End SARS protests: UK police trained ‘brutal’ Nigerian security forces

Adam Forrest
·3-min read
A police officer kicks a protester detained in Lagos on 21 October (AP)
A police officer kicks a protester detained in Lagos on 21 October (AP)

The UK has given training and support to Nigerian security forces, condemned for their brutal crackdown of protesters in recent weeks, The Independent can reveal.

Nigeria has faced international criticism, including from British foreign secretary Dominic Raab, for its handling of recent anti-police demonstrations across Lagos state.

Security forces opened fire on hundreds of peaceful protesters in Lagos earlier this week, killing at least 12 people in the capital, according to Amnesty International.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request has revealed that the College of Policing – the professional body for police in England and Wales – has worked with the Nigerian authorities to train its security officers last year.

It refused to give any further detail on exactly what kind of training and support was offered during 2019, citing an exemption over “international relations”.

Labour MP Kate Osamor – who has demanded Boris Johnson’s government reveal whether there are any British ties to Nigeria’s notorious police unit Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) – said it raised fresh questions about the UK’s involvement in the country.

“This news raises serious concerns about whether UK taxpayer money has found its way into the pockets of SARS units while they were simultaneously taking part in unlawful arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings,” she told The Independent.

“It’s time for the government to come clean and confirm exactly what support the UK has or hasn’t provided to security forces in Nigeria.”

The End SARS protest movement emerged in Nigeria during early October calling for the disbandment of the unit – accused by rights groups of extortion, harassment and torture – after footage showed a man being beaten by an officer.

The police unit was disbanded on 11 October, but rallies have persisted as protesters demand wider law enforcement reform. In an attempt at calming tensions on Friday, the Lagos state government shared a list of ongoing prosecutions against officers accused of human rights abuses.

Protesters barricading the Lagos motorway on WednesdayAFP via Getty Images
Protesters barricading the Lagos motorway on WednesdayAFP via Getty Images

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which submitted the FoI request, demanded the British government now investigate the full extent of cooperation with Nigerian security personnel.

Siana Bangura, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “There must be a full and urgent investigation into all police and military training that has been provided to Nigeria, and if any of the forces trained by the UK have been implicated in this or other cases of abuse or torture.

“The UK should not be exporting violence, an ongoing expression of colonial practices, whether it is in the form of weapons or training. The current policy of support and collaboration risks providing moral cover for those that commit abuses.”

Nigeria was listed among those in 19 foreign countries and territories that were given training and support by the College of Policing in 2019.

Other areas included Hong Kong, Egypt, Bahrain and Rwanda, where police have also been accused of brutality and human rights abuses. The College of Policing has made almost £20m from international training since 2013.

In 2019, the UK’s RAF Police delivered a “bespoke” training courses in “force protection, close quarter battle, policing … and tactical intelligence”.

A government document shows the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ran a “Nigeria Security and Justice Reform” programme between April 2016 and March 2020 which offered “strategic assistance to the Nigerian Police Force”.

One Wednesday Mr Raab said he was “alarmed” by widespread reports of civilian deaths at the anti-police protests. “The Nigerian government must urgently investigate reports of brutality at the hands of the security forces.”

The Independent has contacted the College of Policing and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for further comment.

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