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#EndSars protests: Nigerians vow to continue fight against police brutality despite government promises

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Protesters in Nigeria have vowed to continue their fight against police brutality despite government promises to disband a notorious anti-robbery unit.

Major cities including Lagos and Abuja have been rocked by ten days of protests against the actions of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars), which has been accused of carrying out extra-judicial killings and extortion.

At least 10 people have been killed in the protests, according to Amnesty International, while hundreds were rounded up and arrested as police cracked down on demonstrators.

The government has also banned protests in the capital Abuja, citing public safety measures to tackle Covid-19.

On Sunday President Muhammadu Buhari announced that Sars would be dissolved and replaced with a new unit, the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat).

A man holds a Nigerian flag as he demonstrate on the street (AP)

But protesters have remained in the streets, with the movement’s popular Twitter hashtag #EndSars — which had been supported by celebrities including Kanye West and John Boyega — repurposed as #EndSwat.

Demonstrators are now calling on the government to commit to prosecuting Sars officers and compensating victims.

“The Swat unit is not new in Nigeria,” Toyeke, a 28-year-old protester in Nigeria said. “The #EndSars campaign is not calling for a change in name of the current unit but for prosecution of officers who have assaulted, harassed and killed innocent Nigerians, as well as action ceasing illegal stop and search by the police.”

Protests in Abuja on Thursday were disrupted by unidentified men wielding machetes who witnesses say were later detained.

On Monday, Nigeria’s police chief ordered the unconditional release of all demonstrators arrested during protests against police brutality. The decision was a key demand of protesters.

Oluwatosin Olaseinde, a 32-year-old protester from Lagos said: “We have a right to protest so it is a great development that the police chief is ordering the release of demonstrators.”

However, she told the Standard that she does not think the concessions from Nigerian authorities have gone far enough.

“I strongly feel that more can be done to resolve this issue. We need to reform the Nigerian police, it needs to be restructured to serve us properly.

“We need automation of records to trace detainees and training against excessive use of force.”

Ms Olaseinde’s friend was detained by Sars this year. “He was detained because he had a laptop. That was his crime. He was driving with a friend when they pulled him over and searched his car. They asked for the receipts which he didn’t have so they took him to the police station and detained him.”

She was not convinced by President Buhari’s assurances that the Sars unit would be disbanded

“This isn’t the first time we’ve heard it – it’s been said multiple times before. So we need the government to move past the announcement into implementation. What we want is the end result.”

Last weekend #EndSars became the number one trend worldwide on Twitter, with footballer Marcus Rashford and Nigerian singer Burna Boy also giving their support.

“I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the people’s cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria,” Kanye West tweeted on Monday.

Members of the the British-Nigerian diaspora community have also organised protests in solidarity with their compatriots. Protesters including Boyega and Afrobeats star Wizkid gathered in central London on Sunday.

“For Nigerian youths, don’t let anyone tell you you don’t have a voice”, WizKid told the crowd.

Protesters hold a Nigerian flag with an inscription (EPA)

Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey is the latest high profile figure to come out in support of the protesters, urging his followers to donate to the movement.

The recent protests in Nigeria were sparked by leaked footage of Sars officers pulling two men out of a Lagos hotel into the street and shooting and killing one of them.

The video provoked outrage and prompted many to share stories of brutality attributed to the unit.

Several videos posted on social media showed officers firing live rounds and using teargas and water cannons at fleeing demonstrators, many of whom reported injuries.

One protester, 20-year-old Jimoh Isiaqa, was shot dead by police in the south-western state of Oyo. He was killed by stray bullets fired at protesters.

More than £100,000 has been raised to send food, water and first aid supplies to protesters, and to cover medical fees for the injured. Hundreds of lawyers have volunteered to represent those arrested.

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