UK Minister for Africa James Duddridge has confirmed that British officials provided training and equipment to Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an infamous police unit accused of extortion, torture and extrajudicial killings.
In a letter sent to Labour MP Kate Osamor on Thursday, Duddridge said between 2016 and 2020, officers from the now-disbanded police unit in Nigeria took part in training “designed to improve human rights, training on public finance, and community policing workshops,” The Independent reports.
The notorious police unit also used British radio equipment supplied to Nigerian police, the minister said.
For more than two weeks, thousands of young Nigerians across the country, including those in the UK and countries in the diaspora, took to the streets demanding an end to police violence in the West African country. The protesters first demanded the shutdown of the police squad SARS, and following days of widespread protest, the authorities disbanded the unit and reassigned personnel to other units.
But protests for wider reforms in the way Nigeria is governed continued, and last week, one of such protests turned violent when soldiers fired at protesters in the Lekki district of the commercial capital, Lagos, killing at least 12 people, according to Amnesty.
Earlier this month, Labour MP Osamor had asked the UK government if it had any ties to SARS or provided any assistance to the police unit. Duddridge, in his first response to the Labour MP in a letter dated October 19, said that the Foreign Office “does not provide and has not provided any support or training to SARS units or officers.”
But in the latest reply, Duddridge admitted that UK did provide training to SARS through the Foreign Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). “This was in support of our wider objectives to strengthen the capability, accountability and responsiveness of the Nigerian Police Force,” he said of the training, according to Osamor.
The Labour MP said, “the government has now been forced to admit that it not only spent millions training SARS but also directly supplied them with equipment.”
She told The Independent that the government must now “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.”
Nigeria’s EndSARS protests, which were widely condemned by the ECOWAS Commission, UN, and EU, did cost the West African country’s economy $1.8 billion in 12 days.