Nigeria special police unit reined in after abuse allegations

FSARS is a branch of the Nigerian police under the criminal investigating department (CID) [File: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]
FSARS is a branch of the Nigerian police under the criminal investigating department

Nigeria’s top police chief has banned a controversial anti-robbery unit and other special agents from carrying out stop-and-search operations and mounting roadblocks over accusations of abuses. Muhammed Adamu, inspector general of police (IGP) said in a statement on Sunday the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) and other tactical squads must stop such operations, including traffic checks, “with immediate effect”. He added that police officers must no longer work in plain-clothes but always appear in their uniform or approved tactical gear.

The IGP’s directives come against the backdrop of findings by the leadership of the Force that a few personnel of the Tactical Squads hide under these guises to perpetrate all forms of illegality, the statement said. According to Adamu, two FSARS agents and a civilian accomplice have been arrested in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos “for acts of professional misconduct including extortion and intimidation of innocent citizens”.

Calls have grown in recent months for the police investigation branch to be shut down over accusations of unlawful arrests, torture and even murder of suspects. Numerous stories of abuse have been posted by Nigerians on social media under #EndSARS. The unit, a branch of the Nigerian police under the Criminal Investigating Department (CID), was already reorganized in 2017 over similar allegations, it developed from different forces in states across Nigeria and now has a nationwide decree under the country’s federal police force to confront violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping and communal clashes.

Adamu also warned the special units against the invasion of the privacy of citizens, particularly through indiscriminate and unauthorized search of mobile phones, laptops and other smart devices, he said their remit was limited to cases of armed robbery, kidnapping and other violent crimes “when the need arises”. Authorities will continue to monitor police officers and discipline those who contravene the rules.

Earlier on Sunday, Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu pledged to take action against the police unit, reading reports of seemingly unlawful exploitation by the people charged to protect is very worrying & needs to be addressed immediately, he wrote on Twitter. “Be assured that appropriate actions will be taken, & speedily too.”

Local and international rights bodies have long called for the special squads to be eliminated. In June, Amnesty International said the unit “continues to commit torture and other human rights violations while discharging their law enforcement duties”.

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