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Controversial Nigerian Police Unit SARS to be Disbanded After Days of Protests Across the Diaspora

Nigerian officials vowed to disband a controversial police unit after days of protests sparked by the killing of a civilian.

The protests began last week after videos of police officers killing and abusing civilians were shared on social media, according to The Guardian. The officers responsible for the deaths were members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, commonly known as SARS. The unit was formed in the 1990s to combat violent crime. However, citizens claim the group’s behavior was indistinguishable from other criminals.

Protesters in Maryland march to support the #ENDSARS movement that started in Nigeria. (Photo: Ella Fortte/Twitter)

The armed officers often travel in unmarked vehicles and wear plainclothes. They have been accused of extortion, kidnapping and torture, reported The New York Times. SARS is known to target young, well-dressed men, ages 18 to 35. Amnesty International has documented 82 cases of police violence in the past three years with tactics including “hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes [and] waterboarding.”

Nigerian citizens and members of the diaspora have been protesting across the world and tweeting under the #ENDSARS hashtag since the violent videos surfaced over the weekend.

The movement has attracted attention from celebrities including actor John Boyega, singer Trey Songz and Afrobeat artists Mr Eazi and Wizkid, according to CNN.

On Sunday, Oct. 11, Nigeria’s inspector general of police announced SARS would be disbanded “in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people” and its members will be reassigned. The police will also work with human rights organizations to launch a probe into the abuse accusations.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari also promised police reform.

“The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people,” Buhari said on Monday.

The same day, at least one person died at a demonstration after police officers fired live ammunition into a crowd, per Reuters. Tolu Ogunlesi, one of Buhari’s aides, condemned the shooters on Twitter.

“There is no excuse for shooting anything (not to talk of live bullets) at peaceful protesters,” he wrote. Ogunlesi urged law enforcement to “find the shooters and make them face justice in full”.

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