#ShutItAllDown: Demonstrators protesting against Nigerian police take to the streets

Demonstrators protesting police brutality in Nigeria are demanding the government #shutitalldown and ban the country’s special police and robbery unit.

What is ‘#ShutItAllDown’?

The #ShutItAllDown hashtag has been trending on Twitter for several days, calling for an end to police brutality committed by the Nigerian police force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit.

It was prompted by a graphic video that surfaced last weekend which appeared to show alleged SARS members “dragging two limp bodies from a hotel compound” Delta, Nigeria, eventually shooting one of them in the street, according to The Guardian.

Last Sunday, the Nigeria Police Force said they were banning SARS from conducting patrols, stop and searches and tactical assignments, condemning “every act of unprofessionalism, abuse of human rights and high-handedness” by the squad unit.

Two officers were also arrested for acts of professional misconduct, “including extortion and intimidation of innocent citizens,” the force said.

But Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, called the bans “another lame attempt to rein in this unit of the Nigerian police, which is notorious for the widespread torture and other ill-treatment of Nigerians.”

“We have seen from bitter experience that past investigations into violations were either never carried out or marred by irregularities,” he said.

“To date, the Nigerian authorities have yet to show a genuine commitment to ending the lawless activities of SARS.”

The country held a commission of inquiry on the police force that put forward several recommendations to reform the unit in 2018, human rights group Amnesty International said.

In August 2018, Amnesty International said the country’s vice-president promised sweeping reforms.

“However, the commission’s report has yet to be made public almost two years after the panel submitted its findings to the government,” human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement Tuesday.

What’s happening now?

Nigerian police began teargassing protesters who gathered in the country’s capital city, Abuja, according to Reuters.

“They poured teargas on each and every one of us, it’s so hot I had to put water on my face. This is what Nigeria has turned into,” protester Anita Izato told Reuters.

“We just got there with our placards and decided, they started throwing us teargas. That was it,” another protester said.

Obafemi Hamzat, deputy governor of Lagos state, tweeted Friday that “we condemn police brutality in whatever guise and we will continue to engage their leadership for change.” He promised “DRASTIC” adjustments would be made.

“We fully understand the reasons for your anger and outrage but this demonstration must also be carried out in line with the law. If we employ violence or destruction to drive home our grievances, we will also be hurting ourselves,” he said.

“As citizens, it is within your rights to express your grievances but let us exercise caution and eschew violence.”

One protester tweeted a video of herself Saturday with a bruise above her left eye, claiming a member of the force caned her while she was demonstrating outside.

#ShutItAllDown has resonated with Canadians as well. In Toronto, several people took to the city’s Yonge and Dundas Square to protest in solidarity with those in Nigeria.

“SARS is a menace to society,” one sign read.

Amnesty International on Tuesday criticized the Nigerian government for repeatedly failing “to tackle the impunity” enjoyed by SARS.

“Brutality and corruption (are) becoming increasingly brazen, despite repeated pledges to reform the police squad and investigate violations committed by its officers,” it said.

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