Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has said his administration’s determination to reform the country’s police should never be in doubt, the first time he will speak on a movement that has seen hundreds of people protesting against alleged police brutality for a second day.
Protests across major cities of the country began after a video of a man allegedly being killed by police went viral. The protesters are demanding change and the total disbandment of a police unit called the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) widely accused of unlawful arrests, torture, and murder.
The hashtag #EndSARS was trending worldwide on Twitter on Friday with celebrities including Nigerian superstars Wizkid and Davido tweeting their support for protesters.
“I met again with the IGP tonight. Our determination to reform the police should never be in doubt,” President Buhari tweeted Friday, after his meeting with the Inspector General of Police.
“I am being briefed regularly on the reform efforts ongoing to end police brutality and unethical conduct, and ensure that the Police are fully accountable to the people,” he added.
On Sunday, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, banned SARS, and other tactical police units focused on armed crimes from ‘stop and search’ activities, including the setting up of roadblocks, and said officers would always be uniformed.
According to the police, a dedicated complaints unit has in recent years improved accountability for police abuse. However, a history of unmet promises for change has fuelled cynicism in Nigeria and a sense that the armed police units are beyond reproach.
The director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said that because of a lack of accountability, “horrific acts of impunity by SARS and similar tactical police units have continued unabated.”
SARS was one of a number of special police forces set up in the 1990s to address rising violent crime, yet many in the country have accused the unit of gradually mirroring the groups they were set up to stop.
In June last year, a presidential panel established to address abuses by SARS submitted recommendations to President Buhari, which are yet to be implemented according to Amnesty International.
The rights group has accused SARS officers of using “torture and other ill-treatment to execute, punish, and extract information from suspects.”
By Abel Ejikeme