Vatican News English Africa Service – Vatican City
“Recently there have been reports and videos documenting that members of the Nigerian police, in particular the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operatives, have been involved in various acts of brutality and extortion against innocent citizens of this great country,” said Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins, the Metropolitan of Lagos, in a statement sent to Agenzia Fides.
Protesters want justice
Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, has since announced the disbanding of the SARS, which was supposed to act against violent robbery but in the end became notorious for its impunity. There have been widespread demonstrations, led by young people and organised on social media, in major Nigerian cities but especially in Lagos and Abuja. The country’s President over the weekend caved-in to pressure from protesters and disbanded the infamous SARS unit. However, the country’s citizens want more. They want those who perpetrated the crimes to be punished and not just transferred to other police posts.
Justice must be seen to be done
“It is sad that a good fraction of persons who are constitutionally empowered to provide security and ensure peace have now turned against the people they are meant to protect,” said the Archbishop of Lagos. He added, “We have also received reports of how some SARS officials are accused of executing victims in an extrajudicial manner. The only way of assuaging the anger in the land now is to ensure that the guilty ones are brought to face the law and justice seen to have been done. Such heinous crimes must not be condoned or allowed to continue,” he said.
On Tuesday, Nigeria’s most senior police officer, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced the unconditional release of all protesters. The government hopes such concessions will make protesters end their demonstrations. There have also been reports of deaths because of the demonstrations. The actual number of fatalities has varied depending on the source. Some accounts speak of 10 persons killed.
SARS: torture and ill-treatment
For years Nigerians have complained about abuses at the hands of the SARS police unit. After violent protests, the Nigerian police chief ordered a restructuring of SARS, three years ago. An Amnesty International report published in June 2020, however, indicated that “torture and other ill-treatment” continued with impunity. In total, Amnesty International documented 82 cases of concern between January 2017 and May 2020.
“Unfortunately, we have been witnesses to the seeming inability of our police authorities to put an end to this outright siege on hapless Nigerians,” said Archbishop Martins, in his statement.
Restructure and restore police to its integrity
“We understand,” continues Archbishop Martins, “that there have been no less than four attempts by the topmost hierarchy of the Nigeria Police to call these special units to order without success. One wonders why this is the case. Inability to bring them under control gives room for people to insinuate that the top echelons are themselves compromised.”
The Archbishop has called on the country’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, the Commission of Police Services and the Inspector General of the Police “to commence a thorough and realistic review of the entire structure of the force in order to restore its integrity,” he said.
Observers say the government finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Throwing overboard thousands of notorious elements of the police could be a security risk to the county. Yet there is also fear that doing nothing will embolden protesters to escalate their demands and matters could then get out of control.