A nationwide protest over police brutality has recently rocked the nation and world, following claims of kidnapping, harassment and extortion by a controversial police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The protest took a turn for the worst when blood was spilt on Tuesday in Lagos, as rally goers continue on in the nation’s largest city despite a state-wide curfew. Eyewitnesses told CNN in an interview that soldiers had shot down multiple demonstrators.
According to Amnesty International, a global movement that campaigns to end abuses of human rights, at least 56 people have died during two weeks of widespread demonstrations against police violence, including 38 on Tuesday.
The Nigerian inspector general of police announced 10 days ago that the widely criticized SARS unit was being disbanded and its officers are being redeployed.
Protest continued throughout as some young Nigerians insist they will continue to take to the streets until the entire police force in enforced.
SARS and its controversy
SARS has led the country in its most serious crimes – armed robbery, kidnapping, assault and even murder. All these has worsened over time as the alleged abuses were exempted from punishment of an sorts.
Following a month’s long worth of social media campaigns by Nigerian activists protesting alleged human rights abuse by the infamous squad, the government has promised to overhaul the unit back in 2018; but critics says that the campaign has led to little change.
A report in June this year has also revealed 82 documented cases of brutality in Nigeria between 2017 and 2020.
“Detainees in SARS custody have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence,” the report said.
“Findings from our research indicate that few cases are investigated and hardly any officers are brought to justice on account of torture and other ill-treatment.”
Protesting turned sour
Demonstrations have largely remain peaceful until the police were accused of using excessive force against protesters that allegedly led to a number of deaths and injuries.
Violence took over in the city of Lagos after state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu imposed a 24 hour curfew and deployed anit-riot police.
One witness at the protests, Akinbosola Ogunsanya, said lights were turned off and CCTV cameras were removed before “members of the Nigerian army pulled up on us and they started firing.”
“They were shooting, they were firing straight, directly at us, and a lot of people got hit. I just survived, barely,” Ogunsanya said.
Another witness, Temple Onanugbo, spoke to CNN from his home nearby and said he heard what he believed were bullets being fired. He said the sound lasted “for about 15 to 30 minutes.” Onanugbo said he saw “multiple bodies laying on the ground.”
Amnesty International said on Tuesday it had received “credible but disturbing evidence” of “excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters.”
“While we continue to investigate the killings, Amnesty International wishes to remind the authorities that under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect against imminent threat of death or serious injury,” the rights group also tweeted.