Human Rights Watch Nigeria has welcomed with caution the announcement of the dissolution of its Special Anti-Robbery Squad with immediate effect.
The country has been rocked by widespread protests and a globally-trending social media campaign to end the group. Sporadic protests have broken out across Nigeria in recent days after a video circulated on social media allegedly showing squad members shooting a man dead in Delta state.
Researcher at Human Rights Watch Nigeria Anietie Ewang says, “While many people see this as a very first towards accountability and justice, majority of the citizens are very skeptical. This is essentially because this is not the first of such promises to ensure that these officers are kept off the streets and that their activities are investigated and they ensure that citizens can feel safe. And the announcement that they will be redeployed to other police commands or formations or units is essentially problematic. The question as to whether or not the same practices will evolve over the next couple of years has not been answered.”
Anietie on Nigeria’s police announcing the dissolution of its Special Anti-Robbery Squad
In a statement Nigeria head of Police says, “The dissolution of SARS is in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people.”
It added that the police was redeploying members of the unit and would announce a new strategy to tackle SARS’ remit of fighting armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crime.
The unit’s alleged heavy-handed methods have for years drawn condemnation from Nigerians, particularly the young, who say SARS officers regularly target, beat and extort them.
On Sunday, Nigerian police used teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters in the capital Abuja, in a repeat of what witnesses said were similar events on Friday.
Police officials and politicians have said they were disbanding or reforming the group multiple times in recent years, though with little visible change, critics say.