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Nigeria's Female Bouncers 'Breaking the Barrier'

FILE - 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.

Emem Thomas was forced to abandon her dreams of competing in a beauty pageant in the southeastern Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom as her confidence was hit following years of unpleasant remarks about her body.

But that has not stopped her from flourishing. Today, she runs ''Dragon Squad Limited,'' a company she founded in 2018 to only employ women of certain weight and shaping, while creating a safe space for what she calls ''plus-sized'' women to excel.

The Dragon Squad with 43 female bouncers have worked security at about 2,000 events including house parties, funerals, political rallies and club nights, forging their way through a male-dominated sector.

‘’I first of all look at the physical and the body size since my team is all about plus size ladies. If you have the plus size body then that is cool for me, before I now talk about your passion and other qualification of yours,’’ the 37-year old explained.

The risk of facing molestation on the job is always something these women have in mind. And so in addition to walkie-talkies, boots and dark glasses, the bouncers carry pepper spray before heading out.

They get clients mostly via referrals and social media.

Obong Ibanga-Ikpe first saw the team on Facebook and decided to call them to secure his chieftaincy coronation event.

‘’In a few years men may step aside. There will be a fierce competition the two genders – male and female, then you the customer will have to decide whether you want the female security squad, that is what I wanted. And he will have to decide which one do you want, for me I prefer the women,’’ Ibanga-Ikpe said.

‘’Today I have seen agile, gallant, beautiful ladies doing the work…in fact…when they used to say ‘’what a man can do, a woman can do even better’’, today I have seen it and I am confirming it with the lady body guards, and I say kudos to them,’’ said Saviour Ikpa, a guest at the traditional event.

The youngest of the team is Peace Vigorous, 23, who lives in the city with her three children. She had a small food business before she joined the team.

‘’Before I joined Dragon Squad, I was thinking women could only do tailoring work, maybe hairdressing, sell things in the market or probably sit at home like house wife, but after I joined, I realized that women can do more, we are strong, we can do the men’s job too,’’ Vigorous said.

On an early overcast morning, Thomas led bouncers through a sweaty fitness session on a parking lot. They have gained skills, strength, and most importantly for Thomas, confidence.

She no longer considers herself an introvert or shies away from events, and the Dragon Squad has also led her to advocate for the rights of girls and women in a a country where gender-based violence is rife and one of the world's highest rates of sexual assault.

Thomas thinks that 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.