Nigeria’s anti-police brutality protests bring Lagos to standstill

Anger continues to grow despite notorious special anti-robbery squad being disbanded

Woman in crowd holds 'end police brutality' sign

Anger over abuses by the police’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad erupted into widespread demonstrations last week. Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP


More than 10,000 demonstrators flocked to the streets of Nigeria’s largest city to join mounting protests against police brutality. Protesters clogged roads, bringing the centre of Lagos, the usually traffic-filled economic hub, to a standstill.

Many brandished the green-and-white Nigerian flag as they filled a major stretch of highway in the city of 20 million people.

Anger over abuses by the police’s notorious special anti-robbery squad (Sars) erupted into widespread demonstrations last week, forcing the government to scrap the unit. The crowds have continued to grow despite the announcement of a string of reforms from the rattled authorities. At least 10 people have died and dozens injured in the demonstrations, which have been met with force by police units.

The wave of protests is the biggest display of people power in years in Africa’s most populous nation as young people demand more sweeping changes. On Friday evening a huge crowd gathered at a tollgate that has become the centre of the protests in Lagos to hold a vigil for those killed by police. Demonstrators held their mobile phone torches aloft as they called for accountability after decades of widespread mistreatment by law enforcement.

Nigeria’s authorities have set up a new special weapons and tactics (Swat) unit to replace Sars and pledged to hold officers who have committed abuses accountable. But many are sceptical that the government will follow through with genuine change, after rights group said that up to 10 people were killed in the initial harsh response to the protests.

The Nigerian army will begin a two-month national exercise, it said on Saturday, while denying the move was part of any security response to the demonstrations.

Operation Crocodile Smile would run across the country from 20 October to 31 December, the first time the annual exercise, typically concentrated in the Delta region, will be nationwide.

The move comes just days after the army said it was ready to step in and restore order.

More than £100,000 has been raised to send food, water and first aid supplies to protesters, and to cover medical fees for the injured. Hundreds of lawyers have volunteered to represent those arrested. Public figures around the world have spoken out in support of the protests, including Marcus Rashford, John Boyega and P Diddy.

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