The issuing of an arrest warrant by U.S. officials for a prominent Nigerian policeman has exposed a corruption scandal in Nigeria that is being met with mixed reactions.
The charismatic head of the Intelligence Response team of the Nigeria Police Service, Abba Kyari, has been suspended pending the investigation of allegations by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that he was in cahoots with Ramon Abbas, better known as “Hushpuppi“ a Nigerian “Yahoo boy,” a popular Nigerian term for cyber criminals, involved in money laundering and fraud. Abbas was arrested in Dubai last year, and after being expelled from the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—not extradited—he arrived in the United States to face trial.
After pleading guilty as part of a plea bargain, Abbas was sentenced by a Los Angeles court to a maximum of twenty years in prison for “conspiracy to engage in money laundering.” Abbas allegedly paid Kyari N8 million (about $20,000) to arrest and jail a rogue member of Abbas’ criminal group; those allegations are currently being investigated by the Nigerian police. A U.S. district court issued a warrant for Kyari’s arrest, but American authorities have not requested his extradition, though much of the Nigerian media expects that they will do so.
Like many of his U.S. mafia forerunners, Abbas advertised a flamboyant lifestyle, featuring photographs of him lounging about a fleet of Rolls Royce cars and a private plane. He became something of a folk hero among the poor, with some 2.5 million Instagram followers. Operating over the internet, his victims—he is known to have targeted a U.S. law firm, a foreign bank, an English Premier League soccer club, and a Qatari school—would appear to have been mostly non-Nigerian.
Perhaps because of Hushpuppi’s flamboyance and Abba Kyari’s charisma and reputation for rectitude, the episode has become a media sensation and is seen as further damaging Nigeria’s international reputation. Some commentators, however, see a silver lining: a senior police official is being investigated and has been suspended, rather than the usual official cover-up.
Whatever Nigeria’s reputation, that of the police is poor, both at home and abroad. Among Nigerians, the police are a byword for corruption—grand and petty—and harassment, especially of the poor. Anti-police sentiment boiled over late last year in protests against the notoriously brutal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS)—for which Kyari formerly served as the officer-in-charge—collectively known as #EndSARS. The Buhari administration has promised police reform, of which there has been little evidence. However, the investigation of Abba Kyari could be a hopeful sign.
It should be noted that Abba Kyari of the National Police is not to be confused with Abba Kyari, chief of staff to President Buhari until his death last year from COVID-19.