Moshood Abiola was the first democratically elected President of Nigeria in 1993 in nearly three decades, winning the elections with steadfast determination. Decidedly obstinate, believing in the future of Nigeria’s peaceful existence, Abiola demanded productive change---“a smooth transition” from the military government that had enforced an entropic and stagnant state of existence in Nigeria since it’s independence in 1960. Soon after Abiola won the election he was arrested for treason by dictator General Sani Abacha, and sent to jail---welcoming the beginning of his political demise. The film "The Supreme Price," which is showing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, opens with Abiola, the generous Muslim businessman/ aristocrat/ philanthropist, turned leader of Nigeria’s Social Democratic Party (SDP), but it gets interesting with the eternal deliverance of the intriguing Kudirat, Abiola’s wife who took her husband’s place in the SDP, and was eventually slaughtered in her pursuit to democracy and justice.
Ranging from different interviews---from ex American Ambassador to Nigeria, Walter Carrington and Nigerian Nobel Laureate in Literature, Wole Soyinka---the film mainly focuses on the ruminations of Hafsat Abiola, daughter of the couple, and a human rights, civil rights and democracy activist, herself. Through her advocacy work she has been able to instigate the importance of female resistance to the unfairness of patriarchy. Hafsat has an ease, and with compelling command she distills the corruption of a country that she loves so dearly. There are clips of her, post her mother’s death, on American television, questioning why the States had not embargoed Nigeria’s oil supply, or frozen the accounts? Off camera she laments, “US and Britain don’t care about democracy, only oil,’---punctuating a passing Nigerian man’s fierce addendum in the film, “In Nigeria... petrol is life.”
In response to her mother’s readiness to fight, and die, for her country, Hafsat created the Kudirat Initiative For Democracy, focusing on re-conditioning the placement of women in Nigerian society, removing them from patriarchal methods which indict their own delegitimacy. “Customs become legitimate,” she tells a room full of women, but she pushes for them to dream of progressive change, instilling hope of time that “when we come, men will stand down.” The exceptionality of her voice, and vision, makes it hard not to believe in the message that she is so determinedly fighting for.
The consciousness of Kudirat is persistent in the pulse of the film, and that of Hafsat herself. The only time Hafsat breaks down, on camera, is when she is reminded of her mother’s belief in her daughter’s possibility to create real, effectual social change. It’s the shattering of barriers, the steep emotional curve of allowing a terse, but heart-rending realization wash over you. As Hafsat mourns, the tears, compound her message---and that emotional engagement, and vulnerability was when this story, and film, got to the heart of the issue.
It started off as all stories do---with reverence to the dead, bloodied in their graves, the heroes, and the martyrs, those who gave so much. But, for me, the contemplation of what that struggle means, and it’s imminent and brutally unjustified end, is surfaced in this film with so much humanity. It is a deeply profound and beautiful experience, and an integral film to watch.
As I write this, I am consumed by Hafsat’s final message: “any society that silences it’s women, has no future.” So, with that, may we remind ourselves to never be silenced.
"The Supreme Price" will next screen at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York, tomorrow, Thursday, June 19th, at 9:15 PM at Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater. The screening will be followed by a discussion with filmmaker Joanna Lipper, as well as the film's subject, Hafsat Abiola, moderated by Rona Peligal, Deputy Director, African Division, Human Rights Watch.
Watch a 10-minute preview of the film below:
Fariha Roisin is a freelance film and culture writer. Follow her on Twitter: @fariharoisin