At the risk of sounding judgemental, and with due respect to his fundamental right to presumption of innocence, it’s a mystery that the unfolding story about Deputy Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari surprises anyone.
I agree that Kyari is perhaps the most lovingly spoken-about police officer in Nigeria’s recent history. One whose endearment defies the usual cleavages accentuated by Nigeria’s varying tribes and tongues, yet, it is not the first time the efficient officer would be accused of graft.
In the aftermath of the agitations for the scrapping of the Special Armed Robbery Squad in October last year, the panel of enquiry set up to investigate alleged infractions by members of this squad got an intriguing petition. This petition by a businessman, Afeez Mojeed, alleged that policemen led by Kyari extorted the sum of N14 million from him in 2014. Mojeed, who was quite a spectacle while giving his testimony, also alleged that he suffered 14-day torture in the hands of the operatives. While the panel has not given judgement on the matter one way or the other, it was an indication that Kyari’s service might not be as blemish-free as it hitherto appeared.
Nigerians should also understand the power dynamics in this country. While people utilise power to positively influence people’s lives in other places, power is an instrument of oppression and monetary acquisition in Nigeria. No matter how depressed your personal economy is, the attainment of some measure of power in Nigeria changes all of that. Even if you do not seek lucre, Nigerians in need of the object of your office would patronise you. You will soon start to wallow in the groove unless you have real personal discipline, which the conduct of the officer in question betrays. We will return to this point presently.
Reports in the past few years showed that Kyari had become so powerful and overtly celebrated even to his disadvantage. While the decoration of accomplished law enforcement officers isn’t out of place anywhere in the world, Kyari’s acclamation was taking a pedestrian dimension. You would sometimes wonder if he was the only officer in Nigeria such that his team was invited to crack all sorts of crimes and anywhere they happened! It is impossible for such a man not to become powerful and acquire all the patronage that attends it.
Two things make the tendency that Kyari can only go so far before he falls into temptation obvious. The first is what seems to be his romance and a soft spot for the wealthy and their proclivities.
A couple of weeks back, he left his duty post in Abuja to join a stupendously wealthy showbiz personality who was burying his mother. Four weeks on, the event remains the talk of the town owing to the obscene display of wealth and unprecedented abuse of the Nigerian legal tender that followed it. Kyari did not just attend this event, he also gleefully took photographs and would cap it with a validation of the billionaire as a hardworking and dependable ally on his social media page!
These are conversations that should not be heard from a man whose police calling demands high moral standards and decorum. That is unless he is playing some undercover role. While one is not questioning the wealth of Kyari’s bereaved friend and the other ones he hobnobs with, an officer of the law should maintain a deliberate distance from men of such means if only for his sanity and the avoidance of the temptation to be and live like these friends. The inability to avoid associations like this would most likely whet the appetite of the uncircumspect police office and invite temptations unforetold.
Unfortunately, the Nigeria Police does not even pay its personnel a living wage, so a covetous officer would have to double his “hustle.” This country fools itself by paying peanuts and imagining that it would get the best out of law enforcement agents (including operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – who are expected to bring criminals with stupendous wealth to book). Why Nigerian leaders fail to grab this reality despite repeated warnings remains a mystery.
Speaking at a forum organised by the EFCC in 2018, Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, told of a story where his plane stopped to refuel in an unnamed African country. To wait out the exercise, he said he decided to take a walk around the plane and in the process, encountered a policeman who, oblivious of Kagame’s identity, came to beg him for money.
“But this left something in my mind… during a cabinet meeting, I told them the story. Since we have a mission to carry out against corruption, there are things I saw in this: a policeman on duty begging for little things. I told them maybe that was even happening in our own country. That would mean that maybe we are making too many demands on these policemen, we’re not paying them well, they are impoverished and they have to keep going around begging, and maybe, later on, they will use that gun…we don’t have so much, but we can share the little we have so that even the policeman feels that they are being taken care of…” The Rwandan President recounted while admonishing our leaders to pay law enforcement agents living wages.
He could as well have been describing Nigeria’s police where there are endless stories of society’s neglect. You will hear of how many police formations run like small scale businesses. Many police stations exist without any functioning operational vehicle, and when they exist, they have no subventions to buy fuel. You will hear of how policemen fuel and repair these vehicles out of pocket, of how accommodations for policemen, even officers, are only a little better than slums. How officers have to take care of their medical expenses even when involved in accidents on active service. How, if you desire training, you may have to pay your way. It is like the Nigerian state has outsourced the maintenance of police formations to men of the force and in doing that, no standard operating procedure was handed down. As such, everyone operates at their discretion. What a law officer would want to remain true to their calling should then do is stay on their lane and ensure that relationships that throw up temptations and challenging situations as Kyari currently faces do not go beyond the official call of duty. Becoming fashion enablers and visiting people whose wealth you cannot explain at home and abroad are the easiest ways for a law enforcement officer to bury a thriving career alive.
The other thing however is that Nigeria imposes this same situation- an environment where people cannot live functionally, on everyone. This is a stratified society where the rich is getting richer, and the poor, sinking deeper into penury. All said and done, most Nigerians earn wages that can hardly take them home. Yet, public institutions to which the poor could seek recourse have been run down. People dedicate entire livelihoods to send their children to expensive private schools where they can have a semblance of education, but what happens when they graduate? They roam the streets in search of employment years on end.
The worst-hit amongst us are the ones who have the most role in keeping society safe, sound, and ready for the future. So, talk about the condition of the teacher, the doctor, the policeman, the journalist and even the judge. With politics and public office being the most lucrative ventures in the country, everyone exploits the opportunity at hand to frustrate the other person or squeeze money out of their hands.
It is unfortunate that Kyari’s venerated career is taking this turn. Although there is still an opportunity for him to prove his innocence despite what might be a formidable prima facie case, he has sunk very deep in the estimation of Nigeria. Yet, Nigerians must wait to see how this pans out.
While that is on, however, leaders of this country must realise that an uncaring society like this turns her people into money-mongering monsters. This place: where money has become a god and people will do anything from internet fraud to ritual killing, kidnappings and what have you to make money is where Nigeria is. They should also know that the fall of one will change nothing until the country becomes more humane.