Nigeria to disband Sars police unit accused of killings and brutality

By Emmanuel Akinwotu in Lagos

Nigeria’s government has dissolved an infamous police unit plagued with allegations of extrajudicial killings and abuse after days of protests against police brutality.

A wave of outrage had been fuelled over the last week by the emergence online of graphic footage and shared experiences of abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, commonly called Sars.

“EndSars” began as a largely online movement, trending internationally on social media and gaining the support of figures including the footballer Marcus Rashford and the actor John Boyega. Many of those marching in Lagos and cities across Nigeria have been in their 20s and 30s, protesting for the first time and spurred by personal experiences of or connections with abuses by the security forces.

“The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) of the Nigeria Police Force has been dissolved with immediate effect,” a statement by the office of the president, Muhammadu Buhari, said on Sunday.

Police use water cannon to disperse protesters in Abuja on Sunday
Police use water cannon to disperse protesters in Abuja on Sunday. Photograph: Abraham Achirga/Reuters

Insp Gen Mohammed Adamu, who had previously dismissed the prospect of the unit being disbanded, also announced new measures “in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people”. Sars officers would be redeployed to other units, he said, and a “new policing arrangement” to replace it would soon be announced.

Given a recurring cycle in Nigeria of public outrage leading to government pledges that are then perceived not to have brought about tangible change, the announcement was greeted by a mixture of euphoria that the authorities had been forced to act and frustration that the measures did not go far enough.

Amnesty International’s director in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said. “The announcement falls short of demands for accountability and justice for abuses committed by the unit and police in general.

“The police authorities must state strongly the concrete steps they will take to ensure all officers alleged to have committed human rights violations are investigated and brought to justice.

Sars was set up in 1992 to address rising violent crime, but many have accused the unit of gradually mirroring the groups they were set up to stop. Armed police in the capital, Abuja, used force against protesters who were marching as the decision to dissolve it was announced.

Several videos posted on social media appeared to show officers firing live rounds and using teargas and water cannon at fleeing demonstrators, many of whom reported injuries.

One demonstrator said she had seen a group of six officers beating a woman with batons and sticks, confirming video posted online.

D'Oge of Abuja (@blaque_sparkle)

They beat me, broke my glasses. Asked for my phone, threw my things out of my bag and kept asking me, who paid you for this?
How much were you paid?#EndSARS #EndSarsNow #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria https://t.co/cNVn7iUZVc

October 11, 2020

One protester, Jimoh Isiaka, was shot dead by police in the south-western state of Oyo, the governor said in a statement on Saturday, and a police officer, Etaga Stanley, was also killed during clashes in the southern state of Delta.

Many protesters who rallied in recent days described the calls to disband Sars as just the beginning of police reform in Nigeria. “First it’s Sars and then it’s the whole police system, because even with ordinary policemen and women we are not safe,” Anuola, 26, said in Lagos.

“This is not just about Sars, it’s about ending police brutality,” said Ikechukwu Onanuku, a musician in Lagos, who led chants as a thousand marched in the affluent neighbourhood of Ikoyi, blocking a bridge and a roundabout.

“We won’t stop, we’ll be here tomorrow and the next day and next year until there’s change. People are fed up, not just here but globally,” he said, adding that he had almost lost his life after an encounter with the Sars unit. “I could almost not be here,” he said.

The right to protest is enshrined in Nigerian law, but protest movements are regularly suppressed as security forces often see them as threats to stability. Experiences of police abuses are near ubiquitous.

At the demonstration in Ikoyi, medics attended protesters standing in the heat, providing free glucose and paracetamol. Organisers have raised thousands of pounds to buy water, food and supplies for protesters in different parts of the country. Hundreds of lawyers have volunteered to help those detained.

Rinu Oduala, a brand influencer at a sit-in outside the government headquarters in Lagos said she felt the protests were fuelling hope. “It’s inspiring because people have come out to donate money, food and all, from all over the world, she said. I’m hopeful because the whole world is watching us.”