The nigerian government has dissolved a federal police unit that had been the target of days of mass protests against police brutality across africas most populous country.
The special anti-robbery squad (sars) has been accused of extrajudicial killings, unlawful detention, kidnapping, torture, extortion and robbery. the latest outrage against the plainclothes unit came after a video allegedly showing one of its officers killing a man went viral this month.
The dissolution of sars is in response to the yearnings of the nigerian people, nigerias head of police said in a statement.
The decision followed an outpouring online under the hashtag #endsars, with young nigerians sharing their own stories and gruesome videos of beatings, torture and murder at the hands of sars officers. the hashtag trended worldwide over the weekend, with nigerian celebrities including musicians burna boy and davido joining in, along with members of the global diaspora, such as british actor john boyega. the unit acts with complete impunity, amnesty international has claimed.
Wilfred ndidi, midfielder for leicester city, said on twitter that nigerians abroad were scared to visit home because the people who are meant to protect us are killing us.
Street protests have steadily grown over the past few days, with thousands of people participating across lagos over the weekend, and hundreds more in abuja, where police fired tear gas on sunday. at least one protester and one police officer were reportedly killed over the weekend, with news of police firing live rounds on protesters.
The police statement said sars officers would be redeployed and a new police unit formed to deal with violent crimes.
Cheta nwanze, partner at lagos-based consultancy sbm intelligence, called the move a placebo. not a word about justice for the victims of sars and...a new unit, he wrote on twitter. sars with a different name.
The unit was created in the 1990s in response to rampant lawlessness in lagos, nigerias biggest city, where police and citizens were under siege from criminal gangs.
But over time it soon became difficult to distinguish between sars operatives and actual criminals, said tanwa ashiru, of lagos-based risk consultancy bulwark intelligence. civilians began complaining about armed men in plain clothes harassing innocent civilians, beating, extorting and illegally detaining them until they marched up to an atm machine to cough out a huge sum as bribe as a mandatory condition for release.
In a june report, amnesty international documented 82 alleged human rights violations by the squad across the country in the past three years, including hanging, mock execution, assault and waterboarding.
The unit has allegedly targeted young nigerians with dreadlocks and those carrying laptops, including the programmers and developers that have turned lagos into the hottest start-up scene on the continent.
Iyinoluwa aboyeji, one of the leaders of the tech scene, recounted his own detention by sars as well as those of developers for one of his companies, andela, which has raised more than $100m.
What exactly is our crime? he wrote on twitter. having a decent job? building things on the internet in our own country? earning the country millions of dollars in foreign exchange?
He said many of the developers trained by andela so they could transform the country ended up in europe because of sars.