Opinion

Nigerian abracadabra, Abba Kyari, and wicked conspiracies

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

Some things happen that make you wonder if you are still in Nigeria or in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where it is said that some animals are more equal than others. All those suspected to have committed a criminal offence enjoy a common right under section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (as amended), to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. This is the reason why super cop, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari is still in the police force as an officer. His career was meteoric, as with those of superheroes who come our way on once in a lifetime.

In the past, I grew up to learn that the word Abracadabra relates to multiple layers of surprises when the more you look, the less you see. Exploring it further, I have since been made to understand that it actually belongs to Aramaic, a Semitic language that shares many of the same grammar rules as Hebrew. ‘Abra’ is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew ‘avra’, meaning ‘I will create’, whilst ‘cadabra’ is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew ‘kedoobar’, meaning ‘as was spoken’. Abracadabra is thus employed when magicians intend to conjure things into existence, in their strange world of make belief. That is the scenario that has been created in the unfolding drama associated with the case of Abba Kyari.

From snippets of news reports, Abba Kyari began his ascent into limelight with his appointment as the officer in charge of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Lagos State in January 2011. He went on to carve a niche for himself by busting syndicates of criminals – armed robbers, kidnappers, drug barons and internet fraudsters, amongst others. With family roots traced to Gujba Local Government Area of Yobe State, Kyari was born on March 17, 1975 and grew up in Maiduguri, Borno State, where he schooled to university level. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography from University of Maiduguri in 1997, and had his mandatory NYSC in Akwa Ibom State in 1998.

He joined the Nigeria Police Force as Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police in 2000 and served at different times at Song, Girei and Numan local governments and made local news for his arrest of a notorious armed robber called ‘Ndagi’ aka Spirit, who had held Numan, the third biggest town in Adamawa State hostage for years.
Kyari was the poster boy of the local law enforcement, the pride of a crime-fighting organization that had lost touch with the people and short of a real role model. He was being packaged as the future head of the force, as he bestrode the nation’s crime scene like an oriental potentate, picking off criminals like sitting ducks, hounding crooked elements into the clanger with precision, while employing untoward means to ensure his upward career trajectory.

Kyari was the darling of the media, to the extent that almost all victims wanted his midas touch in handling their cases. In a clime where the prototype of a typical policeman is the coarse gun-slinging, semi-literate hound with an expanding waistline, Kyari was the exact opposite. He was urbane, suave, sophisticated and good looking cop who bestrode crime scenes with the confident aplomb of a matinee idol and omniscient allure of a divining deity. IGP upon IGP doted over him to help resolve very knotty crimes and the National Assembly would convene a special session for his recognition and national honour. For years, the senior police officer operated not only as a super cop with the proverbial magic wand for unraveling crime, but also a celebrity cop with his life and tasks, including very sensitive missions, blogged on Instagram, and other social media platforms.

It was thus heartbreaking for many of his fans when, in August 2021, details of Kyari’s close relationship with celebrity internet fraudster, Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, alias Hushpuppi, were made public. The United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, which released as part of its probe into a $1.1 million fraud committed by the conman, indicted Kyari as a partner in the fraud. This would not be Kyari’s first controversy, however, as he and his team were once accused of human rights abuses, molesting suspects and converting confiscated property. In the course of the arrest of the kidnapping lord Evans, it was alleged that Kyari and his boys pocketed substantial sums of foreign currency recovered from his house, which were not declared as exhibits.

Kyari also made headlines during the Lagos EndSARS Panel proceedings when he was accused of extorting money from a suspect whom he investigated. Kyari denied all these allegations and he even managed to stay afloat in an organization that was itself consumed by pervasive corruption and crass inefficiency, but it would not be long before his bubble burst.
Kyari was temporarily suspended from service and penciled down for investigation, which went the normal Nigerian way. It would take the intervention of the Police Service Commission, for any hope of some meaningful discovery in the allegations against Kyari. In the interval, Kyari attended very controversial social events, such as the burial of the mother of Cubana and that of the wedding of the daughter of his boss, the IGP, when he was supposed to be under investigation by the latter.

Nigerians were gradually losing hope that anything meaningful would come out of Kyari’s probe when the news broke about the drug trafficking cartel. According to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Kyari was part of a notorious drug cartel operating the Brazil-Ethiopian route involving large drug hauls. From the initial report, Kyari was still in control of the IRS police team, through which he operated while on suspension. It was a bewildered nation watching the video of Kyari bringing out wads of US Dollars for drug trafficking negotiations. The evidence was too overwhelming for any controversy and it sealed Kyari’s reputation as an expert in running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. The same crime he was hailed for bursting, Kyari was neck deep into it, full time. He was seen negotiating for himself, confiscating hard drugs seized from suspects for his own personal sale, and making promises to an NDLEA agent in his determination to pervert the course of justice. Kyari operated with so much impunity for so long that he did not even care that he could be under surveillance by the Government or even foreign elements after his indictment. His greed obviously did him in, as he brashly tried to set up a compromise meeting with an agent who turned the meet into a sting operation where he, Kyari, was finally caught on tape abusing the privileges of his high office.

Then commenced the unending drama of the Nigerian compromised system and its vagaries. The United States of America had formally requested for the extradition of Kyari, to face criminal charges along with his fellow suspect, Hushpuppi. This is allowed under the Extradition Act of 1967, which is still a law in force in Nigeria. Not a few people thought that the NDLEA story was only unraveled to give Kyari a soft landing, giving the dwindling fortunes of the judiciary in Nigeria, as a forum for the effective prosecution of offenders, especially in high profile cases. The conspiracy theories were orchestrated by the following provisions of section 3 (6) of the Extradition Act.

“(A) A fugitive criminal who has been charged with an offence under the law of Nigeria or any part thereof, not being the offence for which his surrender is sought; or

(B) Who is serving a sentence imposed in respect of any such offence by a court in Nigeria, shall not be surrendered until such a time as he has been discharged whether by acquittal or on the expiration of his sentence or otherwise.”

The summary interpretation of the above provisions is simply that so long as a suspect is being charged or tried for any offence in the local jurisdiction, an application for his extradition to be tried for any offence outside jurisdiction will not be granted until he has completed the said trial and he is acquitted or he has served the sentence.

This is the plot. The American judicial system is known for its precision and speed such that the trial of Kyari in America may last less than one year. Contrariwise, the Nigerian legal system is weak, frail, tired and overwhelmed, such that Kyari’s trial may last another ten years without any meaningful movement let alone serious trial.

Lawyers will team up with investigators to bungle the case, which keeps moving around in circles until we all forget it. It would then pay Kyari to be ‘tried’ in Nigeria! But then, we woke up suddenly to read of a strange application by the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking an order for extradition of Kyari to the United States for his trial.

Nigerians waited with bated breath for the details of the case to unfold but before we could properly digest the case filed by the AGF, the NDLEA filed its own criminal charges against Kyari and his gang, bordering on drug trafficking offences. The fears of Nigerians had become confirmed with the NDLEA charges, since section 6 of the Extradition Act forbids that any suspect should be surrendered when he is still facing criminal trial in the local jurisdiction. For as long as the criminal charges filed by the NDLEA remain in court, Kyari cannot be extradited to the United States.

But who is deceiving who exactly? The Constitution is clear as to the power of the AGF over all criminal prosecutions in Nigeria. Under and by virtue of section 174 of the Constitution, the AGF is conferred with the following powers over criminal prosecutions.

“174. (1) The Attorney-General of the Federation shall have power –
(a) to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria, other than a court-martial, in respect of any offence created by or under any Act of the National Assembly;
(b) to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person; and
(c) to discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person.”

The powers of the AGF over criminal prosecution as highlighted above extend to and cover criminal proceedings instituted by ‘other persons and authorities’, including the NDLEA, in this case the case filed by NDLEA against Kyari at the same Federal High Court, Abuja. It should never be heard of that the AGF is being frustrated or hindered in the exercise of his constitutional powers over criminal prosecution, by the NDLEA, if there be no collusion or conspiracy.

As things have now turned out, such conspiracy cannot be overruled entirely. Not long after these events, the AGF has now recanted to absolve Kyari of any criminal indictment. In the latest legal opinion emerging from the office of the AGF, it is said that Kyari has not been linked with the offence of money laundering, as the evidence contained in the case diary is not sufficient to indicate or show that the monies were laundered directly or indirectly by Kyari to disguise their origin. In summary, there is no basis for seeking to extradite Kyari to the USA, according to the AGF.

You cannot be more shocked than I am, with the latest opinion of the AGF. First, the crime was not committed in Nigeria, second, the trial is not to take place in Nigeria, third is that the co-accused (Hushpuppi) has already confessed to the crime and opted for a plea bargain. Where then does the AGF derive the power to absolve a suspect in respect of offences allegedly committed outside Nigeria? The rulers of the land may take counsel together to bury this case, Nigerians no doubt know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even in this endless game of Abracadabra.

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