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Under mounting pressure, the Nigerian Police Force announced Sunday that the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad had been dissolved in response to "the yearnings of the Nigerian people."

The squad was a Nigerian police unit that had been tasked over the past three decades with fighting violent crime, including banditry and kidnapping.

Protesters have filled the streets in several Nigerian cities to urge the leaders of Africa's most populous nation to disband the squad. They said it routinely commits the kind of crimes it is supposed to thwart.

The police officers accused him of speeding, but Dare Olaitan felt that wasn't true. The 29-year-old filmmaker in Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos, says he requested proof.

"Then they slapped me, yanked away my phone and keys and said, 'We are going to an ATM,'" Olaitan said. The men, who'd pulled him over in an unmarked van, identified themselves as part of the Anti-Robbery Squad.

The unit officers will be redeployed, a spokesman said, and human-rights groups will assist in building a replacement squad and guiding a probe into past abuses.

While celebration broke out on the internet and in the streets, where people cheered and waved Nigerian flags, some expressed concern about men they viewed as dangerous staying on police payroll.

Activists have campaigned against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad for years, and violent videos that surfaced online this week shone a fresh spotlight on what demonstrators condemned as police brutality. Nigerian celebrities took up the cause, helping the hashtag #EndSARS go viral.

The surprise dissolution came two days after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari pledged change. "Our determination to reform the police should never be in doubt," he tweeted.

The "vast majority" of Nigerian police officers are "patriotic and committed to protecting the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians," he said, "and we will continue to support them to do their job."

Security officials banned the squad last week from conducting stop-and-search operations in plain clothes. They also outlawed checkpoints, which Nigerians frequently photographed to warn others on Twitter. The Nigeria Police Force did not respond to requests for comment on specific allegations.

Two agents had been apprehended on charges of professional misconduct, including extortion, officials said.

Police officials also urged citizens to come forward if they have endured abuse.

Critics say the problem is widespread.

Amnesty International said in June it had documented 82 cases of the squad's brutality in the past three years, including "hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding" and other violent tactics.

Hundreds of protesters camped outside a government building in Lagos on Saturday, waving signs that read "END SARS NOW." Others surrounded the squad's headquarters in Abuja, the nation's capital, and poured red paint on the road to symbolize violence.

SARS formed in 1992 to combat armed robbery with "the element of surprise," founder Simeon Danladi Midenda told the Nigerian news site Vanguard.

"The secret behind the successes of the original SARS was its facelessness," the former police commissioner said in the 2017 interview. "We operated in plain clothes and used plain vehicles that could not be associated with security or any government agency."

But over the years, critics say, officers took advantage of that stealth mandate, ordering people off the road and taking their valuables without cause.

"SARS has made itself a nuisance and a tool of oppression," said JJ Omojuwa, a Nigerian blogger with 933,000 followers on Twitter.


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