Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Lessons on Sovereignty and the Importance of Strong Institutions

Amidst the furore and banal noise surrounding the allegation of fraud hanging on the head of now-suspended super cop, Abba Kyari, a deputy commissioner of police, one important piece to note is that almost every single “super cop” venerated to the high heavens by the Nigerian media and political elite alike have ended in ignominy. From George Iyamu of the Anini saga in the 1990s to Tafa Balogun and now Abba Kyari, it further puts paid to the assertion by Demola Olarewaju that “death is the saving grace of the greatness of men” and that if you live long enough, you may become the very thing you criticise.


This is in no way a form of excuse for officer Abba Kyari who was accused of impunity and abusing the law in collusion with now-convicted internet fraudster, Ramon Abbas “Hushpuppi” Igbalode who was indicted by the FBI on fraud charges last week. While Kyari remains innocent until proven guilty in a competent court of law, the mere allegation of gross misconduct and misappropriation of justice compounds the compelling argument of the debasement of not just the Nigerian police but the justice system, which of course is an indication that Hushpuppi, for all intents and purposes may not have faced justice for defrauding about a million victims in various fraudulent online schemes.


For now, Kyari has been suspended and everyone awaits, with bated breath, the outcome of the extradition request put in place by the FBI. That the Police Service Commission chose to suspend Kyari only when the crime had gained international attention once again dents the justice system as well as the image of the police in Nigeria, especially because Kyari himself has been the centre of many allegations of human rights abuses and outright graft which the PSC never deemed it necessary to address.


Understandably, the alleged offences over which officer Kyari is wanted by the FBI are captured in an extradition treaty between Nigeria and the US. As the International Centre for Investigative Reporting noted in its report on the case, Nigeria has an extradition agreement with the US by virtue of an extradition treaty signed between the United Kingdom, Nigeria’s colonial masters, and the US on December 22, 1931.


The treaty came into force on June 24, 1935, and was applicable to all British colonies, including Nigeria. Offences for which an accused person or a convict can be extradited between the US and Nigeria, in line with the treaty, also include obtaining money, valuable security or goods by false pretences; receiving money, valuable security or other property knowing the same to have been stolen or unlawfully obtained; counterfeiting or altering money, or circulation of counterfeited or altered money; forgery or uttering what is forged; crimes or offences against bankruptcy law; and bribery, defined to be the offering, giving or receiving of bribes.


Kyari’s supposed indictment falls under this. But the argument is leading to a direction that is not all too unknown in these matters – the supremacy of politics over law. For starters, one can say with almost 100% certainty that Kyari will not be extradited to the United States. It is not politically expedient for the Nigerian government to send a top law enforcement officer to a foreign country to face justice. It might just be all the dignity the country has left. It is also possible that Kyari might never face justice in Nigeria because he will fight the extradition in a drawn-out court process that may temporarily stall a domestic prosecution. There is also the pending report from the investigative panel set up by the Inspector-General of Police.


Nigeria has a clean chance to launder its image by launching a free and credible investigation devoid of backdoor political machinations and manoeuvres. While it is not a country known to provide justice for victims, the law must take its course. For the United States to take the Nigerian government and its security services seriously, nothing short of a prosecution and possible imprisonment of Abba Kyari would be comforting, if the US is to continue its cooperation with Nigeria in providing support in the fight against terror and other forms of crime.


Already, the decision of the US Congress this past week to halt the sale of several Super Tucano aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force, on grounds of gross human rights abuses by security forces in Nigeria, has enough potential to temporarily destabilize Nigeria-America relations. Recall that a similar incident occurred in 2014 between the Obama administration and that of Jonathan which saw Nigeria try to circumvent American military sanctions to get weapons vital to the prosecution of the war against Boko Haram.


For people who view Nigeria’s socio-political intrigues with keen interest, it is not hard to see that the problem is in the creation of the activities of its institutions around the personality of their leaders. The unnecessary attention of the spotlight and the accompanying media adulation only compounds the situation. In the EFCC’s case, the continuous use of media trials has oftentimes served to undermine the credibility of the court process – a situation that has ultimately led to judgements against the commission. It is a similar story with the Central Bank of Nigeria where strong men as governors have overshadowed the need for policy independence, given how much exposure the limelight has brought them.


In this battle between institutions and strong men, the Nigerian experience over the past six years has shown that the strong man is winning and winning well. Virtually every democratic institution in Nigeria has crumbled since the advent of the current federal government. One glaring example of this came in June 2021 when an order from the government to block access to Twitter was given to telecommunications companies in Nigeria and they all complied within 24 hours – without any court order to that effect or any law backing that action.


The Nigerian story clearly shows that institutions take years to build and more years to solidify but the hard work of building them via national participation and vigilance must be done first as a means of avoiding the embarrassment that the likes of Abba Kyari can cause, and most importantly as a means of ensuring the survival of the state.


In conclusion, while it continues to balk under the shadow of assertive strong men to the detriment of its institutions, Nigeria can assert its sovereignty as it did when it decided to ban Twitter in June. A state that cannot provide justice for its citizens easily loses claims of sovereign legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens who are all too happy to compel the government to hand over one of its own for prosecution by a foreign government.


I can offer no prediction about the future of Nigeria other than to make the obvious point that a country that is fast running out of people willing to defend its continued existence – especially its sovereignty – is not in a very good place and will continue to have problems enforcing its will.


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