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Photo Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/ PA Images
Photo Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/ PA Images
Photo Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/ PA Images
Photo Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/ PA Images
World News

Pope Francis calls for prayer for Nigeria as anti-police violence protests continues

by Tola Mbakwe

Pope Francis has urged people to pray for peace in Nigeria as police violence has caused mass protests to erupt. 

Thousands of Nigerians have demonstrated every day since 8th October, protesting against the nation's police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The squad was launched to fight crime, but it carried out torture and killings.

The pope called for social harmony and justice. 

SARS has been accused of "extra-judicial killings, unlawful arrests, profiling of youths as criminals, the invasion of their privacy by searching phones and laptops without any warrant or any just cause, and the incarceration of many of the youths in SARS custody without trial," according to Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria. 

Over the weekend Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari claimed at least 51 civilians have been killed during unrest in Nigeria following days of protests over police abuses

The president said the well-intentioned protests had been hijacked by thugs.

But many Nigerians are upset by what the president has not said. In a national address on Thursday night, Mr Buhari did not mention the shootings, instead warning protesters against "undermining national security and law and order".

On Friday, he said the government "will not fold its arms and allow miscreants and criminals to continue to perpetrate acts of hooliganism".

Archbishop Obiora Akubeze of Benin, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria has backed the #EndSARS campaign. 

He said in a statement: "There is hardly any Nigerian who has not directly or indirectly encountered the crude and inhuman manner [in which] the SARS officials deal with citizens of this country." 

 "The youths are therefore simply calling for justice not just for themselves, but for the entire nation so that Nigeria can have peace."

"We unequivocally add our voice to those of our youths and that of every well-meaning Nigerian to condemn the excesses and the horrible operations of this police unit and the bad omen they portend to our democracy."

The #EndSARS campaign spread across the country and Buhari's government announced that it would disband the SARS unit and called its new version 'SWAT'. But the protest persisted with demonstrators calling for more widespread reforms of the police and an end to corruption.

In one attempt at calming tensions, the Lagos state government shared a list of ongoing prosecutions against police officers accused of human rights abuses.

Archbishop Akubeze added: "The Nigerian Government must realise that what the youths, on behalf of Nigerians, clamour for under the code name #EndSARS is a total reform of the entire Police Force and not a change of name; they call for a reform of all our government institutions and a reform of the entire nation."

He also called for a review of the welfare of the policemen, noting the poor state of their facilities, and low pay - as well as the injustice of police widows not receiving full support.

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