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Nigerian Activists Welcome Release of Nine #EndSARS Protesters

FILE - The words "End Sars," referring to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad police unit, are written near the Lekki toll gate, in Lagos, Nigeria, Oct. 24, 2020.

Nigerian activists have welcomed the release of nine protesters who took part in 2020 demonstrations against police brutality.

They were released along with 32 prisoners held at Agodi custodial center in southwestern Oyo state.

The protesters had been held since October 2020 without trial, after they were arrested during the nationwide protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, the SARS unit of the Nigerian police.

Their clemency was part of the state authorities' three-day tour to the state prisons in a bid to decongest them.

A total of 99 prisoners were released across the state based on age, health status and length of detention.

The Oyo state chief judge, Justice Munta Ladipo Abimbola, said, "everyone should lay to rest the trouble and heartbreaks associated with the dark times in the country's history."

FILE - People hold banners as they protest police brutality at Lekki toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria, Oct. 15, 2020.
FILE - People hold banners as they protest police brutality at Lekki toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria, Oct. 15, 2020.

End-SARS activist Obianuju Iloanya welcomed the protesters' release.

"It's a good thing that they have been released, at least they can now get back to their lives. What I think is important for us to note in all of this is the steep punishment that comes with advocating," Iloanya said. "This is why when you tell people, 'let's go out, let's demand for better,' it seems like Nigerians are docile, but that's not the truth. People are scared of these high punishments."

In October 2020, thousands marched for days demanding authorities disband the SARS police unit. The unit was often accused of extrajudicial killings, torture and extortion.

The protests ended in the deadly shooting of at least 11 people by Nigerian security forces the night of October 20, and police say more than 20 officers were killed. Nigerian authorities also arrested and detained dozens of protesters. About 30 are yet to be freed.

Oyo state-based human rights lawyer, Hussein Afolabi, said SARS officers still need to face the law.

"So many officers who were named as very corrupt and terrible officers, they just left. Where? They're still in the Nigerian police force committing more atrocities, killing, raping, maiming, extorting, they're still there," Afolabi said.

Last October, Nigerian Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola said about 70 percent of inmates in various Nigerian prisons have never faced trial. This leads to overcrowding of detention centers.

As a result, End-SARS activists are hoping authorities will soon free other protesters being held.