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Hasfat, A Leader Among Young Leaders

Posted by By Modupe Ogunbayo on 2004/09/12 | Views: 944 |

Hasfat, A Leader Among Young Leaders

This is not a fairy tale but the true story of the political crisis that gripped Nigeria following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which Candidate Moshood Abiola was believed to have won. It is about a young woman who rose from the ashes of that tragedy into national and international reckoning

This is not a fairy tale but the true story of the political crisis that gripped Nigeria following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which Candidate Moshood Abiola was believed to have won. It is about a young woman who rose from the ashes of that tragedy into national and international reckoning

The woman was riding the crest of the wave, receiving public adulation for courageously championing a cause she believed in, ignoring the danger to her life. Then she was felled by a volley of bullets, which took life out of her. Meanwhile, her husband was in prison, detained for winning an election and asking to be sworn-in as the President of Nigeria. He never claimed that mandate because death had claimed his life while in prison.

This is not a fairy tale but the true story of the political crisis that gripped Nigeria following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which Candidate Moshood Abiola was believed to have won. His wife, Kudirat, pressed on for the validation of that mandate while her husband was incarcerated.

But this story is not about Abiola or his wife, Kudirat. It is about a young woman who rose from the ashes of that tragedy into national and international reckoning. It is a story of courage, a story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, a story of the conversion of tragedy into charity, a story of a young woman who has displayed admirable leadership credentials: Hafsat Abiola.

As a young lady imbued with wisdom and vision, she founded the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, KIND, an international non-governmental organisation devoted to supporting democracy and development in Africa.

KIND was established in the United States and Nigeria in 1997 and 1999 respectively for the purpose of creating initiatives and strengthening organisations dedicated to the advancement of women and youths. True, it was a mixture of shock, anger, disappointment and sorrow for Hafsat but she was able to pull herself together again. Instead of brooding over the death of her parents, she was propelled to work towards positively impacting on the Nigerian society through KIND. "Actually, their death had a positive effect. It encouraged me because I could see right away that we really have no control over when we die. We have a limited time when we are on earth to do things. So, it becomes important that we do things that mean most to us and that can really have an impact," she told Newswatch. Even at the height of military dictatorship under Abacha, the organisation mobilised support for Nigeria's pro-democracy struggle in the international community, particularly in the United States and Canada.

Like Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Hafsat, believes that "the future of this planet depends on women." According to her, God endowed women with some innate qualities, which are fundamental for good leadership. She is not quite pleased that in 1999, after the return to democratic rule in Nigeria, there were only a few women in public service at all levels. It seemed clear to her that women did not have the same confidence as men in seeking out opportunities and that there were unique barriers that hindered woman. In order to give women the confidence to unleash their energies, ideas, love and nurturing skills, Hafsat designed a programme specially to groom the next generation of women leaders in Nigeria. The programme seeks to serve as a catalyst for the emergence of women leaders by fostering the leadership potentials of its participants. Each year, organisers of the programme identify 20 young women who are motivated to serve and they are trained in such a way that they imbibe leadership and management skills. The programme equally educates participants on sexuality, reproductive health, rights of women and international conventions concerning women. Hafsat believes that with the relevant skills participants in the programme have acquired, women can become agents of change in Nigeria. "We are using the young women's leadership programme to groom leaders that are committed to making the difference in the society. KIND is developing more ideas on how to unleash women's energies, intelligence, love and integrity and this will definitely change the Nigerian society for the better," she said. Hafsat also realised the importance of the Internet which has made the world a global village. The establishment of an Internet café at the KIND centre in Gbagada, Lagos, on August 12, last year was a plus for the project. The café funded by Franklin and Catherine Johnson Foundation, serves people in Gbagada community and the profit generated from the enterprise is used to support KIND's training programmes. Hafsat attributes her leadership traits and commitment to service to her upbringing. Although her parents were wealthy, they taught their children to be humble and to derive joy from serving humanity. "I knew from my parents that you come alive best when you are serving others because when you are serving others, it makes you grateful for who you are," Hafsat told Newswatch.

She acknowledged that she received the inspiration for what she is doing today in KIND from her mother. But she believes she has not been able to match her mother in terms of her level of kindness to people. She also believes that her Islamic background has influenced her lifestyle. "I am a modest person and Islam encourages modesty in women. I am also humble and peaceful and Islam preaches peace. And that is what I take away."

How does she raise the funds for the projects? According to her, the organisation gets a lot of support from individuals and groups who share the dream and vision of KIND people. Initially, the organisation received much of its funding from Amnesty International and Africa Fund but in recent times many organisations in Nigeria have identified with KIND. For instance, the First City Monument Bank, FCMB, recently made a huge investment for its website training programme. Many state governors have equally invested in KIND and as a result it has been growing from strength to strength. In recognition of Hafsat's contribution to the society, she has been honoured by many reputable organisations. On May 18, last year. Haverford College in Pennsylvania conferred on her the degree of Doctor of Public Letters, honoris causa for her work on the issues of women and leadership in Nigeria. Six months later, in October last year, she was inducted as an Ashoka fellow. With her induction, she joined an esteemed community of social enterpreneurs and visionaries. Her other awards include, Association for Women in Development "Women to watch for" (1999), World Economic Forum's "Global Leader of Tomorrow Award (2000) and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Global Award (2001).

Again in December, last year, Hafsat received meritorious award from the National Council of Women Societies, NCWS, Lagos chapter for her efforts in empowering young women leaders. With KIND, she has continued to rise from grace to grace.

Her philosophy of life is encapsulated in the words of a Greek poet and philosopher, Heractitus. Titled, The Light of Integrity, it says": "The soul is dyed in the colour of its thought. Think only of those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the full light of the day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is what you become. Your integrity is your destiny, it is the light that guides your way.

Apart from her parents Hafsat admires the life styles of Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King who committed their lives to making a difference in other people's lives.

This KIND lady was born 30 years ago in Lagos. Her educational foundation was laid at the University of Lagos Staff School, Yaba and Queen's College, Yaba. She later left Nigeria for the United States and earned a bachelor of arts degree in political economy from the prestigious Harvard University in 1996.

She plans to tie the nuptial knot with Nicholas Costello, a British diplomat with the European Commission soon.

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