Nigerian army warns ‘troublemakers’ amid protests
Nigeria’s army said Thursday it was ready to help “maintain law and order” as demonstrators hit the streets again to protest police brutality despite official pledges of reform.
Anger over abuses by the police’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) erupted into widespread demonstrations earlier this month, forcing the government to scrap the unit.
The protests have been largely peaceful, but Amnesty International said at least 10 people died and hundreds were injured in the face of an initial harsh response by police in some locations.
In a statement, the military said it “hereby warns all subversive elements and troublemakers” and that it “remains highly committed to defending the country and her democracy at all cost”.
The Nigerian Army “is ready to fully support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively,” the statement said.
The protests have drawn thousands of mainly young demonstrators onto the streets and online in the most concerted show of people power in years.
Flag-waving crowds on Thursday headed towards the national assembly in the capital Abuja as people gathered again to block traffic on key roads in largest city Lagos.
The government has been forced into rare concessions by the protests and has promised a raft of measures to try to appease the popular ire.
The country’s police chief announced on Tuesday that the SARS unit was being replaced by a new SWAT outfit, but protesters were quick to reject this and push for more sweeping change.
In response the Nigerian police insisted that no members of the former unit would be eligible for the new one, promising that its officers will be “barred from indiscriminate and unlawful searches”.
Despite the vow to reform, Amnesty International said the violent response by law enforcement to protests undermined the promises.
“Nigerians are sceptical of authorities’ pledge to end police atrocities because the past claims of reforming SARS have turned out to be empty words,” said Osai Ojigho, the director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
“That police are still using excessive force on peaceful protesters, leading to injuries and deaths in Lagos, Ughelli, Abuja and Ogbomosho, throws through the window claims of any commitment to ending violations of human rights by Nigeria police,” he said.