The UK government helped form SARS

The UK needs to be careful who it is funding.

It has recently come to light that the UK was partially responsible for helping to train and provide equipment for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), who instigated the Lekki Gate Massacre in Nigeria.

In early October 2020, peaceful protests broke out across Nigeria concerning the rife police brutality there, with calls for the disbandment of SARS increasing. This was originally a police unit set up in 1984 to combat a surge in violent crime and unrest in Nigeria. But, as a report from Amnesty International in June 2020 shows, there have been at least 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.

As a result of these peaceful protests, which were gaining support throughout Nigeria, the Nigerian military issued a statement warning “trouble makers” to cease; stressing it remained “highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost”. It then subsequently imposed a 24-hour curfew and deployed the military.

On 11th October the Nigerian government announced that it would disband the SARS force. This was the fourth time that such an announcement was made. Thus it comes as no surprise that many people broke the government-imposed, round the clock curfew. When these demonstrators were caught breaking the curfew, some of the anti-riot police opened fire, causing outrage throughout Lagos as this was the exact issue they were campaigning against.

The demands of the demonstrators included the immediate release of all arrested protestors, justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families. But also, the setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days. In addition, they wanted to increase the salary of the police so that they were adequately compensated for protecting lives and the property of citizens. They wanted to show the trust between the citizens and local authorities – an irony as it was the police who turned against the people. And as Amnesty International tragically announced, 15 people were killed due to this recent police brutality.

As Osai Ojigho, Country Director of Amnesty International Nigeria explains, there are endless questions remaining. He describes that “One week on, the Nigerian authorities still have many questions to answer: who ordered the use of lethal force on peaceful protesters? Why were CCTV cameras on the scene dismantled in advance? And who ordered electricity to be turned off minutes before the military opened fire on protesters?” These are questions which the Nigerian government and police force will eventually have to answer.

However, some argue that a greater shock comes from the news announced in the UK that it was partially responsible for training SARS and providing them with radio equipment, which was used in the massacre.

This was firstly condemned by the UK Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, who in a letter to the Labour MP Kate Osamor on 19th October, wrote that the Foreign Office “does not provide and has not provided any support or training to SARS units or officers”. Interestingly, the minister recently retracted this statement and admitted that UK training was given to SARS through the Foreign Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) until March 2020.

SARS agents are now known to have been trained at the UK College of Policing. There has been some response by the UK such as calls from The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) for a review of all UK training that has been provided for the Nigerian police and military. But this is not a governmental organisation. Which begs the question, do we really ever know where our money is going? Not to mention the wider scoped question: should we leave it up to our government to decide where our money goes, if even they do not know themselves?

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