EndSARS protests: The Nigerian women leading the fight for change

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Rinu Oduala is 22 years old and outspoken – Nigeria’s government feels so threatened by her that her bank account has been frozen.

She was among tens of thousands of young Nigerians, including many women, who made history with the protests that swept the country in October against police brutality.

Ms Oduala was one of the first to take to the streets after a video went viral of a man allegedly being killed by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), sparking what became known as the EndSARS demonstrations.

She set up camp outside the Lagos governor’s office on 7 October, demanding the police unit be disbanded.

As a media strategist, she knew how to rally people on social media to join her – organizing blankets for people who ended up sleeping outside the state government buildings for 72 hours before police attacked them.

With her 172,000 Twitter followers, she is one of several women who have shaken the Nigerian establishment to its core over the last six weeks. Her EndSARS activism saw her Twitter account get the blue verified badge.

Today she is part of a panel in Lagos sitting at a judicial inquiry into police abuse – one of the key demands of the protesters after the president disbanded the unit.

But she is concerned about her security and is one of 20 protest organisers to have their funds frozen by the central bank early in November.

“It’s disheartening that our good intention of ending police brutality would make us get tagged as terrorists,” she told the BBC.

The central bank says it sought a court order to block the accounts for 90 days in order to find out the source of their funds.

Ms Oduala says her lawyers are challenging the order.

Another female EndSars activist – lawyer Modupe Odele – had her passport confiscated last month. She had offered legal aid to those arrested during the demonstrations.

And last week, the website of the Feminist Coalition – a group set up by around 10 women in July to fight for gender equality, which became active during the EndSars protests – was blocked inside Nigeria and it is not clear who was behind the move.

During the protests the non-governmental organisation raised $385,000 (£290,000) through crowdfunding and spent part of the money on legal services for those protesters who were arrested, to pay medical bills for those wounded, to provide private security at protest points and daily refreshments.

The group says the rest of the funds are to be used to provide support, including mental health counselling, for victims of police brutality and the families of those who died.

It also hopes to sponsor a memorial for those killed by the police.

“This is just the beginning of a youth awakening in Nigeria, of things that we can do to improve the state of the country,” Fakhrriyyah Hashim, a co-Founder of Feminist Coalition, told the BBC.

“We will continue to do this, especially in the lives of women,” she said.

Nigeria may be a very patriarchal society, but women have always been vocal in demanding change, most notably during the anti-colonial struggle.

So the organising power of the women on the EndSars frontlines should not surprise the authorities.

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