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Political Activist Hafsat Abiola to Discuss "Building Global Support for Nigerian Democracy"

Nigerian political activist Hafsat Abiola will discuss "Building Global Support for Nigerian Democracy" at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 19, in Wright Hall Auditorium, Smith College, and at 7:30 p.m. in Franklin Patterson Main Lecture Hall, Hampshire College.

Abiola is the director of the Kudirat Institute for Nigerian Democracy (KIND) and the daughter of Nigeria's late president-elect, Moshood Abiola. Her articles on Nigeria have appeared in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Humanity, and The News, a leading Nigerian magazine. She has been interviewed by CNN, the BBC, and Radio Free Nigeria.

In her talk, Abiola will trace recent historical, political, and economic developments in Nigeria and will "link the country's current environmental problems and human rights violations to the repressive Nigerian military, which is supported by multinational corporations." In addition, she will talk about the role of grassroots organizations, especially women's and student groups, in promoting democracy and strengthening civil society, as well as the response of the international community, especially the United States, to the situation in Nigeria.

Nigeria has been under military rule for 28 of the 38 years since its independence. Although the current military regime has announced a presidential election for March 1999, Abiola says that Nigerian pro-democracy groups doubt the military will hand over power following that election. In 1993, Abiola's father, Moshood Abiola, won Nigeria's presidential election with 58 percent of the vote. However, Nigeria's ruling military council annulled the results and incarcerated Abiola and thousands of other political activists and journalists.

During his incarceration, Abiola was denied medical care, legal access, and nearly all visitors. Following the death of the dictator General Sani Abacha in June of this year, Abiola's release appeared imminent, but he died on July 8, while still in prison.

In 1996, Hafsat Abiola established KIND in memory of her late mother, who was assassinated in 1994, ostensibly by the Nigerian military. KIND, which is currently based in Washington, D.C., seeks to restore democracy to Nigeria, to strengthen civil society, and to enhance accountability in all public institutions. To build KIND's program, the "Friends of Nigeria," Abiola often tours American cities and democratic countries to speak on her country's struggle to end authoritarianism.

Abiola brought her cause to the Pioneer Valley in May 1997 when she proposed to the Amherst Town Meeting a bylaw promoting human rights and democracy in Nigeria through selective purchasing. The town voted in favor of the bylaw, which is still in effect.

Abiola's talks are free, open to the public, and wheelchair accessible. Co-sponsors include the Gwendolyn Carter Committee for African Studies at Smith College, Atopani at Hampshire College, and the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies (PAWSS).

For more information, contact Elliot Fratkin, associate professor of anthropology, Smith College, (413) 585-3338; Frank Holmquist, professor of African studies, Hampshire College, (413) 559-5377; or Nancy Talanian, (413) 665-4561.


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