Nigeria's police vow to stop using force against protesters in wake of deaths

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators wearing protective masks take part in a protest over alleged police brutality, in Lagos, Nigeria October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo

YENAGOA/ABUJA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Nigeria’s police agreed to stop using force against protesters who accuse them of brutality, the presidency said on Tuesday, a day after law enforcement agents shot live fire at demonstrators in Lagos where an official said two people were killed.

Demonstrators have been calling for law enforcement to halt the use of force against them for almost a week, and marches demanding the end of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad police unit - known as SARS - have been met with beatings, tear gas and gunfire.

Protesters have continued to call for a police overhaul despite President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday vowing “extensive police reforms”. On Sunday authorities said SARS would be disbanded, but authorities have repeatedly made similar announcements in recent years with little visible change, demonstrators say.

For years, Nigerians have accused SARS of beating, killing and extorting money from them.

A presidency statement also said Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission will set up a panel within a week to investigate alleged human rights violations by SARS and other police units.

On Tuesday, protests also spread to the southern oil city of Port Harcourt. Hundreds attended the march, defying an order by Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike who said on Twitter that such demonstrations were “prohibited”.

The governor’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment after demonstrators took the streets.

Protests were also staged in parts of Lagos on Tuesday, a day after police in the megacity opened fire with live ammunition against demonstrators. Lagos Police did not comment on whether officers fired live rounds, but said “unscrupulous elements” among protesters had killed a bystander and a police officer.

Reporting by Tife Owolabi; Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram and Libby George in Lagos; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Paul Carsten; Editing by William Maclean