By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor
Following widespread public protest, the Nigerian Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was dissolved October 11, the Nigerian President announced. He said the officers from the unit, which was accused widely of extorting and abusing the public, would be redeployed.
PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE: The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force @PoliceNG has been dissolved WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT.
The Inspector General of Police will communicate further developments in this regard.
— Presidency Nigeria (@NGRPresident) October 11, 2020
However, the protests continued despite SARS’s dissolution. Critics pointed out that this was the fourth time in four years that promises had been made to disband or reform SARS, and that redeploying the officers would not solve the issue of police violence in Nigeria.
Further undermining the ending of SARS was the issue that the anti-SARS protesters had been met with violence by unrelated police units while protesting. This led Nigerian protesters to call for wider police reforms.
Police have reportedly fired live ammunition on unarmed protesters, as well as using tear gas and water cannons. Four police officers in Lagos– who allegedly opened fire on protesters – were arrested.
A number of Nigerian cities have banned protests or enforced curfews, as the protests escalate. Some members of the public have acted to undermine the peaceful nature of the protests.
Allegedly hijacked by violent actors, some groups have vandalised police stations. A number of armed groups have also attacked peaceful protesters.
What has happened in the protests?
Protesters demonstrating against police brutality blocked a major road in the country’s economic hub, Lagos, as well as preventing access to Lagos airport.
There have been demonstrations in Aba, Enugu, Ibadan, Jos and Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, amongst other cities.
In Abuja, protesters were attacked by a group of men using machetes. Later, demonstrators occupied a bank in the capital, but were attacked by an armed group. Amnesty international reported dozens injured in the incident.
In the city of Osogbo, the state governor was marching alongside protesters when an armed group fired on them, injuring some of the governor’s aides.
Protests began in Kano state, after a 17 year old was reportedly tortured to death in police custody.
There have been reports of violent mobs hijacking the protests. In Lagos a police building was set ablaze, reportedly by such a group.
What has the government’s response been?
After dissolving SARS and promising a commitment to more extensive police reforms, the Nigerian President ordered the release of all protesters arrested while demonstrating against police brutality.
The Nigerian police then announced a new police unit to replace SARS, the Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT), and announced that all former SARS officers would have to undergo psychological and medical examination before any further training or redeployment.
SWAT was met with skepticism, with many critics saying that creating a new unit did not solve the issue. Some took to calling SWAT ‘SARS With Another Title’.
Protests continued despite these changes, and the Nigerian army warned protesters to stop.
The governor of Rivers state banned all forms of protest, stating there was now “no need” for protests of any kind.
The Rivers State Government hereby wish to inform the general public that all forms of protests have been banned throughout the State.
— Gov N E Wike Information. (@GovWike) October 12, 2020
Protesters defied the ban though, marching to the government building in the state capital.
Protests were also banned in Abuja, where officials said the spread of coronavirus had to be curtailed.
In Lagos a curfew was instated due to the escalating violence attributed to some protesters, but protesters have remained outside in defiance of the curfew.
Nigeria’s police chief has ordered the deployment of anti-riot police across the country, saying it is to “protect lives and property” of Nigerian citizens.
Representatives of both sides have expressed concerns about increasing violence, as the protests gain momentum both in Nigeria and internationally.
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