By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire, Founder and CEO, DPA
This piece is a follow-up to my earlier article detailing the chain of events that led to the indictment of Deputy Commissioner Abba Kyari in the United States. In response to that piece, some have asked me in private messages questions such as: whether there could be a way for Abba Kyari to escape extradition or whether there was a way Nigerian Government could refuse to extradite him.
In a very simple answer, it is highly unlikely that Nigerian Government will openly defy the United States and refuse to hand over Abba Kyari. Such a position will undermine President Buhari’s administration in every key policy area. It will send out terrible message about Nigerian Government’s readiness to fight crime, especially cross-border crimes like money laundering and internet fraud. It says to the world: even though Nigeria is a principal exporter of internet fraud, it is not ready to work with the rest of the world in combating cross-border financial crimes. It means Nigeria is harboring and breeding criminals that threaten law and order around the globe.
Every nation on earth has certain obligations to other nations. That is the basic principle of the international system. Drugs-producing countries like Columbia and other Latin American countries have certain obligations to help other countries where drugs are smuggled into in fighting drug smuggling. Countries that produce weapons have a duty to other countries to join in combating arms smuggling. A country like Russia which is the major home of international cyber-security criminals have a role in helping to prevent operators from within its territories hacking the internet network systems of other countries. And certainly, a country like Nigeria that produces greatest number of internet fraudsters has a duty in helping ensure that the citizens of other countries are not victims of such fraudsters. The idea is that no country should give safe haven or sanctuary to people who commit trans-border crimes.
Nigeria will be failing the international system if it harbors fraudsters and their enablers that operate from within Nigeria. That is exactly the position Nigeria finds itself in in any decision to hand Abba Kyari to the Americans or not. Nigeria cannot take the risk of returning to a pariah status after its experience under the regime of Abacha. Nigeria will try to identify with the world, by handing over Abba Kyari or any other suspected internet fraudster or any enabling state actor, as Abby Kyari is alleged to be.
Further, Buhari’s government is particularly vulnerable to international pressure. The weaknesses of the Nigerian state under this administration are palpable and it will not risk a standoff with a country like the United States. So, every indicator points in the direction of cooperation with the Americans on Abba Kyari case.
BUT DOES NIGERIA REALLY WANT TO SURRENDER ABBA KYARI?
No country will like to surrender its senior official like Abba Kyari for trial in a foreign country, especially as the crime in question did not involve the physical presence of the accused in the foreign country. There is a genuine fear of creating a nasty precedence that may come back to haunt Nigeria. There are several angles to look at it from. First, if Abba Kyari is tried in the United States, he will be seriously interrogated by the US agents. He will come under pressure to negotiate a favorable plea deal. That could force him to divulge officials secrets of Nigerian State. It may also force him to reveal the names of other officials who committed similar crimes that could be of interest to the Unites States. For instance, he may know other police officers involved in similar activities as those he is charged with. He may have to give out important information in order to get a reduced sentence. The American plea bargaining is such that the more meat a suspect gives to the Justice Department, the better the deal he gets. So, Abba Kyari can even walk away with immunity and all charges dismissed, if he goes there and sings like a canary and reveals every Nigerian police officer involved in some dangerous shenanigans. This must be a serious concern to many top officials in Nigeria.
Also, if America is able to easily bring Abba Kyari to America and try and convict him, who knows who else may be similarly indicted in America tomorrow. The precedent will become such that many senior officers could find themselves exposed to jeopardy in America.
For these reasons, deep down in the hearts of Nigerian officials, they would not want to extradite Abba Kyari if there is any easy way to avoid it. It is in this context that I began to wonder if there is really an option for Nigeria by which they could avoid handing Abba Kyari to the Americans without incurring the displeasure of the Americans. Only one option comes to mind.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE PROBE THAT ABBA KYARI IS FACING NOW?
It is important to stress that the on-going probe has nothing to do with what the Americans will do. The grand jury indictment of Abba Kyari, his trial and any sentence he faces are governed by American law and procedure. There is no room for them to consider the outcome of any probe in Nigeria. The current police probe of Abba Kyari therefore has entirely different purpose. Strategically, Nigeria does not want to have a serving Deputy Commissioner of Police standing criminal trial or serving prison time in America. So, there has to be a process for ensuring that by the time Abba Kyari lands in America, he is no longer a police officer. To ensure that, he needs to be dismissed from the police force. That is one of the reasons for this probe. The probe will end up recommending his dismissal from the force or giving him the opportunity to resign. The latter will be quite unfortunate and embarrassing. He will likely be dismissed.
Also, and more disturbing, the probe may be the opportunity to lay the evidentiary foundation to establish prima facie case to criminally indict him in Nigeria. If the probe comes out with a finding that Abba Kyari committed offenses in Nigeria and should be prosecuted in Nigeria, that may actually stall his extradition to America. That is a possibility to watch out for.
THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID EXTRADITING ABBA KYARI WITHOUT OFFENDING THE AMERICANS DEEPLY.
It goes with little argument that Abba Kyari has the blood of many Nigerians in his hands. The unit of the police force he headed both in Lagos (SARS) and the one from which he was recently removed (IRT) have been the top killing and extortion machines in the Nigerian police force. If Nigerians were to find their courage to make their complaints public, thousands of extrajudicial executions of suspects will be easily traced to Abba Kyari. What does this mean?
It means that Nigerian Government can indict Abba Kyari for mass murder. If the Inspector General of Police were to arrest Abba Kyari for murder and charge him accordingly, that will stall the effort by America to extradite him. You cannot not extradite a person to stand trial in a foreign country when he is facing murder trial in his home country. Such person must be tried and finish serving his sentence before he can be extradited anywhere. The host country takes primacy when it comes to which country should an accused person stand trial in.
TRYING ABBA KYARI IN NIGERIA WILL BE A FAVOR TO ABBA KYARI AND TO NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT
For the Government, trying Abba Kyari in Nigeria will avoid a situation where a senior official would be singing like a bird in a foreign court. And for Abba Kyari, it will mean a world of difference. If tried in Nigeria, he will be given a privileged position in the prison. He may even get bail awaiting trial, and trials of a case like his will take years to conclude. That means he will be a free man during his trial, if granted bail. Even if convicted, he could be on bail awaiting appeal, which will take many years too. If convicted, he will remain a privileged prisoner. And all this while, he would have access to his money and still wield influence.
To understand how the Nigerian judicial system operates, consider the case of Abdurasheed Maina. Maina managed to get bail. If he had stayed in Nigeria (without jumping bail) he would have been okay. He could have kept the trial going for many years while a free man. Indeed, he would have been going to Niger and returning to attend his trial without anyone noticing. If convicted after many years of trial, he could still get bail pending his appeal. When a rich or influential man faces trial in Nigeria, he still lives in comfort even while in prison. If in Nigerian prison, his wives can cook for him everyday. Most of the big men in Nigerian prisons have their wives and girlfriends cook and deliver food to them everyday. And if they feel like, they can declare themselves sick and be taken to a hospital where their wives could be with them in their private hospital wards (taking care of them) for as long as they want to be sick.
Compare that with being tried in America on the present indictment. Abba Kyari will be treated just like a regular criminal in America. First, he will spend every penny out of the millions he has amassed in paying lawyers in America and in the end, he will end up with at least 20 years in prison. Being a federal case, Abby Kyari can be sent to any of the federal prisons in the United States, including possibly a prison in Alaska or Hawii. In such places, he will not be able to receive a visit from his wife or children for the next 20 years. He will not receive any special treatment. He will eat dry burgers and bacon like other inmates. He will be a nobody there. The inmates he will meet there will not even know who he was. And nothing breaks the spirit of a man than when someone that was used to being important suddenly finds himself in a place where he is a nobody.
WHAT IS IN THE INTEREST OF NIGERIANS IN THIS MATTER?
Will Nigerians what Abba Kyari to face murder trial in Nigeria and be convicted of murder in Nigeria? Or will they prefer to see him sent to America to be convicted in America for money laundry? Ordinarily, this would have been an easy question to answer. They would have preferred that Abby Kyari be held accountable for murder in our courts over him being held accountable in American courts for money laundry. After all, human life is more important than money.
However, most Nigerians would prefer to send Abby Kyari to Amemrica to face justice there. The reason for such odd choice is because Nigerians have no faith in the Nigerian justice system. It is believed, and rightly so, that the Nigerian justice system is riddled with corruption, ineptitude and magomago. Even if convicted in Nigeria and sent to prison, it will be no punishment for Abba Kyari compared to him being sent to serve time in the Alaskan winter. It is this appalling lack of faith in Nigeria that the Government of Nigeria should be worried about. The people are all aware that we are even speaking of the option of trying Abba Kyari in Nigeria today simply because the Americans wanted him. Otherwise, Abba Kyari was above the law before the Americans came for him. And if the Americans were to turn their back, he could return to being above the law. For that, the majority of Nigerian people want their Super Cop in handcuffs in American court and in the orange jumpsuit as an inmate in American prison.
Abba Kyari fooled Nigerians and almost got away with it. I remembered in 2020, I had a visitor, an American. He came to see me in detention. We were discussing the state of Nigeria’s criminal justice and some names came up. When Abba Kyari was mentioned, I will never forget the calm confidence in my visitor’s voice when he said to me: “Abba Kyari will never be allowed to get to become the Inspector General because we have his record”. I was pleased, though surprised. I was pleased to know that Abba Kyari did not succeed in fooling everybody. But I was not aware the kind of information he had on Abba Kyari until after I read more about Hushpuppi’s case. If nothing else happens, Nigerians should be grateful that Abba Kyari will not make it to the next rank. That is if he is not dismissed from the force in two weeks time, out of the ongoing probe.