Hafsat Abiola-Costello is the first daughter of Late Kudirat Abiola who was assassinated when campaigning for the release of her husband, Late MKO Abiola, and the restoration of his mandate.
Hafsat, at the Women in the World Summit in New York, went down memory lane and discussed the events that led to the death of her parent’s death and how the tragedy led her to become an activist for democracy.
Now a member of the state cabinet in Ogun State, and the founder of a nonprofit group named after her mother, the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, the group encourages women to run for office in Nigeria and to fight violence against women.
My father was a business man and a philantropist. He loved people and he loved our country, Nigeria, and he wanted to serve. He ran for office and we were scared because we are from the South-West of the country and to win that election, you would have needed to win the North, we didn’t think that the North would vote for somebody from another part. The North voted for him across the whole region and even on the street of his opponent in the North because he was a northern candidate.
Because Nigerians decided to set aside ethnic considerations, religious considerations, and vote for somebody that can make a difference, and they voted for my father. He was elected but the soldiers said my father would not be easily controlled so they negotiated with him to give him oil blocks and all of this and he refused.
My father said to my mum that trying to stand in front of the Nigerian Army to fight them is like trying to stand in front of a moving train. My mother said, ‘then let us do it together.’ When my father was arrested and kept in jail, my mummy was a high school graduate, her English wasn’t very good and she was always in front of CNN, BBC, on the streets of Nigeria, marching, protesting the military’s continued rule in Nigeria.
She sold properties and gathered the money she had saved and gave it to the oil workers union and said go on strike to protest the military’s continued rule because the military was only there for the billions of dollars they were getting from the oil Nigeria had, not because they were interested in the country or its people and she said that and the oil workers union went on strike for three months, the longest strike in the world history by oil workers.
And when that happened the military arrested the leaders of the oil workers and found out that my mother had funded the strike and then that put her in the …, monitoring her, threatening her and they jailed her for 24 hours and warned her that they would take more drastic measures if she continued.
As soon as they released her, the US sent a missions to Nigeria to find out what was going on , my mother went and spoke to that mission and that was the final straw. After that meeting, within days, on the day that my mother was to travel out of a Nigeria for my graduation at Harvard, her car was ambushed and she was gunned down.
When this happened, I thought about my gentle and kind mother. We were seven children that she had and I was her first daughter. I imagined she would be making her journey to the other world and she would say ‘this is a sudden journey, maybe I need to tell Hafsat what to do, how to carry on,’ and then she would say, ‘I don’t need to tell Hafsat anything, she will know,’ and she will start dancing and she will know.
And once I knew that my mother was confident that I had this situation, I had that situation. I turned to my siblings and said, ‘come, let us stand in a circle,’ and we stood in a circle and we held hands and I said, ‘let us continue the work that mummy started.’