In Nigeria, men have staged coups and women have led protests. Both are political moves. The strength of women in politics has almost solely been expressed in opposition. Books of history are littered with the exploits of great women, who stood up to far stronger enemies and conquering.
In 1929, the Women’s War in Aba was staged against Warrant Chiefs who were accused of the marginalization of women in government. The protest drew women from across six ethnic groups: Ibibio, Andoni, Orgoni, Bonny, Opobo, and Igbo, demanding fair taxation.
In 1940, women led protests in Abeokuta against marginalization and lack of participation in government. These women, numbering in the thousands and led by Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, camped in front of the palace for days, until their demands were met.
They were tear-gassed, beaten, imprisoned, fined, and harassed, but they remained steadfast in their cause. Eventually, The Alake was dethroned and four women were granted seats in the local council.
Alimotu Pelewura, a fish seller in Lagos who established the Lagos Market Women’s Association in the mid-1920s, also exercised her power in activism when she led a rally of market women to protest policies of the British colonial government – the relocation of Ereko market and direct taxation of women. She also supported striking workers, by asking the market women to lower the prices of goods, in protest against the Pullen scheme.
In 2015, 276 schoolgirls were abducted by members of the Boko Haram terrorist group in Chibok, Borno state. Women were at the forefront of the #BringBackOurGirls protests that were led physically and digitally demanding that the government rescue and return all the abductees safely. The movement gained international attention.
Today, women are leading again, in the recent agitations by young Nigerians in protest of the criminality that the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) has become. SARS, a unit of the Nigerian Police Force hatched to check the activities of armed robbers in Nigeria, has rather become an agency for the harassment, robbery, victimization, and extrajudicial killings of young Nigerians. And against this, Nigerians protested, in the streets and on social media. Feyikemi Abudu, Aisha Yesufu, Olorunrinu Oduala, Jola Ayeye, Kiki Mordi, Moe Odele, Mosope Odeseye, have come to embody the very identity of these protests. They have worked, strategized, communicated, rallied, fund-raised, and dispensed through the course. They have become beams of the outrage and power of the protesters.
Fists held high, eyes blazing, you can tell that women like Aisha Yesufu will not be silenced, no matter how hard the world tries. In 2015, 276 secondary school girls were abducted by the Boko Haram extremist group, in Chibok, Borno State Nigeria. Before this, the Boko Haram group had been operating largely to terrorize citizens of the North-Eastern region of Nigeria. The government had been fighting a losing battle to reign this group in, and then the girls were abducted.
The kidnap of the Chibok girls sparked anger in the populace, and very soon protests were being staged, inquiring into government activities in ensuring the safe return of the girls to their families. The #BringBackOurGirls protests began and very soon, like a comet, Aisha Yesufu became the face and voice of the movement. #BBOG is the longest-standing protest in Nigeria.
It attracted the attention of former first lady of the United States, Michell Obama, and Hillary Clinton. Its hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls, tweeted more than 2 million times, inspired a spark of protests in the US, UK, South Africa, Jamaica, and Switzerland; was represented in Marvel’s Black Panther; spoken on by Wyclef John, Chris Brown, and disseminated by the international and national press. International attention on the issue also assisted in keeping the government accountable and ensuring the efforts in securing the release of the girls.
Aisha, who hails from a conservative part of Nigeria where women are neither seen nor heard, has broken through clouds of invisibility into activism. She continues to break stifling barriers by constantly speaking out against injustice, corruption, or illegalities from the government. She has been fearlessly vocal about her stance on government activities.
Though born and brought up in Kano state, Northern Nigeria, Aisha is a native of Agbede in Edo state. In 1994, she gained admission into Uthman Danfodio University in 1992 but left after a crisis in the school prevented the continuation of her studies. She later enrolled in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to study medicine but couldn’t go air either. The school was temporarily shut down following a professor’s murder in 1994. Finally from Bayero University, Kano, she graduated with a degree in Microbiology.
By 11, Aisha says she no longer had any friends her age, as most of them had been married off, or died from vaginal fistula resulting from underage pregnancy. Child marriage practices and attendant consequences continue to plaque Northern Nigeria.
Today, Aisha joins thousands of Nigerian youths in protest, this time clamouring for an end to police brutality in Nigeria. The pride and excitement in her voice and expression are undeniable, as she stands in solidarity, even as protesters are tear-gassed, hot water sprayed, shot at, and injured by the members of the police force.
Aisha Yesufu has described herself as having a “big mouth”, “For me, activism has been part of me all my life. I am somebody that stands up against injustice because I have a ‘big mouth.’”
In 2016, Feyikemi Abudu rose into the spotlight on Nigerian Twitter as a sharp-witted, wine-loving, feminist. Today, as the #EndSARS agitations in Nigeria reach a peak, FK Abudu, as she is more popularly known on social media, is synonymous with the very spirit of the protest.
Feyikemi is one-half of the most popular podcasts in Nigeria, ‘I Said What I Said’, which she hosts with her friend Jola Ayeye. She schooled in the University College of London, between 2011 to 2015, where she studied Chemical Engineering. In 2015, she attended the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, where she obtained a certificate in Entrepreneurial Studies.
In 2016, she spent four months with the She Leads Africa team, a community-centered business that provides the means for African entrepreneurs to access tools and products to achieve their business potentials as VP Business Development and Programmes.
These days, after spending a couple of months in a few other companies in the position of Business Development Consultant, she shuffles her time between producing ISWIS podcasts and running Caya house, her consultancy firm.
Feyikemi is also passionate about women’s rights and deconstructing the barriers that have been entrenched to limit the social and economic powers of women.
As the rumblings of the #EndSARS protest got louder, the needs arose for a few people to organize and facilitate the smooth running of the protests. Protesters wanted to send money to cater for those out on the streets. These funds have been used to sort out hospital bills of injured protesters, as well as securing the means of bailing out detailed protesters. Refreshment and feeding of the protesters were also sorted with these funds.
Feyikemi, in collaboration with feminist_co, a coalition group of feminists and several individuals on social media has orchestrated the release of several arrested protesters from detention, disbursing funds for the treatment of injured protesters, mobilizing, engaging, and encouraging protesters.
While the protest structure is largely leaderless, there are foot soldiers dispatched to ensure the smooth flow of things, and Feyikemi is one of them. Though FK is a proponent of the ‘live your best life’ mantra encouraging a life of enjoyment and luxury, especially for women who are traditionally expected to persevere in hard times, she has shown that she can also roll up her sleeves and get to work when the need arises.
She is daughter to lawyer, educator, interior decorator, and all-around businesswoman, Ekua Abudu, who is the proprietress of Greenwood House School, Ikoyi, one of the foremost preparatory schools in Lagos, which she established with her aunt, Mrs. Iyabo Margaret Durand. Ekua is the first child of lawyer and businessman Taiwo Sagoe, and Modupe Sagoe, a successful textile material entrepreneur in Lagos.
Modupe Sagoe, Feyikemi’s grandmother, is a very popular textile merchant in Lagos. Sisi Modupe as she is fondly called, is blessed with three children, Ekua Abudu (nee Sagoe), Koffi Sagoe, who was married to Deola Sagoe, and Araba Morakinyo (nee Sagoe), the cake genius. Sisi Modupe was the face of the HOH Swiss headgear, Gele Sagoe.
Ekua Abudu was married to Wale Abudu, the two eventually split. And in a quiet ceremony, in 2018, she tied the knot to Finance and Accounting guru as well as famed art collector, Femi Akinsanya.
FK’s father, Wale Abudu, a lawyer, is the son of legal luminary and astute businessman from Abeokuta, Chief Ayinla Olatunde Abudu, who is the The Mayegun of Egbaland, and brother to Tokunbo Abudu, Lawyer and businessman, who was married at one time, to Mo’ Abudu.
Another young woman pulling her weight, in ensuring the success of the #EndSARS movement is Funmi Oyatogun. Funmi is a travel enthusiast, who has lived in 3 countries and visited dozens of countries around the world.
She attended the University of Colorado, at Boulder, Colorado between 2009 and 2012, where she graduated with a B.Sc in Geography and Environmental Studies. She also attended the University of Edinburgh for her Masters in Environmental Studies. Born in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, she credits the vibrant state for her zest for life and interest in seeing the world.
She designs travel packages, tourism master plans, games and digital content to help people travel better. She also created the Fill in the Black, an enjoyable card game, that enables players to experience “blackness” from around the world.
Funmi has been in charge of deployIng funds and coordinating the general needs and welfare of the protest. Requests for assistance, products, funds, have been filed through Funmi’s Twitter account.
Though the #EndSARS movement has largely been “leaderless”, the movement has been sustained so far, by self-starters. Individuals who have through their selfless acts used their skills, intellect, and sheer courage to meet the needs of the protesters.
Kiki shot to the limelight barely a year ago in 2019, after the release of her Sex For Grades documentary that exposed the sexual harassment actions of several University lecturers in Nigeria and Accra. Kiki, an investigative journalist, led a team of journalists, including Kemi (not real name), who had gone undercover as a student of the University of Lagos, seeking the assistance of a lecturer to obtain admission into the school.
Recordings between the undercover journalist and the lecturer exposed a disturbing cavalier attitude of sexual harassment, which included an insinuation of sexual favours, in exchange for tutelage or admission.
The Sex For Grades scandal rocked the country, leading to the investigation, and reformation in several universities in Nigeria. Social media exploded with women recanting their ordeal at the hands of their lecturer, emphasizing that incidences like these are not rare, but all too common.
Since the release of the documentary, Kiki has continued to speak up for women’s rights and about women’s issues. In 2020, the BBC Africa Eye: Sex For Grades documentary was awarded for an Emmy award in the News and Current Affairs category. A monumental recognition of the work.
As young people gathered in the streets of cities across Nigeria, lifting their arms in the air, in demand for the end of police brutality and dissolution of the SARS unit, Kiki Mordi marched alongside her comrades. She has been instrumental in galvanizing people from social media to march in protests on the streets. She and several young Nigerians have been tireless, marching, protesting and speaking out against police brutality in Nigeria.
A very important way that the government responded to the protests was arresting and detaining protesters. They are arrested and their release consequently frustrated. One of the ladies that has been instrumental in deploying lawyers to secure the release of these protesters is Moe Odele.
Moe, a lawyer, popular on Twitter for sharing insightful pieces on finance, saw hugely to the deployment of lawyers to police stations that they were needed. With social media, and working closely with FK, she frantically worked to ensure that information about arrested protesters was available, while seeing to their swift release. More than 20 detained protesters have been released from police custody. It is without doubt that the youths have used every tool at their disposal during the #EndSARS protest.
Moe is a startup and tech lawyer, not a human rights lawyer, but she has deployed her connection of young Nigerian lawyers to support the #EndSARS protests, in ensuring the safe release of detained protesters.
She got called to the Nigerian bar as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2012 and proceeded to Columbia University, in New York as a Post doctoral researcher in the area of Sustainable Investment between 2016 and 2019.
She runs Scale My Hustle, a social enterprise that provides African entrepreneurs with resources to properly structure and grow their businesses.
As the momentum of the protests grew, Nigerian youths knew that all hands had to be on deck. People from all walks of life with different skills showed up to render assistance and be of help in any way that they could. In communication, security, finance, insurance and repairs, cleaning and welfare, medicals, and so on, Nigerian youths have provided for themselves, while protesting against years of failed and irresponsible government.
Mosope Odeseye, is one of the people that has given herself and platform over to be used to advance the #EndSARS protest. Mosope, who is the head chef at Iyameto’s Kitchen, has worked closely with Feyikemi Abudu, to ensure the effective distribution of donated funds to protesters in need. Whether for injured protesters, to ensure the release of detained ones, or to provide for the welfare of those protesting all across the country. No Nigerian protesting has been left behind. Irrespective of ethnic, religious or sexual orientation.
Like many of the women on this list, selflessness and activism is not new to Mosope. She has always been an ardent volunteer, Pamilerin Foundation, Inspiro Consulting, Christmas On the Streetz are some of the causes she has been a part of. A graduate of Mass Communication from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Modupe picked up the ladle from her mother, and has added a youth, digitized flair to her service. She is the event planner for the Australian Education Exhibition annual event where her company provides 50 stand assistants for delegates yearly.
Apart from running Iyameto’s Kitchen since 2016, she is also the Creative Director of Mode Seven Events, an events planning outfit.
Out of Nigeria’s arid economic climate, a crop of young experts have arisen. A generation of young Nigerians who are working hard to solve the many technological issues that beset the country. And it is for this specific attempt that they make, that they are sometimes earmarked for harassment by members of SARS, who peg them for criminals.
In 2013, Odun Eweniyi graduated top of her Computer Engineering class from Covenant University, at 19. The first daughter of two professors that knew firsthand how much the epileptic situation of Nigerian federal universities can set one back, the decision to apply to the private Covenant University would be life-changing for Odun.
Shortly after graduation, while returning from a job interview, Odun reconnected with Somto Ifezue, a brilliant engineering graduate also from Covenant, who would eventually become a co-founder with her.
She soon joined Somto’s startup, Parolz, where she honed several skills, as she threw herself into whatever was needed by the startup. As the team worked on perfecting Parolz, the idea for PushCV, began taking form. The idea behind PushCV was to help job seekers perfect their CVs for job applications and to take it further and distinguish themselves, they also screened applicants and connected the best fits with companies. With that PushCV was underway, and with some investment, the company was profitable.
Very soon, the team began exploring new ideas to venture into. In 2015, Josh Chibueze, one of Odun’s eventual co-founders, was struck by an idea of digitized “kolo”, a local method of saving, an idea he got from a picture shared on Twitter, of a woman showing how much she had saved in her kolo. And that was the birth of Piggyvest. A convenient way for the Nigerian millennials to save and invest.
In 2018, she cofounded Wine and Whine, a women-only safe space for women to relax, party and be themselves, with Dami Odufuwa. The nonstop male gaze, objectification and sexual harassment of women, is an issue that has recently gotten public attention, especially on social media. Wine and Whine, is an effort by Odun and Dami, to create spaces that women can be comfortable, away from harassment, sexism or misogyny.
In 2018, Odun was named one of Forbes Africa‘s “20 New Wealth Creators” on the African continent list.
Odun is also a founding member of feministco, a coalition of women who have dedicated themselves to three purposes, women’s rights and safety, financial equality of women and political and legislative powers of women.
Odun, in the #EndSARS protests have been particularly instrumental in the distribution of the donated funds to needed quarters. The Nigerian public has donated over 70 million naira to the #EndSARS account created and the Feministco has disbursed over 20 million in ensuring the release, safety, protection of protesters, as well as other funds needed to steamroll the protests.
In spite of the peaceful #EndSARS protests that Nigerian youths have staged, they have been tear-gassed, hot water sprayed, shot at, and injured by the Nigerian government. The long-distance trekking, endless hours of standing in protest, shouting so that demands are heard, and getting sunburnt, Nigerian youths have been relentless and tireless. One of them is Rinu Oduala, who is standing tall in spite of the many reasons not to.
Rinu is a 300 level student of chemistry from the Lagos State University, a Media Strategist and Digital Marketer. Activism, determination and bravery are not new to Rinu. The #EndSARS protest is not her first foray into proactivity. In March, while certainty still filled the air about the Coronavirus, Rinu took to social media to volunteer the making of hand sanitizers, using her knowledge as a chemist. She galvanized members of the public to donate and contribute to securing the needed materials. The initial target was to prepare 10,000 bottles of sanitizers, but this target has far been surpassed. With #OperationSanitize becoming a movement, spanning several cities in Nigeria.
The movement has been able to distribute 20,000 free hand sanitizers to Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Benue, Lagos, states, including the FCT. It almost then comes as no surprise that Rinu has joined her peers and colleagues in speaking truth to power. Not only is she protesting, she is also speaking out to the government and expressing the deepest hurt and disappointment of the Nigerian youth.
This is someone that talks, and walks the walk.
These women highlighted here have displayed courage, strength, and intelligence in the face of grave danger and difficulty. They have embodied the very basis of the struggle against police brutality and a demand for a more responsible and responsive government. They are representative of the more socially and politically conscious Nigerian youth. One who is tired of the usual complacency is demanding better, and not backing down till their demands are met.
While women have displayed true grit and bravery in the #EndSARS protests, this has not been their fight alone. They have walked and worked side by side men who have also displayed determination and strength. Men who have exerted themselves, marching alongside people, who have spoken out against the government, used their skills and connections, in advancing the protests, some of these men include;
Adekunle Temitope (Small Doctor)
Debo Adebayo (Mr Macaroni)
Folarin Falz Falana
Douglas Jack Agu (Runtown)
Nigerian youths have deployed their wide range of skills in carrying out these protests. Their knowledge of how to use social media, the connections and communities they have built on these platforms, as well as their skills – in tech, building websites for the transparent collection of contributions, in law, to ensure the safe release of detained protesters, their sheer energy as young, frustrated people. #EndSARS