Nigeria commences US extradition of officer linked to $1.1m fraud

Nigerian authorities had previously been accused of shielding the senior police officer from the law at home and abroad.

A police truck is stationed outside the University of Abuja Staff Quarters gate where unknown gunmen kidnapped people on November 2, 2021 - [File: Kola Sulaimon/AFP]

The Nigerian government has commenced the extradition request of the United States government for Abba Kyari, a highly decorated senior police officer. Deputy Commissioner Kyari is wanted in the United States in connection to fraud and identity theft.

Abubakar Malami, the attorney general and justice minister, who filed the extradition application under Nigeria’s extradition act, confirmed to the press on Thursday that he had done so at the request of the US embassy in Abuja.

The minister said he was satisfied that the offence in which Kyari was sought after was neither political nor trivial and that filing the extradition request was in good faith and in the interests of justice.

Last July, Kyari, 46, was suspended by the police service commission following an FBI indictment linking him to an Instagram influencer and alleged money launderer Ramon Abbas, popularly known as “Hushpuppi”.

Abbas, who was arrested by the FBI during a covert operation in the United Arab Emirates, pleaded guilty to a number of cybercrimes and is awaiting sentencing by a US court.

Dubai-based Abbas had paid Kyari N8 million [about $19,500] to arrest Chibuzor Vincent, a co-conspirator who threatened to expose a $1.1m fraud against a Qatari national after feeling shortchanged in the illegal deal.

Back in April 2020, an extradition application for Kyari was filed before the District Court for the Central District of California in the United States.

The police officer, along with five other defendants, faces three charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and identity theft, according to court documents. He faces up to 20 years imprisonment if convicted.

Kyari has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing but in February, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), arrested him over cocaine smuggling and belonging to an international drug syndicate.

He had been caught on camera engaging in a drug transaction with undercover agents of the agency. The NDLEA has filed eight charges against Kyari and his accomplices.

“This will really affect the image of the police,” said Remi Aiyede, a professor of political science at the University of Ibadan. The police hierarchy is “really embarrassed with what is happening,” he told Al Jazeera.

Aiyede said Nigeria’s partnership with foreign countries like the United States and other international anti-crime networks would make the extradition possible.

Kyari will be the first high-profile Nigerian police officer to face trial in the United States.

For decades, Nigerian security forces have struggled to build public trust with daily cases of systemic corruption, inefficiencies and human rights violations puncturing their public image. The latest developments have led to renewed calls for structural reforms, beginning with the police.

Before his arrest, Kyari  – a former commander of the dreaded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) – was celebrated as a “super cop” for solving high-profile crimes including armed robberies and kidnappings, alongside a tactical squad he led. But reports about extrajudicial killings and extortion under his leadership were largely ignored by authorities.

Civil society groups had called for a probe and overhaul of the unit but his much-celebrated successes in bursting criminal syndicates and parading them in public, saw him receive praises from parliament instead, for exemplary performance.

Kyari’s indictment had led to the police chief, Usman Alkali ordering the disbandment of the police unit. But local media reports show that the unit is still operational across the country.

Aiyede added that it would take a long time to cleanse the system which would involve “systemic and sustained reforms over a long period of time”.

Source: Al Jazeera