The two serious accusations against Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Abba Kyari, signpost a personal tragedy to him, but of larger and unpleasant implications for the reputation of Nigeria police and the country. Kyari was first indicted in the U.S. in a case of money laundering by one high flying, big spending Ramon ‘Hushpuppi’ Abbas and his group of transnational internet fraudsters. Lately, he was caught pants down in a National Drug Law Enforcement Agency’s (NDLEA) sting operation.
He is an officer who, as head of a special anti-crime unit called Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Kyari has been dubbed ‘supercop’ for his crime-busting achievements. If the allegations prove to be true, it will be a sad story of a good man gone terribly bad, his name and efforts irretrievably tarnished, and the floundering image of the Nigeria police further smashed. For now, however, Kyari must be granted the benefit that he is innocent until proven otherwise by due legal process.
In the first case pending in a court in California, Kyari was suspended from duty on the written directive of the Police Service Commission (PSC) to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali Baba, on the strength of a warrant issued for his arrest by the American court. The IGP also set up a panel to investigate the allegation against Kyari and reportedly forwarded the outcome to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation for vetting and advice. Why Mr. Baba took this strange step instead of sending the report to the PSC, only the IGP can explain. For, according to the Constitution and the Police Act 2020, the Commission has the power to dismiss and to exercise disciplinary action over officers and men of the Police Force, except the IGP. In any case, the PSC was reportedly dissatisfied with the panel’s report and demanded a more thorough investigation given the weight of allegations against Kyari. The IGP was yet to act on this when a fresh scandal broke, involving Kyari yet again.
In the latest case, Kyari who was supposedly on suspension from police duty, got entangled in activities of a drug cartel, with weighty evidence that warrant his arrest as an accomplice to the crime. NDLEA spokesperson, Femi Babafemi, had said that “with the intelligence at our disposal, the agency believes strongly that DCP Kyari is a member of a drug cartel.” He went on to describe in detail the process by which the organisation arrived at this conclusion. The narration reveals the level of confidence with which this police officer flouted rules, betrayed his oaths of office, and pursued self-interest over and above social and national considerations. And he did not act alone. He took a number of subordinates along. Talk of persons Kyari had allegedly described as “very, very sharp…and very loyal. I do take good care of them and this kind of work is done by only that team.” And, pray, what was ‘this kind of work’? One of compromising, so disgracefully his legitimate role and duty of law enforcement duties in the interest of his country and its people?
The chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, expressed sadness at the “big downfall” of “one of the great heroes of Nigerian public life,” adding that “it is a big question on the image of the police.” That so well and widely acknowledged officer can be accused of these not so minor misdemeanors tarnish the reputation of both the Nigeria Police Force, and Nigeria. With specific respect to the Police Force, it questions the efficiency, effectiveness, and the overall quality of the internal control and monitoring mechanism of the agency. Otherwise, how come Kyari performed police duty while on suspension? How did he manage to put a team together that was supposed to be headed by his successor in office? Or were those “loyal boys” he used in the drug case personal to him within the Police system? If so, how can, and should it be so? It is absolutely necessary that the PSC must institute a holistic inquiry into these posers.
The Nigeria Police has, for long, not been well thought of by the citizens it was created to serve. And it is for good reasons. Despite rebranding efforts (including the re-worked Police Act, 2020) and copious pronouncements that ‘police is your friend,’ the repressive day-to-day experiences of Nigerians have earned little trust and respect for this 92-year-old public institution. Talk of harassments, illegal arrests and detentions, extortions, ‘protection for sale’, torture, ‘raiding’ and arbitrary mass arrests, extra-judicial killings, bribe taking, embezzlement, and a catalogue of other unprofessional conducts have been levelled against the Force. Indeed, the 2020 #EndSARS protest by Nigerian youths was in reaction to persistent police brutality.
The huge gap between this public-serving institution and the public is a pity, though avoidable. On paper, the organisation is intended to be both service-oriented and people-friendly. The Police Act 2020, Part 1, Sections 1 and 2, aims “to provide for a more efficient and effective police service that is based on the principles of (a) accountability and transparency; (b) protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms; and (c) partnership with other security agencies.” Section 2 (c) says that the act is enacted “to bring a positive change in the public perception of the Police Force by ensuring that its functions are performed in a manner sensitive to the needs and well-being of the general public.” The institution is struggling to meet these lofty aims and redeem its reputation only for its ‘poster boy’ to be severely found wanting. Again, it calls to question the commitment of personnel at all levels to the good intentions contained in the general and special objectives of the Police Act.
The point must also be made that Baba, speaking to senior officers after his appointment in April 2021, promised a new policing vision that include restoring public confidence such that the Force would deliver quality police service based on accountability and conformity to the rule of law. Though he was not saying anything different from his predecessors’ speeches on assumption of office, he reportedly embarked on reforms to return policing to its original mandate and ostensibly in line with the well-conceived, well-articulated provisions of Police Act 2020. But if the IGP said the right things, they are yet to manifest in the behaviour of his officers. The glaring proof is the tragic case of Kyari. Indeed, the DCP breached applicable provisions of Part II, (4)(a-d) of the Police Act, the Code of Conduct And Professional Standards for Police Officers and the Code of Conduct for Public Officers in the Fifth Schedule, Part I of the extant Constitution.
The case of Kyari is a tragedy too for Nigeria that, like its Police Force, has been struggling to get away from a global perception as a corruption-ridden country. The 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) compiled by Transparency International (TI) scored this country a miserable 24 of a possible 100 points. Thus, Nigeria fell from 149th of 180 countries in 2020 to 154th. There is no gainsaying that every Nigerian shares this reputation damage; it has just been worsened by those cases against Kyari. In the eyes of the world, his “big downfall” in the words of Sagay, is ours too.
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