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Nigerian government tries to quell public outrage over police brutality

For weeks, people have taken to Nigeria's streets to protest police brutality and the heavy-handed tactics of one unit in particular: the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS. The government since disbanded the group, but demonstrators are demanding further reforms -- and compensation for past victims of violence. Special correspondent Phil Ihaza reports from the country’s capital, Abuja.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For weeks now, Nigerians have taken to the streets of Africa's most populous nation to protest police brutality and the heavy-handed tactics of one unit in particular.

    After demonstrators were shot by government forces on Tuesday, Nigeria's president addressed the nation tonight, appealing for calm.

    Special correspondent Phil Ihaza reports from the capital, Abuja.

  • Phil Ihaza:

    Gunfire and mayhem in Nigeria during protests against police brutality.

    According to Amnesty International, 12 people were killed and dozens more injured…

  • Man:

    They are shooting.

  • Phil Ihaza:

    … after men in military uniforms fired live ammunition at protesters on Tuesday in the Southwestern city of Lagos, the largest city by population in the country and on the African continent.

    Demonstrators have been demanding change for weeks across Nigeria, defying a curfew imposed in some parts of the country. Their target, the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS.

    But despite the government disbanding the unit, protests continue. Thirty-four-year-old Nigerian musician Chike Agada says he was assaulted two years ago by policemen from the now-defunct SARS unit.

    Chike says the policemen beat him up and extorted him because they saw him driving a flashy car and wearing expensive jewelry.

  • Chike Agada:

    They shot the gun in the air, pointed it at me, pulled me out of the car, and started beating the hell out of me. They beat me, and then they drove me to their headquarters here in Abuja.

    I had to pay them about 35,000 naira to leave there, after a lot of trauma.

  • Phil Ihaza:

    SARS was created in 1992 to tackle robberies, kidnappings and violent rituals.

    But many Nigerians accuse its officers of carrying out the same crimes the unit was created to stop. Amnesty International reports more than 100 cases of abuse on young people by SARS officers within the past three years alone.

  • Man:

    End police brutality!

  • Phil Ihaza:

    A series of protests erupted across the country earlier this month, after a video showed a SARS officer allegedly shooting a man and then driving away.

    The government has scrapped the unit and replaced it with a special weapons and tactical unit called SWAT.

    But the protesters are demanding more. They are asking for justice, and insist that the government prosecute rogue officers, compensate victims of police brutality, and reform the entire police force.

    And it's not just in Lagos. After weeks of protests, many people in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, are exhausted, some afraid to go about their daily business.

  • Femi Mediayese:

    The past few days have been so difficult to move around the town due to the tension in town. This has to stop.

  • Phil Ihaza:

    Others see the protests as necessary.

  • Ino Ocheze:

    We support totally what the young people are doing, and so we take those inconveniences as part of the sacrifice we have to make for Nigeria to get better.

  • Phil Ihaza:

    Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into all complaints of police brutality and directed state governors to compensate victims afterwards.

    He also committed to improving the welfare of police officers across the country as a way to encourage comprehensive police reforms.

  • Remi Adebayo:

    If government can build the confidence, which I believe the president has the opportunity to do, I believe that loss — needless loss of lives and the anarchy that is looming may be averted.

  • Phil Ihaza:

    The government efforts may also be an attempt to avert demands for further political change beyond the police.

    The whole world is now watching if these reforms can douse the tensions flaring across the country.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Phil Ihaza in Abuja, Nigeria.

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