Hafsat Abiola was a student at Harvard when she learned that her father, Nigerian President-elect M.K.O. Abiola, was in prison. Moshood was a Muslim who had managed to appeal to his country’s Christian majority and, in 1996, to win Nigeria’s most fair and democratic presidential election in decades. A military coup soon after prevented M.K.O. from taking office.
While he was incarcerated, his wife, Kudirat, led Nigeria’s pro-democracy movement, and Hafsat became an international activist. In the new documentary The Supreme Price, director Joanna Lipper watches Hafsat and her siblings grapple with their parents’ legacy, with what it means to be Nigerian and what it would take to make their country a fair and democratic place.
No hashtag activist, Lipper does an excellent job of using her film as a vehicle for the voices and concerns of Nigerians, and especially of Nigerian women, who are traditionally expected to stay at home while men operate in the public sphere.
But Lipper does not limit her camera to political struggles. In one of the loveliest moments in this lean, lucid film, car headlights slice through crowds at night, illuminating a long arm, a length of cloth. In another, Hafsat’s brother reflects on the mosque where four generations of his family have prayed, and Lipper captures the shadows of the men’s bowed bodies. Late in the film, Hafsat makes the hard choice to leave her family in placid Belgium and return to work in Nigeria, stating that “any society that is silencing its women has no future.” Hafsat Abiola knows how rare is her chance to speak, so with keen intelligence she does, and it’s compelling.