It was in June 2020, that the story of the arrest of popular Instagram celebrity, Ramon Abbas, aka Hushpuppi, by Dubai Police hit the news. The Dubai Police had busted Hushpuppi and his 12-member gang for cyber fraud involving no less than 1,926,400 victims from around the world, who were defrauded of 1.6 billion Dirham (N168 billion) in a series of coordinated internet scams.
“The team also seized more than AED 150 million ($40.9 million) in cash, 13 luxury cars with an estimated value of AED 25 million ($6.8 million) obtained from fraud crimes, and confiscated 21 computer devices, 47 smartphones, 15 memory sticks, five hard disks containing 119,580 fraud files as well as addresses of 1,926,400 victims,” the director of Dubai CID, Brigadier Jamal Salem Al Jallaf said after the operation codenamed Fox Hunt 2.
Hushpuppi became an international star, his fame moved from the Nigerian Instagram space to TV screens around the world. It was one of the most notorious heist stories to grace the international stage from Nigeria. The only other time Nigeria had had a similar story was between 1995 and 1998, when Emmanuel Nwude, a former director of Union Bank of Nigeria, and an advance-fee fraud artist defrauded Nelson Sakaguchi, a director at Brazil’s Banco Noroeste based in São Paulo, of $242 million. But that was before the age of social media, not so many people outside Nigeria got a wind of it, so Hushpuppi stays winning.
Upon his arrest, Hushpuppi was extradited to the United States. Most of his victims had been Americans so the US has justified interest in the case. Hushpuppi was charged with conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars from business email compromise (BEC) frauds and other scams, including schemes targeting a US law firm, a foreign bank and an English Premier League soccer club.
As the law took its course in the US, the frenzy that greeted the news gradually died, and Hushpuppi became almost forgotten until recently when his name popped up again. He has pleaded guilty to his crimes, but more to that, he named an unexpected accomplice; Abba Kyari, a Nigerian Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), with a hero tag. His heroism stems from leading successful covert operations and busting kidnapping gangs, including a notorious kidnapping kingpin, Chukwudi Onwuamadike aka Evans. He has been at the forefront of many covert missions in Nigeria, and thus became the most decorated cop in the history of the Nigerian Police.
In June 2020, Kyari was honored by the Nigerian House of Representatives for his bravery in solving criminal cases. Among his several awards are: Leadership and Service excellence 2011, 2012, 2013; Star Award from CRAN 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017; Triple IGP Commendation Medal for courage 2012, 2013, 2014; Triple Lagos State Governor’s award for Gallantry; Best Anti-Crime Police Officer in West Africa from Security Watch Africa; Lagos State Commissioner of Police Commendation Award for Courage, 2011; Star Award for Outstanding Gallantry In Africa, 2018, by Security watch Africa; Africa’s Best Detective Of The Year, 2018; The best Police officer of the Decade Award; 2018 HERO of the year Award by Silverbird Group; and the Presidential Medal for Courage from President Mohammadu Buhari.
With these accolades to his name, Kyari wears the “super cop” apparel as a symbol of unlimited power backed by the highest authority in the land.
But Abba Kyari’s hero status has got splashed with an unprecedented dent. Following his indictment in Hushppupi’s cybercrime series, a US court has issued a warrant for his arrest and five others, for their roles in Hushpuppi’s cyber heists. A court document shows that Judge Otis Wright of the United States District Court for the Central District of California ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to track down Kyari and extradite him to the US for his role in a multi-million dollar fraud committed by Hushppupi. According to the document, the quest for Kyari’s arrest had been ongoing since February 12 2021, when American prosecutors first sought a warrant for his arrest, and again on April 29, 2021.
Kyari was accused of receiving payment from Hushppupi, through a third party, to get one of Hushppupi’s traducers (one Chibuzo Vincent) jailed in Nigeria, for attempting to double-cross him. In response to his indictment, Kyari took to his Facebook page to issue a rebuttal, denying any wrongdoing. He said his relationship with Abbas was based solely on professional police business.
“Abbas, who we later came to know as Hushppupi called our office about 2 years ago that somebody seriously threatened to kill his family here in Nigeria, and he sent the person’s phone number and pleaded we take action before the person attack his family.
“We traced and arrested the suspect and after investigations, we discovered there wasn’t an actual threat to anyone’s life. And they are longtime friends who have money issues between them, hence we released the suspect on bail to go and he was not taken to any jail,” Kyari said.
But contrary to his claim, the FBI’s document revealed that Kyari had been in contact with Hushppupi prior to the arrest of Vincent, as conversations extracted through investigation show. And the money wired to Kyari through third party amounts to millions of naira. The FBI traced their relationship to September 2019, when Kyari traveled to the U.A.E. According to the investigation, the conversation indicated that Abbas sent a car and driver to drive Kyari during that trip. Soon thereafter, Kyari sent Abbas a video slideshow which showed some personal photographs of Kyari, some of which appeared to have been taken in the U.A.E. Later in September, after Kyari sent Abbas an article that discussed him arresting alleged kidnappers, Abbas wrote, in part, to Kyari, “Am really happy to be ur boy,” and later, “I promise to be a good boy to u sir.”
Kyari claims that he never “demanded for a kobo from Hushppupi,” though he admitted knowing about N300,000 wired by the then Dubai-based Hushppupi to a third party account. But it was for a native Hushppupi had seen me wearing and wanted it, Kyari said, adding that he connected Hushppupi to the tailor who made the native outfit, and Hushppupi paid directly to the tailor’s account.
One question many need answered is: why would a “super cop” of Kyari’s caliber, who just confessed by his own statement that Hushppupi lied to the police, leading them to wrongly arrest and detain an innocent person (Chibuzo Vincent), go on to execute a clothing business with Hushppupi if there wasn’t existing relationship?
While the above question begs for an answer, Kyari’s past records are resurfacing with equally shocking tales of criminality. There were allegations of human rights abuses, extortion and extrajudicial killings, that are believed to have been buried under his “hero” and “super cop status.”
In October 2020, Afeez Mojeed narrated to the Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Related Abuses and other Related Matters how Kyari extorted N41 million from him in 2014. According to the business man, Kyari, as OIC Lagos SARS, locked him up for 14 days, all the while forcing him to sign bank cheques, before charging him to court on trumped-up charges.
In 2019, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Amnesty International, after conducting separate investigations, accused Kyari’s IRT (IGP response team) of gross human rights abuses and illegal expropriation of suspected proceeds of crime. In a petition to Ibrahim Idris, the then Inspector General of Police, Amnesty International said the Kyari-led team had been maltreating the wife of one Ezenwa, an alleged kidnapper killed by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Imo State, while depleting his assets, which included a N220 million hotel in Enugu and eight apartments worth about N180 million.
With the mounting criminal allegations resuscitating from the past, many believe that Kyari is more a villain than a hero, and needs to pay for his crimes, especially as they were perpetrated under the guise of servitude to the people.
“Abba Kyari has a notorious and frightening history of abuse of human rights. Many Nigerians have been arrested, detained and even murdered by the IGP Response Team led by Kyari. Kyari has no respect for the court or rule of law. He is celebrated because Nigeria is a crime scene,” human rights lawyer,” Inibehe Effiong said.
The Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba has ordered the probe of kyari, and promised to pursue justice if he’s found wanting. However, there is concern that Kyari’s hero apparel will shield him from any wrongdoing, making the probe performative. And given the Nigerian Police’s antecedent in protecting their own caught on the wrong side of the law, it is believed that Kyari will be protected at all cost.
“If Abba Kyari goes down, many big men in Nigeria will go down. He’s a top elite henchman. He kills, maims, steals makes young people disappear, seize properties etc. Remember James Nwafor of Anambra SARS? Abba Kyari is a James Nwafor raised to infinity,” Rinu Oduala wrote.
To many, the arrest of Vincent on the orders of Hushppupi, does not only indict Kyari, it also confirms that the Nigerian Police is running a cartel, where even a senior officer can be paid to arrest and jail someone who committed no crime. However, others believe that Kyari’s indictment and his arrest warrant coming from the FBI has put Nigeria on global spotlight, and will increase the pressure on the Nigerian Police to uphold justice this time.