Nigeria’s Dirtiest Cop: How Abba Kyari fell from celebrity crime-buster to America’s most wanted
The unmasking last week of Abba Kyari — arguably Nigeria’s most recognised and most celebrated law enforcement officer — that culminated in his ouster from the Nigeria Police Force within a space of barely three days was a spectacle like no other.
The rise to fame of Mr Kyari, a deputy police commissioner, has always read like something out of a movie script.
Born on March 17, 1975, Mr Kyari joined the Nigeria Police Force on May 1, 2000, at the age of 25, graduating from the Police Academy in Wudil, Kano, as a cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police. He became a deputy police commissioner on April 4, 2018, after barely 18 years in service and at the age of 43, a record second only to Fidelis Oyakhilome in the police.
Barely 21 years in service, Mr Kyari has achieved what most officers only dream of accomplishing. From armed robbers to kidnappers, bandits to terrorists, he was every criminal’s nightmare. He has led covert operations of many high-profile cases that include the foiling of over 50 kidnap cases across the country and the arrest of a top Boko Haram commander, Umar Abdulmalik.
After graduating from the academy, and while his credentials as a crime-buster grew by the day, not much was known of Mr Kyari until he resumed at the Lagos State Police Command as second-in-command, and subsequently as the Officer-in-Charge, of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS. From there, he racked up numerous awards and recognitions.
He has been awarded the Inspector-General of Police Commendation Medal for Courage (2012, 2013, 2014); Lagos State Governor’s Award for Gallantry, Leadership and Service Excellence (2011, 2012, 2013); Lagos State Commissioner of Police Commendation Award for Courage 2011; and seven Star Awards from CRAN (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017).
Others are the 2018 Security Watch Africa Star Award for Outstanding Gallantry in Africa; 2018 HERO of the Year Award by Silverbird Group. In 2016, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari awarded him a presidential medal for courage, and in 2020, the House of Representatives honoured him for his “exceptional service in the fight against criminality.”
However, many Nigerians only came to know of Mr Kyari following the infamous ‘Billionaire Kidnapper’ case that ended in the arrest of Chukwudidumeme ‘Evans’ Onuamadike on June 10, 2017. At the time, Mr Kyari was an Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, in charge of the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team, IRT.
The celebrity status the Evans kidnap case afforded him and his obsessive craving for the paparazzi diminished the supercop character he had worked hard over the years to build.
His media voyeurism that made people see him more as a celebrity ‘photocop’ than a crime-busting supercop also fueled speculation that he was strategically positioning himself for the top job of Inspector-General of Police. Journalism Professor Farooq Kperogi described it as ‘vulgar exhibitionism.’
To satisfy his craving for public attention, he would invite the media to record him while staging photo ops of himself in the bush hunting for kidnappers and bandits.
A master at strategic positioning, Mr Kyari knows how to align with high-profile cases. Many Nigerians do not know the backstory of how he positioned himself just in time to take credit in the Evans case. In an article profiling another police officer Olatunji Disu, Lagos-based journalist Tunde Opeseitan said, “many did not know that it was Disu that did the major work in the celebrated operation that led to the arrest of Evans.”
At times, he would trigger raw disaffection amongst members of his own squad by dashing in to hug media cameras after a major crime has been busted. In May 2018 for instance, he appeared in Benue to claim credit for a major sting operation that led to the arrest of armed suspects and recovery of AK-47s, even though he was not a part of the operation, according to separate accounts of three senior police detectives.
He repeated similar tactics in Kwara following the Offa bank robbery that claims many lives, but he ended up politicising the matter when he brutally murdered the prime suspect Michael Adiukwu after his plot to have suspects implicate Bukola Saraki and politicise the case failed. His underhand dealings did not go unnoticed amongst his colleagues, who held him in perpetual contempt.
For a law enforcement officer, Mr Kyari spends a lot of time laundering his image. For a man who craves the paparazzi, it’s not surprising that despite all his exploits, including bringing down Boko Haram most wanted commanders, Mr Kyari is now wanted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, for his membership of the Internet fraud syndicate led by Ramon ‘Hushpuppi’ Abbas.
Court documents, first published by Peoples Gazette, said Mr Kyari ran errands for Hushpuppi and was a muscle for hire in a scheme that defrauded a Qatari businessperson of more than $1.1 million. Aware that the trio of Abbas, Vincent Kelly Chibuzo and Abdulrahman Imraan Juma were defrauding the victim, on the orders of Hushpuppi, Mr Kyari detained Vincent to enable the duo of Abbas and Juma to continue the fraud and without interference from Vincent, FBI revealed.
Unhappy with his share of “the job” (If I may borrow a word from Huspuppi), Vincent went behind Hushpuppi and Juma to alert the victim and divert the scheme to himself. On finding out, Hushpuppi instructed Mr Kyari to arrest Vincent and promised to “take care” of Mr Kyari’s team after they arrested Vincent. Like a child promised candy, Mr Kyari responded, “Yes ooo.”
When Hushpuppi informed Mr Kyari what Vincent did that prompted him to demand his arrest, Mr Kyari replied, “Ok I understand. But he has not succeeded.” Hushpuppi then told him that he was willing to spend money to send Vincent to jail and for him to “go for a very long time”, Mr Kyari said he would talk with his team. “We will do something about it,” he said.
True to his words, Mr Kyari kept Vincent in prison for five weeks. The U.S. court document that indicted the DCP in the scheme said this was just enough time for Hushpuppi and Juma to continue fleecing the victim. “Kyari’s knowing involvement in the scheme allowed Abbas and Juma to continue defrauding the Victim Businessperson undetected and receive money obtained from the Victim Businessperson after it was laundered,” the court document stated.
The document detailing Mr Kyari’s involvement in the Internet fraud scheme is so damaging to the man who has come to be known by many Nigerians as a supercop. It makes a mockery of those who like Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives, saw Mr Kyari as a “distinguished” police officer and one of the “very good officers in the force.”
If you call Mr Kyari’s fall from celebrity crime-buster to America’s most wanted criminal karma, you might not be wrong, especially if you are one of his victims. While he was considered a supercop and role model for fellow officers, not everyone loved Mr Kyari. Over the years, several allegations of human rights abuses and extortions brought against Mr Kyari were all swept under his achievements in fighting crime and criminals.
In 2019, Samuel Ogundipe, formerly of Premium Times, once exposed how Mr Kyari and his fellow IRT members killed a former police corporal, Collins ‘E-Money’ Ezenwa, after accusing him of being a suspected kidnapper, then went ahead to takeover multibillion-naira properties belonging to the slain suspect and pocketing millions in rent from those properties.
One day in 2014, when Mr Kyari was the head of SARS in Lagos, a Lagos-based businessman, Afeez Mojeed, was home with his pregnant wife, an 18 month-old son, and mother-in-law, when Mr Kyari and members of the now-disbanded SARS barged into his house like armed robbers. They ransacked his house, took N280,000 and N50,000 from his wardrobe and car, seized his vehicle, and arrested him.
While in detention for 14 days, Mr Kyari and his team members extorted Mr Mojeed of N41 million. They forced him to sign three bank cheques worth N150,000 each; making a total of N450,000; obtained a password to his bank card and withdrew another N395,000, and took him to another of his bank and made him forcefully transfer N41 million and N800,000 from his corporate account into the account of one Obinna Edward.
Femi Falana, Nigeria’s frontline rights activist, told Peoples Gazette he received several complaints from Nigerians far and wide about Mr Kyari’s brutal and corrupt tendencies, but he was stonewalled when he escallated them to police leadership.
All these allegations were swept under the carpet by the police hierarchy. In the Ezenwa case, the Nigeria Human Rights Commission, NHRC, and Amnesty International petitioned the then-IGP Ibrahim Idris, but nothing was done, not even an investigation into the claims. Mr Mojeed, on the other hand, said that he unsuccessfully sought justice at the Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the NHRC.
While he was using the media to hype himself and artificially boost his chances for promotion, Mr Kyari, the youngest deputy commissioner was also conducting dirty businesses. Perhaps his downfall would not have been so significant or would have passed largely unnoticed by the Nigerian public were it not for his media voyeurism that provided immense fodder.
Perhaps if the police had acted on all the credible allegations of corruption and gruesome rights abuses levelled against him in the past, “Mr Kyari would probably no longer be a police officer by the time of this FBI indictment,” said legal analyst and criminologist Victor Okhai. “But, what is a good story without a tragic ending?”
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