By Ademola Adesola, The Nation
Hafsat Abiola-Costello, the eldest daughter of the late martyr of democracy, Chief MKO Abiola, in this online interview with Ademola Adesola, reflects on the issues confronting Nigeria 13 years after the death of her father
Another anniversary of June 12 is here, has the country been fair to your father?
MKO Abiola was a man that united the whole country. In the June 12 election, he won more votes in the North than he did in the South. On June 12, 1993, Nigerians voted en masse for a man whose platform was a promise that Nigerians would say “farewell to poverty”. Eighteen years later, 70% of Nigerians have less than a $1 a day and 90% live with less than $2 a day. You ask: Has the country been fair to my father? I ask you: Has the country been fair when the issues that demanded they pay the supreme price still stares us in the face? What a journey it has been and how instructive it is on the nature of struggle that we are here 18 years later still so far from our destination. The simple answer to your question is “no”, the country has not been fair to him or been fair to the ideals which he died for.
The 2011 election was adjudged as credible by local and international observers. Is it comparable to the one that got your father the mandate he was eventually denied of?
I think what we can say is that the April 2011 election was probably the most credible since the return of democracy in 1999. But is it as credible as the June 1993 election? I can’t say. Certainly, I hope that the 2015 election will be even better conducted than this recent past one. There were problems still and there’s room for improvement.
What is your opinion on the debate about making June 12 Democracy Day in Nigeria as against May 29 as it is being advocated by some people?
I think when we are confronted by a government that is confused about its raison d’être, easily distracted with the trappings of office and not with what the position is meant to achieve in the lives of 150 million Nigerians, if we, citizens of this entity, begin to talk about symbolic dates, then we run the risk of pushing too many issues onto the table before a community of people who already have a propensity to become distracted from their main assignment. So, it is important that June 12 be given a pride of place; it is important that MKO Abiola be honoured appropriately as the father of the current democracy we are experiencing. But for now, we must simply focus on the main point – the desire and just demand of the Nigerian people that they see an end to poverty. That’s the prize that we need to keep our eye on.
Are you interested in politics to the level of contesting election for political office?
Yes, I am! I think public service is the most important career that well-meaning citizens can pursue in a country like ours where there is such need and where, because of the weakness of controls, so much depends on the abilities and integrity of the people holding office.
Let’s talk about your mother. What do you really miss about her?
My mother was a lovely person. She was kind and graceful, intelligent and principled. I miss everything about her. The way she was driven by ideals to the point that she would set aside her own interests and the way, whenever we were coming home from school, she would cook jollof rice with so much pepper that our tongues would cry for water.
How do you view the present situation of the trial of her killers?
I actually do not follow that particularly actively.
Are there particular reasons why your siblings are based abroad?
Globalization! Khafila married a Welsh man who has a company in New York and Moriam married a Jamaican who also works in the US. Hadi, the baby, just graduated from college with a dual degree in Economics and Accounting and was given a great job in DC. And in my case, I married a civil servant in the European Commission and have moved with him and our kids on his different postings. To be sure, for all of us, home is best but inclination must intersect with opportunity for us to come home.
Let’s talk about your project, Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND). What are the major impacts and achievements that it has recorded since inception?
KIND has trained over 3000 young women in service-leadership since 2001. We have also impacted several women politicians at the local level with skills to enhance their service delivery. We were deeply involved in mobilizing the womenfolk to participate actively in the electoral system. Since 2006, we brought the Vagina Monologues to Nigeria to raise serious awareness about the prevalence of gender- based violence and to also raise funds for organizations working with victims of gender-based violence. For several civil society organizations, we have provided the necessary linkages and support in accessing support for their work and providing an active mentoring network.
Would you really say the feats achieved thus far are encouraging enough to keep on with the vision?
Definitely yes, and that is what informed our plan to open a KIND’s Women Development Centre in our nation’s capital. We are excited to embark on this new phase of our journey – helping women seek leadership positions in order to contribute their quota to nation-building. We have commenced outreach efforts to seek support towards a fund raiser that will coincide with the 60th posthumous birthday of my mum in August.
How has life been with your immediate family?
Life has been kind. We are all healthy and of my mum’s 7 children, 6 are married with 13 children between us.