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FILE PHOTO: Nigeria's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo speaks during the Nigeria/Ecowas Trade and Investment for Development forum in Abuja, Nigeria November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo

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ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's acting president has ordered the overhaul of a police unit following allegations of human rights violations, his spokesman said on Tuesday, as the government seeks to burnish its security record ahead of February's presidential election.

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is temporarily head of state while President Muhammadu Buhari, who plans to stand for re-election, takes a 10-day holiday in Britain.

Buhari came to power in 2015 on pledges to make Nigeria safer but violent crime remains endemic, a jihadist insurgency continues in the northeast, and security forces are regularly accused of acting with impunity.

Osinbajo instructed the head of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to reform the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and ordered an independent investigation after "persistent complaints and reports" that bordered on "allegations of human rights violations", a presidency statement said.

The unit - responsible for tackling serious crime such as armed robbery, kidnapping and cattle rustling - has been dogged by allegations of abuses for years, although the NPF has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

An NPF spokesman said a statement would be issued.

Last year, a social media campaign called for SARS to be disbanded as people shared stories, photographs and videos of alleged mistreatment.

The upper house of parliament voted in December 2017 to investigate SARS and, in the same month, the police inspector general announced that the unit would be reorganised. The findings of the inquiry have yet to be announced.

Last week, Osinbajo fired the head of the secret police, the Department of State Security (DSS), in the wake of a blockade of parliament by its agents.

(Reoporting by Felix Onuah, Camillus Eboh and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Reuters