The Nigerian government has disbanded a controversial police unit known for beating and torturing ordinary citizens. But protests against the SARS unit that began two weeks ago continued across Nigeria Tuesday, with demonstrators demanding justice for victims and an end to police impunity.
Kalu Kingsley was hanging out at a lounge in Abuja one evening in October 2017 when a confrontation broke out between citizens and members of the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
Kingsley was shot in his left leg, and doctors had to amputate it.
He says police authorities ruled the shooting an accident and the officer remained on the job, while he spent thousands of dollars for medical care without compensation.
“If he could do this level of harm to me and nothing was done, you’ve given him a morale to do more. And you’ve given his colleagues morale to do more,” he said.
Nigerian rapper Cobany is also a victim of brutality by the SARS unit. He says he’s been arrested, beaten and extorted three times by agents this year alone.
“He started checking through my phone, my e-mails. And then he saw my bank statement. He said I oh I have money in account. I told him even if I have money in my account, it’s not yours. He slapped me again,” he said.
Now, Cobany is producing new music that sings about his experiences with the SARS unit in order to promote a campaign against the group.
Issues around police brutality involving the SARS unit have simmered for years in Nigeria.
The latest protests started two weeks ago after officers of the unit were seen in a widespread video allegedly making away with a dead victim’s car.
The video attracted nationwide criticism with many Nigerian celebrities and music stars joining thousands across the country in a campaign demanding the police unit be dissolved.
After days of sustained protests across various states, authorities disbanded the group on Sunday.
Mohammed Adaum, Nigeria’s inspectors general of police, made the announcement.
“As a responsive and citizens-oriented police force, it is hereby directed as follows the special anti-robbery squad of the Nigerian police otherwise known as SARS is hereby dissolved across all formations,” he said.
Authorities say officers of the disbanded police unit will now be redeployed to serve in other units within the police. But many, like Cobany, object.
“It’s a lot more than stopping them or banning them or scrapping the entire unit. It has to do with psychology, their mindset has to change,” he said.
Osai Ojigho, the Nigeria country director for human rights group Amnesty International says the dissolution will be complete only when victims get justice.
“When we say end SARS, we’re talking about ending the impunity caused by SARS. So it means that officers who have been identified by the police authority or officers that the citizens have pointed to need to face justice,” he said.
Authorities promised to set up a citizen-led advisory committee to oversee the redeployment and reformation process of the force.
The president’s office has also approved psychological rehabilitation for SARS officials.
For the moment, however, protesters remain on the streets.