#EndSARS: Nigeria orders ‘overhaul’ of notorious anti-robbery unit

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Nigeria's acting president Yemi Osinbajo has ordered the immediate "overhaul" of Nigerian police's special anti-robbery squad (SARS).

Osinbajo's directive came after months of the street and social media protests against the police unit which has, over the years, become synonymous with brutality and wanton arrest.

"Following persistent complaints and reports on the activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that border on allegations of human rights violations, His Excellency, Professor Yemi Osinbajo SAN, Acting-President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, has directed the Inspector General of Police to, with immediate effect, overhaul the management and activities of SARS," Osinbajo's spokesman Laolu Akande said in statement on Tuesday.

Segun Awosanya, the convener of the #EndSARS Movement said the order to overhaul the police unit was a welcome development.

But he was cautiously optimistic about the implementation of the order.

"We still have to monitor the implementation of the order," Awosanya said. "It is not Uhuru yet. Until we see the outcome of the interpretation of this order."

The #EndSARS campaign began on social media to protest the activities of the police unit which have been accused of extortion, harassment, robbery, intimidation and extra-judicial killings.

There have also been public demonstrations for and against the continued existence of the dreaded anti-crime unit of the Nigeria Police Force.

To achieve its aim, the movement, which has found relevance with a band of Nigerian youths, is hoping Nigeria's parliament will act on the Police Act amendment bill before it and also institute a public hearing on the "on human rights abuses by Police/SARS in collaboration with National Human Rights Commission."

"On the civil side, we are filing a class action suit of N100 billion against the Nigeria Police and also a lawsuit at [the] International Criminal Court on Terrorism on the defenseless youth of Nigeria by the Police as guaranteed by Article 15 of the ICC Statute which allows citizens to refer cases to the ICC, where the state is UNWILLING or UNABLE to take action," Awosanya said in a post on his Medium page.

A 2016 report by Amnesty International indicates that persons detained by SARS, both men and women, “are subjected to various methods of torture and ill-treatment in order to extract information and ‘confessions’. Such methods include severe beating, hanging, starvation, shooting in the legs, mock executions and threats of execution.”

The reason for this barefaced brutality, Awosanya told Guardian Life in June, was not farfetched. He described how police personnel are drafted into the anti-robbery squad as corrupt in itself.

He said that the officials were made members of the squad after they have paid a certain amount of money to their superiors.

Akande said the Nigerian government hoped to refocus the modes of operation of the whatever unit that may emerge from the overhaul.

The new unit, he said, "will be intelligence-driven and restricted to the prevention and detection of armed robbery and kidnapping, and apprehension of offenders linked to the stated offences, and nothing more."

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