Abba Kyari unmasked!
Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari, has been dubbed many names like ‘Supercop’ and Nigeria’s ‘Jack Bauer’, a fictional character fighting terrorism in ‘24’, a television series. It is however not only about fighting crime for Kyari as he tells Punch Newspaper about his life as a family man and others
You recently received an award from the wife of the president. How did that make you feel?
I cannot describe how happy I was on the day I received that award and it was quite a humbling experience to be recognised by the Presidency. I was not expecting the award and also did not know that the programme was going to take place. Some days to the award ceremony, I received a call from the personal assistant to the President’s wife and She informed me that I had been nominated for the award by the Wife of the President for my efforts at fighting criminals in the country. It came as a surprise because prior to when I received the award; I had never met the Wife of the President. Then I got permission from my boss, the Inspector-General of Police, to attend the ceremony as that is the normal procedure for us in the Nigeria Police. You have to get your boss’ approval to receive any award.
You have been dubbed many names like Supercop and Nigeria’s Jack Bauer. How do you feel when you are called these names?
I know I have so many nicknames and I have seen some of them but it happens when someone achieves results. We will continue to strive to do our job. We are in Nigeria and so many things are lacking but we try to improvise so that we can get the job done.
You graduated from the Department of Geography at the University of Maiduguri, how did you become a policeman?
I had the ambition of either becoming a police officer or a pilot when I was a kid. Later in life, I realised that to become a pilot you would need to go for very expensive training and we could not afford such expenses at the time because I am not from a rich family. I realised that being a pilot would not be easy so I turned my attention to my other dream, which was to become a detective. I began to work on my dream by reading detective novels and movies. Interestingly, I am from a polygamous family and my father has more than 30 children. As the eldest son, I handled so many cases whenever my siblings had any problems with one another. I started my detective work in my house. I developed an interest in always finding out the truth in any case I was handling and that was how it started for me.
After my university education, the opportunity came for me to be recruited into the Nigeria Police and I embraced it. I think I was the youngest in my state when I applied to become a police officer. I was about 24 years old.
How would you describe growing up in a polygamous home with over 30 siblings?
We are not from a wealthy family so it was not easy. I started struggling to survive right from when I was in secondary school because my mother left when I was seven years old after giving birth to four of us. Her last child was about one year old when she left so we were raised by our stepmothers. It was not easy being raised by a stepmother because there were so many things that their children would benefit from which you wouldn’t be able to get. I believe in self-reliance, I do not like to bother anyone. So when I was in secondary school, I was also a commercial motorcyclist and I did this to make some money to take care of me and my siblings. There were nine siblings whose mothers had also left the house, but they looked up to me to fend for them. That made me struggle hard in order to fend for them. My father was not rich but he had a very big family. He could not take care of everybody so I had to brace myself for life’s challenges.
Did you ever see your mother again after she left?
My mother eventually came back because she lost the man she married after she left my father. My mother and my stepmother who raised me are in the same town but somehow, I became more attached to my stepmother who I grew up with. It is only natural for me to appreciate the person I grew up with. My family was not surprised when I became a police officer because they had been expecting it as this is what I had always wanted to be as a child.
Were you close to your father?
Yes, we were quite close.
Did he pamper you?
Yes, but that was when I was in primary school and junior secondary school. When I got to senior secondary school, due to my nature, I began to struggle in order to fend for me and my siblings. Despite that, I passed the University Matriculation Examination (now Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination) and the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination at one sitting. I gained admission into the university when I was 17 years old. It was not easy combining my studies with fending for me and my family, especially at that young age. When I was at the university, I was still a commercial motorcyclist.
I used to take my motorcycle to lecture halls and immediately after a lecture, I would quickly go and get some passengers to their destinations to make some money. Then I would rush back to school after about two hours to attend my next lecture. I did that till I left the school. I did not have the time to enjoy my university days like most of my colleagues.
Does it mean that you did not attend parties or even have a girlfriend when you were at the university?
I did not have time to do all those things because I was busy struggling to survive. It is not easy to do menial jobs because they involve time and energy. There was no way I could have combined extra-curricular activities with what I was going through at the time. That was why I did not have the opportunity to mingle with people. I had friends in my class but I did not have time to attend parties or campus events. Whenever I got back to my room at night after the day’s work, I was always very tired.
Apart from being a commercial motorcyclist, did you engage in any other business?
I also sold petrol in kegs by the roadside whenever there was fuel scarcity – what people know as black market. During that time, there could be fuel scarcity for about seven months in a year and during that period; the petrol stations would be plagued by queues. At such times, some motorists would always come to us. It was more lucrative than being a commercial motorcyclist. I can remember that I was making about N90 per day from the motorcycle business but the fuel business fetched me about N250 daily. Whenever there was surplus fuel, I just stuck to my motorcycle business.
Some people believe that you are too young for the position you occupy and you must have a godfather somewhere. Do you hear such comments about yourself as well?
Personally, I hate the issue of having godfathers in any sector because I want people to work hard and achieve what they can in their lifetime. I do not like when employees beg people in power for favours or promotions. I always preach this message to all my younger siblings at home; I urge them to always strive to work hard to achieve what they want for themselves. I discourage that a lot because I believe that if you focus on whatever you are doing, you will excel. That is what I encourage everyone to do. I do not believe in the concept of having godfathers and I do not have any godfather. I have been working very hard since I joined the police. It is the work that I am doing that has propelled me to where I am and it would take me to where I am going. I do not lobby to be promoted. Am also a recipient of Triple IGP’s Medal for Courage 2012, 2013, 2014 And Presidential Medal Of Courage 2016. Normally, when you do an outstanding job, some good leaders would want to reward you.
In the course of your career, you have been able to arrest some of the most wanted criminals in the country. Some Nigerians have been asking if you use charms to make such arrests.
Many people believe that I use charms but I do not use any charm. For instance, when we arrested Ndagi about 14 years ago, there was a rumour that before I was able to arrest him, I travelled to my village in Maiduguri to get charms to help me make the arrest. They said it took me seven days to have the charm and that immediately I left Maiduguri, I got him arrested. I laughed because nothing like that happened and I did not even visit my village three months before his arrest.
We were able to arrest him because we were dedicated. The technology we had then was nothing compared to what we have now. What I did was to get many informants in the town to work for me and we were all looking for him. I had to tip people and make friends with them.
Are you not afraid for your life when you go for operations?
Yes, usually I am. However, I cannot say that I would not do the job because of that; the job has to be done. These guys cannot be allowed to operate freely as they kill innocent people. We have decided that we would not relent; we would go after them. We also take some precautions by studying the group or persons that we are going after. We gather information about people we go after; we don’t go after people blindly.
However, despite such preparations, an operation cannot be totally smooth. We still have some casualties. It happens all over the world despite the advanced technology they have. If you take all the precautions, you can minimise the casualties.
Do you have any ritual you perform before any operation?
I just pray before I go out. If it is a serious operation, we have to tell our spouses where we are going so that they would be aware in case something happens.
How has your wife been coping with the risks involved in your job?
Initially, my wife did not find it easy and it was affecting her seriously. Later, she got used to it and she knows the risks that are involved in this job. She is not completely comfortable with my job, even till now but she always prays for me. She is a very religious woman and whenever we discuss it, she gives me some advice that helps. It has not been easy for her.
Are you a romantic person?
Yes, I believe I am. I am just a normal guy. It is my work that is too demanding. I like comedy a lot. I like funny things and I also love laughing. I like being in the midst of people.
How did you meet your wife?
We met when I was serving as a police officer in Adamawa. One of our friends was getting married; while I was a friend with the groom, she was a friend of the bride. It was love at first sight; immediately I saw her, I knew that she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. After the wedding, we were asked to drop the ladies in their houses and luckily for me, my wife came with me. There were two other ladies in the car so I dropped them off first so that I could spend more time with her. That was how it all started. Initially, she did not know that I was a police officer. She fell in love with a simple nice guy. That night, we spent hours together talking when we got to her house. It was during our discussion that she realised that I was a police officer. Eventually, everything actually went well.
How have you been able to keep fit?
I pay attention to my diet and I also exercise a lot. I do not eat much; I eat about twice a day. If I have the luxury of time and peace of mind, it could add to my weight but I do not have all that. I sleep for about three or four hours daily.
What do you do to relax?
Whenever I have some spare time, I ensure that I spend it with my family. I go to the office seven days a week but on Sundays, I spend about three hours in the office. On other days, I spend about 18 hours Working. I am down to earth. I play a lot when I have the time. I play video games a lot with my children. My son loves shooting games so we play them together as well. Once in a year, we also travel out of the country and we have a splendid time because there would be no calls to interrupt the fun.