Nigerian govt. abolishes federal special police unit over abuse allegations


The Nigerian government has dissolved an infamous police unit plagued with allegations of extrajudicial killings and abuse, after days of protests against police brutality.

The government said a special presidential directive has ordered the immediate dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars).

A wave of outrage had been fuelled over the last week by the emergence online of graphic footage and shared experiences of abuses by the unit.

Protests against the squad were sparked by a video of a man allegedly being killed by police and the demonstrations have intensified despite a crackdown and have spread outside the country.

All the officers in the Sars squad – widely accused of unlawful arrests, torture and murder – are to be redeployed, the presidency said, and a new arrangement to replace the squad is being worked on.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s chief of police said a team of investigators – including civil society organisations and human rights bodies – would be set up to investigate alleged abuses by Sars.

President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier said he was determined to end police brutality, introduce reforms and bring “erring personnel… to justice”.

Protesters had demanded the unit be disbanded rather than reformed because previous commitments to change police behaviour had had no effect.

BBC correspondents in Nigeria say clashes between anti-Sars protestors and policemen have been growing.

Multiple eyewitnesses told the BBC they were beaten by police officers, as well as seeing others being attacked during protests on Sunday morning, Nigeria correspondent Mayeni Jones said.

A young woman who had strayed from the crowd at one protest told the BBC she had been beaten by 10 policemen who broke her glasses. A BBC reporter was also stopped by the police and her mobile phone broken by an officer.

Meanwhile the hashtag #EndSARS has been trending in Nigeria and globally, with demonstrations spreading to the UK and Canada.

Earlier this year rights group Amnesty said it had documented at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution between January 2017 and May this year.

The victims were mainly men aged between 18 and 35 from poor backgrounds and vulnerable groups. Many of those tortured were beaten with sticks and machetes and denied medical attention, the group said.

The “systemic use of torture… points to an absolute disregard for international human rights laws and standards”, Amnesty said.

The #EndSARS hashtag was first thought to have been used in 2018, but it emerged once again a week ago.

There have been earlier attempts to reform the notorious squad. In 2018 Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo ordered that its management and activities be overhauled.

Then last year, a specially formed Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad recommended reforms along with the dismissal and prosecution of named officers accused of abusing Nigerians.

At the time, President Buhari gave the head of police three months to work out how to implement the recommendations, but critics say little changed. (Source: BBC)