Nigeria Scraps Brutal Police Unit After Protests Against Human Rights Abuse

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The Nigeria Police Force has dissolved an anti-robbery unit following days of protests against alleged human-rights abuses by some of its officers.

“All officers serving in the unit will be redeployed to other police commands and formations with immediate effect,” the inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu, said in a statement. There will be “new policing arrangements to address offenses and other violent crimes that fall within the mandate of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad.”

Human-rights groups such as Amnesty International have accused the unit of widespread abuses, including extra-judicial killings.

The demonstrations were triggered by a video that went viral on social media showing the killing of a civilian in the southern town of Ughelli by a member of the squad. A civilian and a police officer were killed during the protests.

“SARS has been banned, renamed, reorganized, at least six times in the last five years, and nothing has changed,” Cheta Nwanze, an analyst at Lagos-based SBM Intelligence, said. “The only reason the government has done this now is because of the international embarrassment that it is causing, so this is not a real change,”.

Young Nigerians who took to the streets calling for the dissolution of the police unit gained the support of celebrities including British-Nigerian actor John Boyega, and the hashtag #EndSARS has been trending worldwide on social media. The marches that began in smaller numbers on Monday have since grown into large crowds spreading beyond Nigeria’s borders.

Demonstrators in the capital city, Abuja, claimed the police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse people after the dissolution announcement on Sunday. The police behavior was widely criticized on social media with people calling for protests to continue.

There should be a complete restructuring of not just the police, but Nigeria’s entire security architecture, and officers who have been committing robbery and murder under the cover of legitimate police work should be punished, Nwanze said.

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