Nigerians protested Monday to pressure the government to follow through on disbanding a feared police unit after authorities made the rare concession in the face of widespread anger over abuses.
Around 2,000 people blocked one of the main highways in the country’s biggest city Lagos, demanding officials make good on an announcement on Sunday that the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was being scrapped.
The decision to dissolve the unit, which has been accused of unlawful arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings, followed a week of nationwide protests that saw police use tear gas and water cannons.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday insisted that the “disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms”.
“The purpose of law enforcement and the purpose of policing is for the safety of lives and livelihood of Nigerians,” he said.
But protesters in Lagos and the capital Abuja vowed they would keep up the pressure after previous pledges to disband the unit and punish officers responsible for abuses were not honoured.
“We are not scared to take to the streets, we are tired,” protester Fareedah, 27, said, as traffic snarled up in Lagos.
“They have said they would end SARS four times in four years, nothing came out.”
Ajebola Ayoade, 31, said that the younger generations were not scared after decades of intimidation and brutality from law enforcement.
“We are starting what our fathers couldn’t do — because they were intimidated, we are oppressed,” he said.
“Look at our country, infrastructure zero, electricity, zero. They didn’t give us education, but we are not illiterate, and we know our rights.”
Rights group Amnesty International said the government needed to ensure any abusive officers were prosecuted promptly.
“A clear and concise timeline for the implementation of the reforms to end police atrocities is key to safeguarding trust between Nigerians and the authorities,” Osai Ojigho, Amnesty’s Nigeria director, said in a statement.
The eruption of long-standing anger over police brutality has been fuelled by an online campaign that has drawn support from some of Africa’s biggest stars.
Afrobeats icon Davido said he was set to meet the inspector general of police after giving the campaign his high-profile backing.
“Sars ending is a great start but the task is far from completed!”, the musician tweeted on Sunday.