Despite disbanding of notorious police unit, activists find redeployment of its officers ‘problematic’ and vow to continue protesting.
Nigerian protesters have promised to keep up their campaign seeking justice for victims of police brutality and an overhaul of the security apparatus, even as authorities announced the immediate disbanding of a notorious anti-robbery unit that has long been accused of grave human rights abuses.
Sparked by the alleged killing of a man by an officer in southern Nigeria, thousands of people this week took to the streets across the country to protest against police brutality and demand the complete abolition of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Many more used the #EndSARS hashtag online to share stories alleging extortion, torture, disappearances and even murders at the hands of members of the unit.
After days of angry protests, Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu said in a statement on Sunday SARS had been dissolved “in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people”.
He added, however, all SARS officers would be redeployed to other police units.
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, welcomed the dissolution of the unit but said the announcement “fell short of the expectations of Nigerians”.
“Nigerians want accountability [for] those officers who have murdered, who have brutalised Nigerians,” he told Al Jazeera. “Disbanding the unit without taking sanctions against those who perpetrated these acts, it means that when they are transferred to another unit, they could replicate the same atrocities.”
Describing the redeployment of officers as “problematic”, Abuja-based lawyer Abdul Mahmud said what was needed was “root-and-branch” reform.
“The psyche of our police officers is built on working outside the law. We will continue to demand respect for the rights of citizens,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The police have to return itself to constitutionalism; step up the training of its officers and ensure that the issue of discipline of erring officers is handled transparently,” Mahmud said. “We have been on this for 10 years.”
Hours after the police chief’s announcement, there were reports of protesters being arrested, while a handful of demonstrators in Abuja were forcefully dislodged with water cannons by police officers.
“They are saying one thing and another thing is happening on the streets. We do not believe they have been disbanded,” Chioma Agwuegbo, a protester in the capital, told Al Jazeera.
“You cannot announce that you have disbanded SARS but on the streets of Abuja my brothers and sisters are getting tear-gassed. People are getting injured, women are getting beaten up. That’s not how you disband SARS,” she said, adding that demonstrators will continue their campaign “until we see a disbandment that goes beyond a statement”.
Agwuegbo continued: “We need to see justice for everyone who has been killed. Who are these officers? Prosecute them.”
In his statement, Adamu said the Nigerian police force would work with human rights groups and civil society organisations to investigate cases of alleged human rights violations.
“A new policing arrangement to address anticipated policing gaps the dissolution of SARS would cause has been evolved and shall be announced in due course,” he added.
‘Now they know we have a voice’
The announcement instantly sparked a flood of reactions on social media.
“The proscribing of SARS is a victory in the right direction – though this wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. However, we believe with the camaraderie exhibited by Nigerians and the silent majority, this would be the last of such an unruly unit of law enforcement,” Senator Ben Murray-Bruce said on Twitter.
Afrobeats star Wizkid said this was “just the beginning”.
“Now they know we have a voice! And we the youths understand the power we have. We shall continue to speak up about other pressing issues/police brutality and good governance!”
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