TIFE OWOLABI and FELIX ONUAH
NIGERIA’S police have agreed to stop using force against protesters, the presidency has announced, a day after law enforcement agents shot live fire at demonstrators in Lagos where an official said two people were killed.
Demonstrators have been calling for almost a week for law enforcement to halt the use of force against them, but marches demanding the end of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) police unit have been met with beatings, tear gas and gunfire.
Protesters continued to demand a police overhaul despite President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday vowing “extensive police reforms”. On Sunday authorities said SARS would be disbanded, but protesters say similar promises have been made before to no effect.
For years, Nigerians have accused SARS of beatings, killings and extorting money.
Police announced on Tuesday a new unit, the Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT), to “fill the gaps” left by SARS. The statement also ordered SARS officers to report to Abuja for tests, training and counselling before redeployment.
Some Nigerians said on Twitter the move confirmed fears that police would simply recreate SARS under a new name. Less than an hour after the statement, protesters posted the news with the hashtag #EndSWAT.
A presidency statement said Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission would set up a panel within a week to investigate alleged human rights violations by SARS and other police units.
Hundreds attended a protest march on Tuesday in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt, defying Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike who said such demonstrations were “prohibited”.
The governor’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the march.
Protests also took place in parts of Lagos on Tuesday, a day after police in the megacity opened fire with live ammunition against demonstrators.
Lagos police did not comment on whether officers fired live rounds, but said “unscrupulous elements” among protesters had killed a bystander and a police officer. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.