Months after official scrapping of notorious unit in wake of mass protests, allegations of police abuse persist.
Nigerian police beat and arrested demonstrators on Saturday as a small group protested over the reopening of the site where activists denouncing police brutality were shot last year in the commercial capital, Lagos.
Rights group Amnesty International and witnesses said soldiers opened fire on protesters on October 20, killing at least 12 people at a toll gate in the city’s affluent Lekki district and another area.
The military has denied shooting live rounds and police have denied involvement.
There was a heavy presence of armed police officers on Saturday at the toll gate, where a group of about 15 protesters gathered despite calls by the government this week to scrap the demonstration, witnesses said.
At least six of the protesters were beaten with truncheons and arrested before being driven away in police vans.
“They are already manhandling us, but we’re not going to be deterred. We’re not going to step down,” said one man, who did not provide his name and spoke to the Reuters news agency as he was being arrested.
Police bundled about 13 protesters into a black truck at the toll gate where security forces had deployed since Friday evening, an AFP news agency reporter at the scene said.
“Lekki toll gate should be made a museum of resistance and not a monument for money-making,” said Damilare Adebola, 24, who spoke from the police van where he was being held.
A Lagos police spokesman said in a text message he was unaware of the arrests but would look into accusations that activists had been manhandled.
On Friday, one of the two youth members of a Lagos state panel investigating the October shootings resigned, citing “undue intimidation of peaceful protesters” and the panel’s vote to reopen the toll gate – a source of revenue for the state government – before the probe had been finished.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Lagos, said demonstrators were also angered by the failure of a commission of inquiry to submit its report into the killings.
“For many of the protesters and protest organisers, this is sacred ground – so they cannot understand why the Lagos state government want to reopen the toll gate,” he said.
“The Lagos state government is looking at it from the revenue point of view. They are losing millions of dollars every week due to the non-collection of tolls here.”
Nigeria’s information minister warned activists earlier this week to drop plans for the protest, saying it risked being “hijacked by hoodlums”.
The mostly youth-led protests against police brutality and governance brought Africa’s largest city to a standstill in October in a campaign that won backing from many high-profile celebrities.
The #EndSARS protests, named after the SARS police force accused of abuses, spread even after the unit was disbanded and the government promised reforms.
The demonstrations ended abruptly after the shooting in Lagos and a wave of looting and unrest that followed. The wave of civil unrest was one of the worst since the end of military rule in 1999.