By Alexis Akwagyiram and Abrahim Achirga
LAGOS (Reuters) – The head of Nigeria’s police dissolved its Special Anti-Robbery Squad with immediate effect on Sunday, a police statement said, prompted by days of protests across the country against alleged brutality by the controversial unit.
The protests broke out after a video circulated last week allegedly showing members of the unit – known as SARS – shooting dead a man in Delta state. It also prompted a globally-trending social media campaign to abolish the squad.
Demonstrators also alleged that police shot dead another man while marching in the southwestern city of Ogbomosho on Saturday. Police did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.
“The dissolution of SARS is in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people,” the police statement said.
It added that the police was redeploying unit members and would announce a new strategy to tackle SARS’ remit of fighting armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crime.
Protesters and rights groups met the announcement with scepticism and calls for justice. Police officials and politicians have said they were disbanding or reforming SARS multiple times in recent years, with little visible change, critics say.
“They all need to be punished or disciplined,” said Charles Avackaa, a Lagos media executive who alleged SARS officers have extorted 100,000 naira ($262.7) from him.
“But they mess up and (their bosses) carry them and put them somewhere else, there is nothing on how they operate,” he said.
For years, Nigerians have accused SARS of heavy-handed methods, particularly the young, who say officers regularly target, beat and extort them.
An Amnesty International report in June documented 82 alleged cases of SARS mistreating, torturing and extra-judicially executing detainees.
On Sunday, Nigerian police used teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters in the capital Abuja, a repeat of what witnesses said were similar events on Friday.