria. We may have an Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that is supposed to ensure that elections are conducted freely and fairly, but we all know in reality that those who vote do not really determine the outcome of elections as much as those who do the counting of the votes.
What about the judiciary, the famous third arm of government, which is theoretically independent of the executive and adjudicates disputes between the other arms of government and protects individual liberties from government overreach. Well, the very head of the judiciary was illegally booted out of office, justices of the Supreme Court harassed and intimidated into silence and the courts have become more or less the mouthpiece of the executive such that no one is left in doubt as to where the courts stand these days. What about their function of delivering justice to ordinary Nigerians? They have become the greatest enablers of injustice in Nigeria.
We can go on and on. But the point really is that we have been deceiving ourselves all these while to think we have systems that can work. We don’t have such systems. And because everything appears to be falling apart and nothing seems to be working, we are always on the lookout for that one messiah, that hero, that one person that should exemplify what public life should be all about.
But we must snap out of this delusion real fast and begin to focus our energies on the building of real and sustainable institutions. If not, we’ll continue to fall into the trap of celebrating criminals like Kyari as heroes.