The nationwide protests were the culmination of weeks of anger and outcry online from young people across the country over allegations of kidnapping, harassment and extortion by a police unit known as of Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS).
On Thursday, a protest was led on the island of Lagos by Folarin Falana, lawyer and singer, and Runtown, an artist known by that stage name.
Falana, who is popularly known as Falz, told CNN it was important for him to walk because there had been “too many incidents of harassment, extortion and police brutality” in the country. He added that he too had been the victim of harassment by the Nigerian police.
Protests continue into the night
Videos of the protesters shared on Twitter Thursday evening showed police forcibly dispersing the protesters, dismantling their sleeping tents, turning off street lights and making verbal threats.
Nigerian police responded to the public outcry last Sunday by banning the unit from conducting stop and search activities.
SARS, as well as other tactical police units, are now prohibited from “performing routine patrols and other conventional low risk tasks – stop and search functions, checkpoints, erection of roadblocks, road checks, etc. – with immediate effect, “Nigerian Police Chief Mohammed Adamu said in a statement on Sunday.
Feyikemi Abudu was among the protesters outside the Lagos State Assembly in Ikeja on Friday. She told CNN their demands were presented to the assembly, which held an emergency session on Friday to listen to their demands.
“There are many demands, but the main one is to end SARS, not to reform it but to end it completely. Another claim is compensation for victims of the brutality of SARS, both alive and dead. We also want a committee that will investigate and examine the present and past grievances around the brutality of SARS, ”Abudu said.
Media personality Toke Makinwa was also among those who protested. “People constantly call my show with reports of harassment,” she said.
“A man told me they pulled out his phone and searched his banking app, took him to an ATM to withdraw money for them. Nigeria has reduced its citizens to doing everything themselves. SARS should not be one of the problems we face. . You’re supposed to be anti-theft, but we’re afraid of you. The people who are supposed to protect are the ones who oppress us. ”
CNN brought these and other allegations to the Nigerian Police Force, and Lagos State spokesman Muyiwa Adejobi said all complaints against its agents were fully investigated. and that appropriate sanctions were applied to offenders.
Adejobi added that many people rarely report the abuse because they fear they will not get justice. He encouraged those affected by police misconduct to report the abuse.
‘A lack of political will’
Police say banning the SARS unit is one of many steps towards dress reform.
However, this ban is not the first time that Nigerian authorities have censored the SARS unit.
In 2018, the country’s vice president Yemi Osinbajo, while deputizing for the president who was out of the country on vacation at the time, ordered the unit to be overhauled. In January 2019, the police announced a new ban on the same police unit.
But human rights organization Amnesty Nigeria says little has changed since the bans were put in place.
“A similar SARS ban did not end police brutality as it appears the bans were simply made to allay the growing public anger at the time of the announcement and not to end the police brutality,” he said. said Seun Bakare, Amnesty Nigeria program manager.
In an email to CNN, he said that as a result of previous campaigns, some reforms like “the adoption of the 2017 anti-torture law, the signing of the new police law” and others minor amendments were adopted.
The anti-torture law of 2017, for example, is supposed to protect Nigerians, including suspects and detainees, from torture and inhuman treatment. However, there appears to be a lack of political will to enforce these laws, Bakare said.
“Nothing will happen if I shoot you”
The #EndSARS, #StopPolicebrutality hashtag continued to evolve on Twitter as young people shared their stories, photos and videos which they said show men in Nigerian police uniforms searching and harassing their cars.
Lagos-based contractor Samuel Otigba told CNN he had several encounters with members of the police who he said belonged to the SARS unit. He said meetings usually begin with demands for bribes. Otigba alleges that in May he got into trouble because he refused to give one of the officers a bribe when he was arrested after a night out with his wife.
He says his phone was searched and he was threatened by the officer who told him, “You know, if I shoot you, nothing will happen.
Otigba recounted another encounter earlier this year when aAnother group of officers, who wore masks, he said, arrested him and his wife again after a night spent in Lagos state.
“Six of them jumped out of their minibus and started pointing guns at us, ordering us to get out of our car. We thought they were armed thieves. We were all so scared and my wife was crying, ”Otigba told CNN.
This time, he says he paid the officers 20,000 naira (about $ 52) before they were released. He said he did not report the incident.
Adejobi, the police spokesperson, said only reported incidents were investigated.
“Not carrying laptops is a crime”
The Nigerian tech community, in particular, has long complained about police harassment.
Many tech entrepreneurs say they’re targeted for having things like tattoos and dreadlocks, or just carrying laptops and smartphones.
Between 2017 and 2020, Amnesty International said it documented 82 cases of police brutality in Nigeria.
“You can’t have a situation where SARS says they’re investigating cybercrime by arresting young men and women carrying their laptops and phones. I don’t see how you can investigate this by grabbing people’s phones in a taxi or in their car, ”according to tweets attributed to Osibanjo.