BRITAIN’S government has conceded that it provided training and equipment to Nigeria’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) police unit accused of torture and extrajudicial killings that has spurred massive demonstrations across the country over recent weeks.
Last Tuesday, Nigerian Army troops opened fire on unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, killing several of them. This cold blooded murder sparked a national outrage across the country and people have since taken to the streets, setting fire to public buildings and looting warehouses, shops and the homes of the wealthy.
Internationally, the Nigerian government has come under fierce criticism for the way it has handled the matter. Last week, the crisis spread further with the emphasis now focused on the raiding of warehouses as it was discovered that Covid-19 palliatives distributed to states was being hoarded.
Over the last three weeks, the young and peaceful protesters had been demonstrating against police brutality and had been calling for the dissolution of the Sars police unit involved in extortion, torture and extra-judicial killings. Early last week, however, the nationwide protests descended into violence as government-sponsored thugs attacked protesters.
Under pressure for its role in training the Sars unit, Britain has conceded it is partly to blame with James Duddridge, the minister for Africa admitting that British officials had trained Sars officers between 2016 and 2020. In a letter sent to the member of parliament for Edmonton Kate Osamor, the minister said Sars officers had participated in training designed to improve human rights, training on public finance and community policing workshops.
He also confirmed radio equipment was given to Nigerian police which was then used by Sars. Ms Osamor, a Nigerian-born MP, who had demanded the UK government reveal any ties to Sars, said it was shocking that in the middle of global protests, the British government appears to have had no idea whether or not it was funding those very units.
Ms Osamor added: “The government now needs to explain how and why it ever felt it was appropriate to train and equip security forces which were known to have taken part in torture and extra-judicial killings.”
Mr Duddridge initially claimed in a letter to the Labour MP that the Foreign Office does not provide and has not provided any support or training to Sars units or officers. However, in his most recent reply, he admitted UK training was given to Sars through the Foreign Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund until March 2020.
British radio equipment was also supplied to Nigerian police through a separate fund, which the minister confirmed was used by Sars units. Britain’s College of Policing, the professional body for police in England and Wales had also worked with the Nigerian authorities to train its security officers in 2019.
A Britain’s College of Policing spokesman, said: “British officers had provided some law enforcement officers in Nigeria with training to improve standards, however this did not involve public order training. Whether the training has included human rights or not, such funding clearly warrants independent investigation not least because serious abuses persist.”
He added that any training the UK provides to military and police abroad must be accountable. Meanwhile, the Campaign Against Arms Trade has called for a review of all UK training that has been provided for the Nigerian police and military.