People & Money

Fatal Attraction: Abba Kyari and Our Obsession with Heroes

For years, Deputy Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari was the darling of the police hierarchy, the media, the Nigerian people, and even politicians. He was celebrated for his heroics in fighting hard crimes including kidnapping and armed robbery. His team, the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team (IRT) was credited with nabbing the perpetrators of the 2018 dastardly armed robbery in Offa and the arrest of the notorious kidnapper, Chukwudimeme Ohamadike also known as Evans. He was feted by the National Assembly and a BBC 51-minute documentary on kidnapping in Nigeria could pass for a public relations project for Kyari and the IRT.

Within two decades, Kyari had gone from an Assistant Superintendent of Police, the entry-level for officers in the police, to being two promotions away from becoming the head of the largest police force in Africa. However, today, Kyari stands accused in court of drug-running and has since been suspended from the Police Force for allegedly collaborating with the fraudster Abbas Ramoni “Hushpuppi.”  But, what does Abba Kyari’s fall from grace say about Nigeria and Nigerians?

For one, it proves the so-called super-cop was probably not different from the stereotypical image of Nigerian police officers, which is someone that is fantastically corrupt, commits all crimes he accuses others of committing, lies with impunity, and is responsible for many of the crimes Nigerians have to deal with. That Nigerians fell for Kyari’s deception is a testament to how easy it is to deceive Nigerians.

Politicians do it every election cycle, religious clerics do it every day. Our obsession with finding heroes and messiahs to magically solve our problem is our undoing. We focus on theatrics rather than question actual actions. We ignore signs of defect and our previous experience while handicapping ourselves with the wishful thinking that this new messiah would be different from the previous ones. Instead of being curious and listening to the minority who might not buy the mass hysteria, we attack them while excusing any part of the hero’s story that does not add up. In the case of Kyari, Nigerians were repeatedly warned about him by his victims, human rights organisations and some media platforms before he was eventually indicted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

For instance, in a 2018 petition to the Police Headquarters, the Nigeria Human Rights Commission (NHRC) accused Kyari and his team of expropriating the properties of a suspected kidnapper, Collins Ezenwa. A January 2019 report by Premium Times comprehensively covered the case. in July 2020, several civil society organisations accused Abba Kyari’s team of engaging in “excesses and atrocities— ranging from abductions, detention, torture and extortion of huge sums of money from targeted victims and illegally confiscation and conversion of money and properties belonging to many of the persons they arrested.”

After he was indicted by the FBI in July 2021, allegations about him continued to flow. At the #EndSARS inquiry panel, Kyari and his team were accused of disappearing Morris Ashwe, a suspect they had arrested in 2018 but who was never seen again till today. Another victim Afeez Mojeed told the Lagos Judicial Panel in 2021 that the police officer and his team had arrested, tortured and extorted 41 million naira from him in 2014.

But despite all these accusations, Kyari continued to enjoy the support of the Police hierarchy and the general public. Even when he was suspended by the Police last year, he continued to work with his team including in the case that has finally landed him behind bars. As Nigerians’ beloved super-cop faces justice, Nigerians must decide to be more circumspect in how much hope we put in individual heroes. We need to build systems, not supermen whose excesses would be hard to challenge.

Sodiq Alabi

Sodiq Alabi is a communications practitioner and analyst who has experience in leading and supporting communication processes. He has expertise in organising media events, preparing reports, creating content, and managing websites and social media platforms.

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