The Nigerian military has issued a warning to “subversive elements and trouble makers” to desist after a week of protests about police brutality, the warning came as protesters were attacked by unidentified men with machetes in the capital, Abuja, demonstrations against police brutality have taken place in cities across Nigeria in the past week. The protests have continued despite authorities agreeing to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars). This unit has been accused of extrajudicial killings, extortion and torture, especially of young people.
The army spokesman Col Sagir Musa said in a Facebook post, that “The NA (Nigerian army) hereby warns all subversive elements and trouble makers to desist from such acts as it remains highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost”. He went on to offer to support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively, the statement has been received as a veiled threat by protesters, according to news reports, on Wednesday, protesters against police violence in Abuja were attacked by a group of unidentified men with machetes, witnesses said several hundred demonstrators were gathered in the city centre when the attack took place. One protester said some of the assailants were later detained and handed over to the authorities.
There are also reports of similar attacks on protesters in Lagos on Thursday, if the president accepts the army’s offer to step in, it means the government hasn’t learnt from past mistakes, it would be trying to solve new problems with old solutions that never worked before, Nigeria’s army has a bloody history quelling civil disobedience. The army coming in could make everything that has happened in the last week with the deaths of at least 10 people caused by the protests, and the notoriety of the now disbanded Sars, look like child’s play. The generation leading the protests has no experience of military rule which ended in 1999 and its brutal repressions of civil disobedience, so it’s hard to know how they will react, but if there’s anything the last week has shown, it is that this group doesn’t give up easily. The protests started following the alleged killing of a young man by officers from the Sars unit at the beginning of October, protesters called for the Sars unit to be disbanded.
The police closed down the unit and announced a new unit – the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) team, but protesters rejected the announcement, as many see the changes as not enough to reform the police. The protests have attracted worldwide attention – most recently the CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey tweeted his support for the protests, Nigeria superstars Wizkid and Davido have also backed the protesters. Those working in Nigeria’s tech sector have been prominent among those complaining about the activities of Sars officers.