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Hafsat Abiola-Costello

Hafsat Abiola-Costello is a Nigerian human rights, civil rights and democracy activist, founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), which seeks to strengthen civil society and promote democracy in Nigeria.

Abiola was born in 1974 in Lagos, Nigeria to Nigerian politician and philanthropist Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola and Alhaja Kudirat Abiola. She was sent to the US to attend Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts for her last five years of high school. Her mother used the money from the bride price for her marriage to educate her two daughters. She then attended Harvard University.

While in her second year at Harvard, the news reached Abiola that her father had been imprisoned by the dictator General Sani Abacha for treason. MKO Abiola had received almost 60% of the vote, but the military junta annulled the results, and seized power. This caused  a wave of demonstrations headed by Abiola’s mother, Kudirat. In 1996, Kudirat’s involvement in these protests led to her assassination. When she heard of her mother’s death, Abiola said that “We just stood there, and then I said to my siblings that we won’t let her down, and really since that time we’ve been trying to make sure that we do not let her down.”

In 1998, Chief MKO Abiola died in custody. A year later, Abiola returned to Nigeria after the country reverted to democratic rule. She founded the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) in her mothers memory, initially to support to democracy movement. The NGO now works to strengthen Nigeria’s civil society by promoting female leadership, offering training and support for women to run for office and tackles gendered violence against women. In 2000, Abiola was honoured as a Global Leader of Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. She has also been elected as as a Fellow of the Ashoka: Innovators for the Public in recognition of her international status as a social entrepreneur and has been nominated to be a founding councillor at the World Future Council.

In 2014, Abiola was appointed as a special adviser to the governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amonson. She is responsible for dealing with the UN Millennium Development Goals, and uses her position to ensure people can access essential public services and increase public transparency. One of the ways she is doing this is by running a conditional cash transfer project in the state. The project enables poor pregnant women to access healthcare facilities in order to tackle the maternal mortality in Nigeria which the World Health Organization estimates is 630 per 100,000.

In addition to her work in Nigeria, Abiola has founded several youth and employment initiatives as well as two programs to promote cross-cultural collaboration between African and China, China-Africa Bridge and China Africa Forum. Both programs focus on women’s economic contributions. Abiola serves as an advisory council member at the Fetzer Institute as well as the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and in 2015 was chosen to be one of 21 women to meet for a conference at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government funded by Hunt Alternatives.

Abiola continues to fight for the improvement of the lives of those in Nigeria by focusing on democracy as well as basic human and civil rights. She states that “[My parents] sowed so many seeds. If I’m not careful, if I just ignore and abandon their work, then everything that they did will be for nothing. I want everyone to be able to benefit from their sacrifice.”

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