Nigeria’s Hafsat Abiola-Costello appointed first African to head major women’s organisation

Hafsat Abiola-Costello
Hafsat Abiola-Costello (Photo Credit: Vital Voices Global Partnership)

Nigerian civil rights and democracy activist, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, has been appointed Executive President of Women in Africa (WIA) Initiative.

WIA is a network of women across Africa and around the world. It has strong relationships with companies and organisations, especially in Europe. It is dedicated to economic development and supporting women, mostly in Africa; but has always been headed by non-Africans.

The organisation’s website stated Mrs Abiola-Costello’s appointment was made on Wednesday and described the development as a key step for the initiative.

She is the first African to lead the organisation.

Her predecessor, Aude de Thuin, noted she always said she would hand over to an African woman.

“This is the stage of maturity. Since the beginning of WIA Initiative, I have always said that I would give my place to an African woman, because it is in the logic of WIA to have an African President. It is with women that Africa will develop in trust and in complementarity with men,” she said.

She also said she chose Mrs Abiola-Costello “first because of her personality. She was one of the first WIA Ambassadors, and joined WIA Council a year ago.

“Secondly, because of her career as an activist for human rights, civil rights and democracy, and values so close to ours made her the ideal candidate.

“Finally, for her analysis and her vision of the role of women in the economy. All this combined made it obvious that she is the right person at the right place.”

The new president said she accepted the post because she believes in the vision of the organisation.

“Women are the greatest untapped resource the continent has. So I want to help lead the organisation that is working to harness their potential. It could very well be the game-changer that unleashes the long-anticipated rise of the continent.”

On her goals as president, Ms. Abiola-Costello said her primary goal is to learn in the first year of her tenure.

“My goals for 2018 are understandably modest. It is primarily to learn. To learn how the organisation currently operates, to meet our partners and listen to their vision and interests, to engage with our members across the continent and learn what they see as the biggest opportunities and the toughest challenges. In the coming year, my focus will be on building out the structure for the future and beginning to tie that structure to performance.

“I’ll be focusing on ensuring that we have ambassadors in all the countries of Africa, that we have active councils in at least a third of these, and that we expand the network of partners that we engage on behalf of our members”, she said.

She also said her background in advocacy for democracy in Nigeria at the time of military rule, women and youth empowerment, and service as a member of cabinet in Nigeria’s industrial state, Ogun State, has practically prepared her for the role of WIA President.

“As a result of these experiences, I have built quite a broad network of relationships with global and local leaders, organisations, foundations, and governments from Washington DC to Ouagadougou that will be useful to WIA Initiative now as it seeks to expand its footprint and impact,” she said.

On the responsibilities of the new president, Ms. Thuin said “Hafsat will be in charge of the “vision” for Women in Africa and, as such, in charge of the programmes and all the contents of the summits, whether global or regional, and the digital platform.

“She will be the spokesperson and interface with the pan-African and global partners who accompany us. She will chair the Council and expand the network of our ambassadors.

“She will be accompanied by the team in place, composed of seasoned professionals, and she will complete this team as WIA grows. In the short term, in addition to being the spokesperson for WIA Marrakech 2018, Hafsat will contribute to the programme whose generic theme is “Watch Africa with confidence and Believe in its talents”.

“Hafsat will also put together the second regional summit to be held in Lagos at the end of the year with the WIA team.”

Mrs Abiola-Costello is the daughter of Nigeria’s democracy icons, Moshood and Kudirat Abiola, who died in the struggle to restore civil rule in Nigeria. Moshood Abiola is believed to have won the 1993 presidential election, but was imprisoned by the then military dictator, Sani Abacha. Mr Abiola died in prison.

Mrs Abiola-Costello is at the moment an official of the government of her home Ogun State.

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