Nigerian activists have welcomed the release of nine protesters who took part in the 2020 demonstrations against police brutality.
They were released along with 32 prisoners held at the Agodi Detention Center in southwestern Oyo State.
The protesters had been detained without trial since October 2020, after they were arrested during nationwide protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, the SARS unit of the Nigerian police.
His clemency was part of a three-day visit by state authorities to state prisons in an attempt to decongest them.
A total of 99 inmates were released across the state based on age, health status, and length of detention.
The chief judge of Oyo State, Judge Munta Ladipo Abimbola, said that “everyone should put aside the problems and anxieties associated with the dark times in the country’s history.”
End-SARS activist Obianuju Iloanya welcomed the release of the protesters.
“It’s good that they’ve been released, at least now they can get back to their lives. What I think is important for us to keep in mind in all of this is the heavy punishment that comes with defending,” Iloanya said. “That’s why when you tell people, ‘let’s go out, demand better,’ it seems that Nigerians are docile, but that’s not the truth. People are afraid of these high punishments.”
In October 2020, thousands marched for days demanding that the authorities disband the SARS police unit. The unit was often accused of extrajudicial killings, torture and extortion.
The protests ended with the fatal shooting of at least 11 people by Nigerian security forces on the night of October 20, with police saying more than 20 officers were killed. Nigerian authorities also arrested and detained dozens of protesters. Some 30 have not yet been released.
Oyo State human rights lawyer Hussein Afolabi said SARS agents have yet to face the law.
“So many officers who were named as very corrupt and terrible, they just left. Where? They are still in the Nigerian police force committing more atrocities, killing, raping, maiming, extorting money, they are still there,” Afolabi said. .
Last October, Nigeria’s Home Minister Rauf Aregbesola said that around 70 percent of inmates in various Nigerian prisons have never been tried. This leads to overcrowding in detention centers.
As a result, End-SARS activists hope that the authorities will soon release other detained protesters.