by Ayodele Ibiyemi
When activist, Segun Awosanya started helping people who were arrested by Policemen through his organisation, Social Intervention Advocacy Foundation (SIAF), and his Twitter handle, @Segalink, he was hailed as a hero and he became the refuge of a lot of young people. The agitations for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police, symbolised by the #EndSARS movement which shot him to limelight became noticeable in 2017.
Then, there were protests and dialogues with Awosanya at the forefront but the cases of extortion, kidnapping, oppression, illegal raids and extrajudicial killings by SARS officers did not stop.
Awosanya’s work is important and historic and has saved many young Nigerians who might have died in the hands of these rogue police officers. However, his advocacy was unsustainable in the face of the systemic oppression. While some young people were lucky to have had access to Awosanya via his Twitter handle, many others were not and some of them paid with their lives.
In a country with a youth population of nearly 50 million, there is no way one man or even one privately funded organisation could save young people from rogue police officers.
Awosanya has indeed rescued young people and has worked with national institutions and NGOs on Police reforms but clearly, his methods and recent body language only look like he’s eating off systemic failure.
The current #EndSARS movement which started in an organic way, has shown that occasional ‘superman saves’ cannot continue.
It is a mass movement that does not allow for the deification of leaders. It does not even take into account the work of Awosanya, no matter how important. This does not discredit his efforts; social movements are often like that.
Indeed, young Nigerians have taken their destinies in their own hands and they are forcing the government to make immediate changes. There are daily victories for the movement as the government is now listening but Awosanya, whose work has helped thousands of people, is disagreeing with the movement.
In series of tweets, he dissociated himself and his organisation from the movement, often couching anger and bile in flowery language. People have rightfully called him out and the mass nature of the movement has meant that he is now losing supporters and favour with young people.
However, there is no need to take sides; the movement can do with experience, exuberance and determination. Segalink has done well, the few gaffes from him and his current anger does not detract from his past work but it is time for him to step back.
A lot of things can be true at the same time: Awosanya has done well with the #EndSARS protests but others have now taken it up. It is a country; it belongs to too many people for one man’s withdrawal to mean anything. His withdrawal does not impede the movement in any way. He is only one man. This is not a movement that depends on any one person; it is a movement of Nigerians.