Scepticism as Nigeria dissolves loathed police unit

Campaigners in Nigeria have responded with scepticism to the announcement that a police unit, widely accused of brutality, has been disbanded.

Demonstrators had called for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or Sars, to be broken up.

But they are unhappy that its officers are being redeployed to other units rather than being disciplined.

Protests against Sars spread to Europe and Canada after reports of unlawful arrests, torture and shootings.

Demonstrations have entered their fourth day with protesters barricading a major road in the commercial hub of Lagos, and others gathering close to the city’s main airport.

In a statement, Nigeria’s police chief Mohammed Adamu said allegations of abuse would be investigated by a committee including civil society members.

Yet many are concerned at suspected wrongdoers continuing to serve in the force in the meantime, and it is unclear whether any officers will be prosecuted for past abuses.

Sceptics also point to the fact this is the fourth time in as many years that promises have been made to disband or reform Sars.

After Sunday’s announcement that the police unit would be disbanded, there were reports of officers continuing to use tear gas, water cannon and live rounds against protesters in the capital, Abuja, and the south-western state of Oyo, fuelling concerns that people in Sars had not been pulled from duty.

It was not until musician Davido joined protests in Abuja that the police stopped arresting demonstrators.

The BBC’s Ishaq Khalid in the capital says there are also fears that if thousands of Sars officers are dismissed at once they could pose a security threat.

Activists also say that the abuses carried out during the protests – including beatings, intimidation and the disproportionate use of force against demonstrators – were all carried out by policemen who did not belong to Sars.

They say a total overhaul of policing in Nigeria is needed.

The latest round of protests were prompted by footage of officers pulling two men out of a hotel in Lagos into the street and shooting one of them.

The footage, leaked to the media, provoked outrage and led many to share stories of brutality attributed to the unit, which has developed notoriety for unduly profiling young people, the BBC’s Nduka Orjinmo in Abuja says.

-BBC

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