As well as the Feminist Coalition logo perhaps the most iconic photo from the protests has been of long-time activist Aisha Yesufu, wearing a traditional hijab, standing with her right clenched fist raised in defiance in front of fellow supporters opposite from armed police men. The image was widely shared by Nigerian social media users and quickly turned into a symbol.

Mental health

Another distinct feature of the protest was the provision of psychological support, an important element for demonstrators, according to Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, founder of Stand to End Rape (STER) Initiative. The NGO expanded its psychological support and counseling resources to help protesters who have been victims of police brutality and find the demonstration mentally overwhelming.

“We wanted to support young people to exercise their human rights and the families of those who had been impacted by [police brutality],” said Osowobi. “We had counselors and mental health specialists who were there helping protesters every step of the way.”

Following the national media regulator’s directive to traditional outlets to not “embarrass government,” websites like the Police Brutality in Nigeria (POBIN) Project provided documentation of extensive incidents of police violence, underpinning the need for reform.

Kemi Falodun co-founded the website in August as a sort of memorial for the Apo Six, a group of young club goers killed in 2005 by police officers in the Apo area of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

“I felt a need to have a public record of the stories of police brutality in Nigeria for memory and accountability,” said Falodun, a Lagos-based journalist.

According to Falodun, The POBIN Project saw an uptick in views during the EndSARS protest, and more writers volunteered to work with them to document cases of abuse of power perpetrated by SARS operatives.

Women protestors leading at Lagos airport Oct.12, 2020.
Women protestors leading at Lagos airport Oct.12, 2020.
Image: REUTERS/Seun Sanni

One week after the protest began, thugs started attacking peaceful demonstrators in an effort to dampen the momentum. Witnesses in Lagos and Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, claimed the police did not intervene to stop the attacks.

Things came to a head on Oct. 20 when soldiers shot live rounds at unarmed protesters at the tollgate in the Lekki district of Lagos and in Alausa, another neighborhood in the city. According to rights group Amnesty International, the shootings left at least 12 dead and many others wounded.

For its part, the army denied involvement, branding news headlines of the shooting as “fake news”, eventually claiming they were on the scene but didn’t open fire despite video evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has launched an investigation into who ordered the shooting.

In the aftermath, organizations like STER Initiative continue to support protesters with post traumatic stress disorder and those struggling survivor’s guilt, while The POBIN Project aims to report the ongoing judicial proceedings on police violence being established across the country.

Amid this backdrop lies a hope that more Nigerians, having observed women at the fore of the EndSARS movement, will begin to appreciate their leadership capabilities.

“Prior, I had several people say to me, ‘You’re a woman. How can you organize a protest?'” said Oduala. “But now, there’s a newfound respect and admiration.”

However, Abiola isn’t optimistic perceptions about women wielding power will change anytime soon. She argued the reason the role of feminist activists in the protest were applauded is because police brutality directly impacted men.

“If you try to center yourself as a woman and talk about the issues you’re facing, you’d be said to be distracting from the larger message,” she said, noting that men generally aren’t interested in women’s rights.

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