Nigerian Army Threatens Action Against 'Trouble Makers' as Government Bans Police Brutality Protests in Nation's Capital
The Nigerian military has warned the public amid weeks of protests against police brutality, calling on "subversives and troublemakers to refrain from doing so". While protesters were indeed the target of violence this week as they continued their demonstrations against the country's SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad), the warning from an army spokesman was widely viewed by activists as a threat.
"The Nigerian Army (NA) wants to reassure law-abiding citizens that it is highly committed to maintaining peace, security and the defense of democracy in Nigeria," said Nigerian Army spokesman Colonel Sagir Musa in one Facebook post (h / t BBC)). "NA hereby warns all subversive elements and troublemakers to refrain from such acts, as they are still strongly committed to defending the country and its democracy at all costs."
Musa also said the military was ready to "give full support to the civil authority in every capacity to maintain law and order and deal decisively with any situation," adding that army officers had been trained "to never be used by anti-democratic forces and agents to be distracted from disagreement. "
The warning came when the government banned protests in the capital, Abuja, claiming the demonstrations violated security protocols to control the spread of COVID-19. There is reason to question the government's stated rationale, however: In the US, researchers found that months of protests against police brutality in COVID-19 cases did not lead to an increase.
The fight against police brutality in Nigeria shares many similarities with this year's Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the United States. Earlier this month, young Nigerians took to the streets to call on the government to disband SARS, a police unit charged with extrajudicial murders, extortion and torture of young Nigerians. Around the world, members of the diaspora, along with human rights activists, increased their appeals and exchanged anecdotes about coercion, sexual harassment, illegal detention and “disappeared” relatives using the hashtag #EndSARS.
Following the ongoing protests and international attention, the Nigerian police chief announced this week that the unit would be disbanded immediately but replaced by a new group, the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. While President Muhammadu Buhari has promised a "comprehensive" reform of the Nigerian police force, activists were not satisfied with the proposed changes and have continued to advocate more substantial police reforms.
The demonstrations have at times become bloody and the demonstrators bear the brunt of the violence from police and other attackers. The BBC reports that protesters in Abuja were attacked with machetes by an unidentified group of attackers on Wednesday. There have been similar reports of men with machetes appearing for the #EndSars protests in Lagos.
On Friday, Fulani Kwajafa, who founded the SARS unit, rejected the group.
"Today's Sars is not the same Sars I founded in 1984," Kwajafa told the BBC, adding that he felt "sad" and "guilty" about what the unit had become.
"I always tell my wife that I was sad that what I created with good purpose and good direction was turned into banditry," Kwajafa continued. He said he supported "100 percent" dissolving SARS.
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