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Nigerian bouncers show their strength by fighting stereotypes

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For years, Emem Thomas’ body drew sarcastic remarks from slimmer schoolmates in southern Nigeria, which shattered his confidence and natural affability.

As teasing and taunting marked her teenage years, she gave up on dreams like entering a local beauty pageant.

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

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

Member of female security team Dragon Squad Limited, helps Peace Vigorous put on her badge

(Reuters)

Nsikan Ekandem, Tolulope Ukpanah, Margaret Thomas and Samantha Joseph work out during an exercise session at Camp Gee Hotel in Uyo

(Reuters)

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 traditionally male-dominated field.

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

Dragon Squad’s 43 recruits provided security for approximately 2,000 events, including house parties, funerals, political rallies and club nights.

“People expect us to be in the kitchen or probably doing makeup and other female roles, but joining this team has really enlightened me,” said bouncer, 23, Peace Vigorous, the youngest of the crew.

Esther Brown and Ukeme Tom guard newly crowned King Obong Ibanga Ikpe during his coronation ceremony

(Reuters)

Peace stands guard during a coronation in Uyo

(Reuters)

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

The risk of being mugged at work is “always something that we have in mind,” Thomas said.

“We are always preparing for this” and “the men who despise us”.

“Facing the Crowd”

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

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

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

Mfoniso Peter and Glory Anthony talk to a man at the entrance to a funeral

(Reuters)

Peace is with her sister, Joy Ekwere, at her outlet kiosk in Uyo

(Reuters)

Attention-seeking behavior, such as standing in front of a crowd and giving orders, can be especially difficult for women who are used to avoiding the public gaze.

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

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

Members of Dragon Squad Limited dance during a drill session at the Camp Gee Hotel

(Reuters)

Standing guard beside the pallbearers during a funeral service in Eket

(Reuters)

She no longer considers herself an introvert or avoids events.

The Dragon Squad also brought her to defend the rights of girls and women.

Gender-based violence is rampant in Nigeria, which has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world. Jihadist groups in the north are notorious for kidnapping girls and women and trafficking them for sex work and forced labor.

Working in a reception in Uyo

(Reuters)

The all-female security team board a bus as they drive to work during a funeral event in Etinan

(Reuters)

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

She thinks bouncers “have a way of avoiding danger” by listening to troublemakers and victims in a way that most men don’t have the patience.

“I don’t see why women [should not be] given a chance.

Photograph by Temilade Adelaja

Reuters

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