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

Exclusive: College of Policing has worked with Nigerian authorities to train security officers

Adam Forrest
Friday 30 October 2020 10:24
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A police officer kicks a protester detained in Lagos on 21 October
A police officer kicks a protester detained in Lagos on 21 October
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The UK has given training and support to Nigerian security forces, condemned for their brutal crackdown against 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 – had worked with the Nigerian authorities to train its security officers during 2019.

A spokesman for the College of Policing said: “Last year the College of Policing provided some law enforcement officers in Nigeria with training to improve standards, however this did not involve public order training.”

“The College works with various countries around the world and all of our training is consistent with the British model of policing by consent, with respect for human rights and dignity interwoven into all of our courses.”

The spokesman added that training was provided in financial and economic crime.

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 Wednesday

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 CAAT, 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.

The College of Policing said it refers to the Joint International Policing Hub, which assesses all requests comply with government policy.

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 then 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 and called on the Nigerian government to investigate.

A Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office spokesperson said: “The foreign secretary has been clear that the Nigerian government must urgently investigate reports of brutality at the hands of the security forces and hold those responsible to account.

“The security sector in Nigeria must respect human rights. We have been working with Nigeria to support reforms to ensure this happens.”

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