Categories
Audio Sources - Full Text Articles

Nigeria“s female bouncers show their strength fighting stereotypes

2023-01-12T09:23:12Z

For years, Emem Thomas’ body drew snarky remarks from slimmer classmates in southern Nigeria that shattered her confidence and natural affability.

As teasing and taunts marred her teenage years, she gave up on dreams like competing in a local beauty pageant.

Then she found a niche that values what Thomas now proudly describes as her “plus-sized” body type: the “Dragon Squad Limited”, a team of female bouncers.

“I love what I see dragons do in movies,” she said. “They are also a symbol of power and protection.”

Founded in 2018, Thomas only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated.

“My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications.”

The Dragon Squad’s 43 recruits have worked security at about 2,000 events including house parties, funerals, political rallies and club nights.

“People expect us to be in the kitchen or probably doing make-up and other feminine roles, but joining this squad has really enlightened me,” said 23-year-old bouncer Peace Vigorous, the youngest of the crew.

In addition to walkie-talkies, boots and dark glasses, the bouncers carry pepper spray.

The risk of being molested on the job is “always something we have in mind”, said Thomas.

“We always prep ourselves for that” and for “men looking down on us.”

On an early overcast morning, Thomas led bouncers through a sweaty fitness session on a parking lot.

The women have acquired skills, strength, and most importantly for Thomas, confidence.

“Most of them… were always shy. They couldn’t talk,” she said, noting that she too became introverted because of her weight.

Behaviour that draws attention such as standing in front of a crowd and giving orders can be particularly challenging for women used to avoiding the public eye.

“Face the crowd and be yourself,” Thomas tells them when they falter. “You are supposed to be seen and known.”

Thomas’s newfound confidence has transformed her social and family life in the city of Uyo, where the 37-year-old lives with her two children.

She no longer considers herself and introvert or shies away from events.

The Dragon Squad has also led her to advocate for the rights of girls and women.

Gender violence is rife in Nigeria, which has one of the world’s highest rates of sexual assault. Jihadist groups in the north are renown for kidnapping girls and women and trafficking them into sex work and forced labour.

For Thomas, change comes with “breaking the barrier” to show what women bring to all sectors of society.

She believes female bouncers “have a way of taking off danger” by listening to troublemakers and victims in a way that most men do not have patience for.

“I see no reason why women (should not be) given a chance.”

Read more:

Teenage girls in northern Nigeria ‘open their minds’ with robotics

Nigerian ride-hailing app aims to put women at ease

Related Galleries:

Enobong Udofia, 26, a member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, stands guard at a funeral event in Etinan, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Enobong Udofia, 26, a member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, stands guard at a funeral event in Etinan, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

A member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, assists Peace Vigorous, 23, put on her badge as they prepare to work at an event in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, October 29, 2022. The Dragon Squad’s 43 recruits have worked security at about 2,000 events including house parties, funerals, political rallies and club nights. “People expect us to be in the kitchen or probably doing make-up and other feminine roles, but joining this squad has really enlightened me,” said Peace. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, speaks on the phone as she makes security plans the night before an event, at her home in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 18, 2022. Founded in 2018, Thomas only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications”. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Nsikan Ekandem, Tolulope Ukpanah, 39, Margaret Thomas and Samantha Joseph, 27, members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, train during an exercise session at Camp Gee Hotel in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 18, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Esther Brown and Ukeme Tom, 37, members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, guard newly crowned king Obong Ibanga Ikpe at his coronation ceremony in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, October 29, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Peace Vigorous, 23, the youngest member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, stands guard at a coronation event in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, October 29, 2022. The Dragon Squad’s 43 recruits have worked security at about 2,000 events including house parties, funerals, political rallies and club nights. “People expect us to be in the kitchen or probably doing make-up and other feminine roles, but joining this squad has really enlightened me,” said Peace. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Peace Vigorous, 23, the youngest member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, stands with her sister, Joy Ekwere, in her P.O.S. (point of sale) kiosk in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 21, 2022. The Dragon Squad’s 43 recruits have worked security at about 2,000 events including house parties, funerals, political rallies and club nights. “People expect us to be in the kitchen or probably doing make-up and other feminine roles, but joining this squad has really enlightened me,” said Peace. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Mfoniso Peter, 29, and Glory Anthony, 34, members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, speak to a man at the entrance of a funeral, at an event centre in Eket, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications”, she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited dance during an exercise session at Camp Gee Hotel in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 18, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, swim in a pool during a training session at Camp Gee Hotel in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 18, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, carries a sack of security pepper sprays, wipes and walkie-talkies from a courier station in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 16, 2022. Founded in 2018, Thomas only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications”. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Evelyn Ogolo, 27, a member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, carries a basin of money as she walks with Mrs. Sadafy, the principal who hired them for close protection service, at an event in Eket, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Evelyn Ogolo, 27, a member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, stands guard in front of Mrs. Sadafy, the principal who hired them for close protection service, and her family at an event in Eket, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, get into a bus as they head to work at a funeral event in Etinan, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Kemi Rotimi, 31, and Ekemini Anye, members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, speak as they work at an event in Eket, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Ekemini Anye, and Camelia Effiong, members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, stand guard beside the pallbearers during a funeral service in Eket, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Samantha Joseph, 27, and Evelyn Ogolo, 27, members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, restrain a man for getting too close to the V.I.P. section at a coronation ceremony in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, October 29, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Tolulope Ukpanah, 39, and Emem Effiong, 35, members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, check the bag of a boy at the entrance of a reception party in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, October 29, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Evelyn Ogolo, 27, a member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, applies lipbalm as she gets ready to work at an event in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, October 29, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Tolulope Ukpanah, 39, and Peace Vigorous, 23, members of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, survey a scene at a fashion show in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. The Dragon Squad’s 43 recruits have worked security at about 2,000 events including house parties, funerals, political rallies and club nights. “People expect us to be in the kitchen or probably doing make-up and other feminine roles, but joining this squad has really enlightened me,” said Peace. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Tolulope Ukpana, 39, a member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, stand guard at a fashion show in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Ukeme Tom, 37, a member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, stands guard at the entrance of a fashion show in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 19, 2022. Founded in 2018, Emem Thomas, 37, only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications,” she said. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, speaks to her dad, Edet Thomas, 69, while he eats breakfast at home in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 16, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, charges walkie-talkies the night before an event, at her home in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 18, 2022. Founded in 2018, Thomas only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications”. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, prays in her bedroom in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 18, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, gets a haircut at Classlux Salon in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 16, 2022. Founded in 2018, Thomas only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications”. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of Dragon Squad Limited, a female only security team, attends a worship service at Church of God Mission International in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 20, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Peace Vigorous, 23, the youngest member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, prepares to attend a praise and worship night at a church in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 21, 2022. The Dragon Squad’s 43 recruits have worked security at about 2,000 events including house parties, funerals, political rallies and club nights. “People expect us to be in the kitchen or probably doing make-up and other feminine roles, but joining this squad has really enlightened me,” said Peace. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Peace Vigorous, 23, the youngest member of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, attends a praise and worship night at a church in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, November 21, 2022. The Dragon Squad’s 43 recruits have worked security at about 2,000 events including house parties, funerals, political rallies and club nights. “People expect us to be in the kitchen or probably doing make-up and other feminine roles, but joining this squad has really enlightened me,” said Peace. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, collects her bag as she boards a boat towards Calabar, Crossriver, Nigeria, November 17, 2022. Founded in 2018, Thomas only employs women of a certain weight and shape, creating a safe space for plus-size women to excel in a field that is traditionally male-dominated. “My team is all about plus-size ladies,” she explained. “If you have the plus-size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualifications”. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

People travel on a canoe from Oron to Calabar, Crossriver, Nigeria, November 17, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, hugs her son, Wisdom, 13, as she visits him at school in Calabar, Crossriver, Nigeria, November 17, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.

Emem Thomas, 37, founder of the female-only security team Dragon Squad Limited, hugs her son, Majesty, 7, as they walk around his school in Calabar, Crossriver, Nigeria, November 17, 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja SEARCH “ADELAJA DRAGON SQUAD” FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH “WIDER IMAGE” FOR ALL STORIES.