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Nigerians Demand End to Police Squad Known for Brutalizing the Young

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LAGOS, Nigeria — With protests breaking out throughout Nigeria and in expatriate Nigerian communities around the globe, the nation’s president vowed to a skeptical public on Monday that he would crack down on rogue cops accused of brutalizing residents.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise got here a day after his authorities introduced that it might dismantle a extensively feared police unit generally known as SARS, for Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

“The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms,” Mr. Buhari mentioned in a televised assertion, talking out for the primary time since protests began final week. “We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct are brought to justice.”

To many, Mr. Buhari’s response was too little, too late, and so they predicted it might do little to placate the indignant younger Nigerians who’ve been blocking main routes in cities throughout the nation to protest the police unit.

One protester in Lagos, Olasunkanmi Amoo, 26, mentioned President Buhari’s assertion was a hole promise — and he famous that the demonstrations had not come to a halt.

“We’re all still outside,” she mentioned. “People are just very wary because you can talk all you want, but if you don’t do anything we’re still going to be here. We’re coming back tomorrow. We don’t trust him, and we don’t believe him.”

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad was created in 1992 and charged with tackling the issue of violent crime in Lagos. It operated as a faceless, 15-member group that traveled in two unmarked buses, its officers usually sporting neither uniforms nor identify tags.

The anonymity was thought of very important for taking up the gangs that overtly terrorized Lagos on the time. But because the police unit grew, establishing itself all through the nation, its faceless nature opened the door to abuse, making it tough to determine and report rogue officers and emboldening them to behave with impunity, critics say.

The SARS unit has been accused of focusing on younger individuals who seem well-dressed, shaking them down for cash, and torturing and abusing and even killing those that resist. Amnesty International says it documented greater than 82 circumstances of abuse and extrajudicial killings by SARS officers from January 2017 to this May.

Many of the victims have been between 18 and 35, the human rights group mentioned. Nearly half of Nigeria’s inhabitants of 182 million inhabitants is beneath age 30, one of many world’s largest concentrations of younger individuals.

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The authorities has claimed earlier than that it deliberate to close down the unit, however its officers are nonetheless on the streets.

“The government disbanded SARS in 2017, in 2018 and in 2019,” mentioned Omobolanle Adams, 25, a Nigerian graduate pupil at Boston University. “We’re not buying it this time.”

Protesters say they gained’t be happy till the president points an govt order and till clear motion is taken not simply to disband SARS however to handle broader issues with the police. Their calls for embody psychological evaluations for reassigned SARS officers, and compensation for victims of police violence. They are additionally pushing for higher pay for cops to scale back the monetary exploitation of residents.

Protesters are additionally demanding the discharge of these arrested on the latest demonstrations, and a requirement that the police use solely rubber bullets throughout civil unrest.

The protests broke out in main Nigerian cities, together with Lagos and the capital, Abuja, and the outrage rapidly unfold on-line.

The #EndSARS hashtag on Twitter quickly garnered world consideration, resonating notably within the United States, birthplace of the Black Lives Matter motion. The Nigerian protests have been embraced by prime American stars like Chance the Rapper and Cardi B.

Demonstrations in exhibits of solidarity have been held throughout the Nigerian diaspora in cities like Atlanta, Berlin and London. In New York on Sunday, younger protesters gathered in entrance of the Nigerian Consulate General in Midtown to share their very own tales of police brutality whereas in Nigeria and to demand motion from the Nigerian authorities.

“The youth in Nigeria are tired,” mentioned Ms. Adams, 25, the Boston University graduate pupil, who helped arrange the occasion with different activists she met on Twitter.

She pointed to the tough crackdowns on the protesters in Nigeria.

“People are being tear-gassed,” she mentioned. “People are being shot dead. We’re here today to amplify Nigerians’ voices. The time is now.”

The protests that started over the past week have been set off by experiences {that a} younger man in Delta State, in southern Nigeria, had been killed throughout a stop-and-search operation on Oct. 3. The police have mentioned that SARS officers weren’t concerned.

As the protests over the killing grew, demonstrators confronted more and more violent crackdowns from safety forces.

One individual, Jimoh Isiaq, was killed within the demonstrations in Oyo State on Saturday, and an unidentified bystander was killed in Lagos on Monday, because the police fired bullets into crowds of protesters, witnesses mentioned. Protesters and journalists have additionally been shot at and overwhelmed in Abuja. And dozens extra have been arrested and stay in custody.

The demonstrations have been the most important in Nigeria in recent times, rivaling protests in 2012 over fuel-price will increase throughout President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure.

Worn down by weak governments and corrupt management for many years, and divided alongside spiritual, ethnic and sophistication strains, Nigerians don’t usually take part mass protests.

But since final week, protesters of various financial standing and faith have taken to the streets to voice their calls for. Top Nigerian celebrities just like the pop stars Wizkid, Davido and Tiwa Savage have attended rallies in massive cities. And the protests have bridged generational divides as older individuals briefly joined the demonstrations this weekend.

Shola Lawal reported from Lagos and Adenike Olanrewaju from New York.



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