At last, the chickens have come home to roost for Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, as the youthful, notorious and wealthy social media influencer was on Monday November 7, handed an 11-year jail sentence by a Los Angeles court in the United States of America where he has been standing trial since 2020 for his proven role in international fraud syndicate. The Los Angeles judge, Otis D. wright also ordered him to pay $1,732,841 in restitution to his two fraud preys. Earlier last year, he had pleaded guilty and shown remorse. In the course of his trial for the dupe he perpetrated in Qatar, Hushpuppi was also said to have “admitted to several other cyber and business email compromise schemes that cumulatively caused more than $2.4 million in losses”. In his cyber plundering, Abbas has also been fingered in numerous online bank thefts which have ruined the businesses and lives of a number of his victims. Before the falsehood of his wealth was unmasked, he was so rich and well-connected that it was alleged that the young Nigerian was amazingly one of the props of the North Korea regime. When the reign of his unexampled wealth lasted, Abbas, the son of a taxi driver father and a  trader mother, who ought to know the pains and gains of diligence, had about 2.8 million subjects—followers— in his social media kingdom where he was always flaunting his opulent life style. It is good that in this case justice has been served. Beyond this, the lesson has been sent to our youth who are neck deep in cybercrime that, a house built with saliva is doomed to collapse.

In the course of the trial and the imminence of his sentencing, the news broke that two Nigerian imams had written to the Los Angeles court judge to plead that justice be tempered with mercy for Abbas because of his generosity and philanthropic acts. According to an online report, first to write was, the imam of Madrasat Ridu L’Hai-L-Aroyiba Wal Islamiyat Imisi-Oluwa mosque, Lagos, Rasaq Olopede. He wrote: “Abbas has been a young and thriving adult with a keen interest for the development of his community.” He also described him “as a frequent donator to the mosque I lead. He would always contribute his part to anything concerns the mosque; he would offer financial support at every given time when the mosque was holding events. He, at different times donated to the mosque just like he did when he bought a generator set for the mosque.” Writing in the same vein, Hudu  Abdulrasak, the imam of madrasa in Borno State, said that, “Abbas has lent hands of assistance to many in our community through provision of borehole, well water, payment of school fees, supporting of feeding programmes among others.” They also expressed dismay at his descent to crime, but by and large, they still pleaded for leniency for him from the desk of the judge. Understandably, Regina Mariam Manneh his wife also pleaded for leniency given the agony his long sentencing would impose on her as a mother of one.

It is this practice of character witnessing that is called character reference letter writing in the American legal system particularly at the level of federal court system. The aim of this is to afford the defendant especially one that has pleaded guilty, the opportunity to influence the judge to mitigate his sentence. Such letters are written by the referees at the behest of the defendant or voluntarily by the referees. To have effect, the character witnesses must be those who know intimately the other good side of the defendant. That the two imams have written about the positive side of Abbas is not therefore legally wrong and neither is the wife’s attestation inappropriate. Yet, there are two clear moral signposts their actions green light: one and on a good note, it portends the three referees as very loyal friends to Abbas. For, in spite of the ignominy Abbas’s sin spawned, they still stood by him, although they in fairness still acknowledged the fact that what he did was wrong and inimical. They are friends in need and also indeed! Two, and this where the praise stops, the three of them had proved untruthful friends to Abbas. This is because, at the crucial point in which they should have questioned the source of Abbas’ wealth and suspected his flamboyant life style, they did not. For, if they had challenged him then, there would not have been any need for this last minute disgraceful rescue mission. No doubt, the imams knew he was living a life larger than his means. The wife equally knew, but because the imams too were possibly benefitting from Abbas‘s largess along with their mosques and the less privileged members of their mosques, they might have chosen to play the ostrich. And the woman too, possibly a woman of easy virtue, pretended as if she did not know that the money being splashed on her was causing tears, ruins and deaths in the businesses and lives of the owners.

As spiritual leaders, the imams should not have only questioned the source of his wealth, but should have done well by drumming to his ears the principles guiding Zakat or charity in Islam, chief of which is that, your charity works should not be proceeds of wealth derived fraudulently. Indeed, if they had done this earlier, they would have had the confidence and justification for refusing to stand for Abbas as character witnesses in this case. In fact, standing as character witnesses for him has portrayed them more as his spiritual accomplices in his cyber robbery than just mere friends in need. That Abbas’s friends, both temporal and spiritual, closed their eyes and shut their hearts to his callous engagements is of course a reflection of our larger society’s culture of worshipping, praising, hailing, rewarding and honouring the rich without questioning the sources of their wealth which proofs may exist is ill-gotten. Ours is a society in which those that do honest giving are not only unappreciated but are equally denigrated and scorned as very stingy. Even in our churches and mosques, that is sadly the culture. In them, that genuine giving consists in sacrifice and inconvenience; that widow’s mite is much more rewarding than giving from dirty surplus and that you can give in kind and counsel are no longer homiletically stressed  today. Almost all our cathedrals are rented with songs and messages of prosperity at all cost. In our democratic space and practice, it is even worse. Like the Jews of the old, integrity no longer counts among the electorate when the choice confronting them is one between a saint and Satan.

The Abbas phenomenon is of course a confirmation of the saying that, it is not all that glitter that is gold. Let it be said to our young ones that, internet looting targeted at Americans and Europeans, is not equivalent to reparation for slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. It is purely a crime. There are better and more dignifying ways of seeking reparations for those three dents on our history and lives.  Besides, if the philanthropic and flamboyant young Abbas has been found to be a cheat; if Evans the rich has been found to be a kidnapper; if former governors and ministers that engaged in private  empowerment schemes running to several billions of naira have been found to be thieves ; if philanthropic bankers have been found to be living on the stolen resources of their customers; and if socialites have been living large on narcotics, is it then not safe to raise the question: “does abundance of wealth not exist with the worst of men?”

Dr. Adebisi writes from the Department of history and international relations, Elizade University,Ilara-mokin,Ondo State.


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