1994 Harvard Student: Nigeria’s Democratic President Was Overthrown. He Was My Dad. Here’s Why the U.S. Did Nothing.

A new documentary explores why a democratically elected president in Nigeria didn’t receive enough assistance from America when he was ousted by the military in 1993. The possible reason? Oil. 

Moshood Abiola STR/Getty Images

One of the film’s most poignant themes is an idea that’s underdiscussed: that Nigeria did not receive adequate assistance from the United States when its democratically elected leader was being toppled by the military. In the documentary, Hafsat Abiola is still reeling from that as she describes how the U.S. government did little to support her dad’s efforts during Nigeria’s political crisis. The reason she says the U.S. didn’t support her father still annoys her, too: Nigeria is one of America’s top oil suppliers, and the military controlled the country’s oil patches at that time.

“I think that the Americans and the British were not really interested in whether or not we had a democratic system,” Hafsat Abiola said coolly. “They were just interested in whether or not they could count on getting oil from Nigeria.”

Ouch. It’s an allegation that is backed by Walter Carrington, the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria from 1993 to 1997, who described how he received word from the State Department “to remain neutral” during the unrest.

America has made a huge fuss about wanting other nations to democratize, but many people, like Hafsat Abiola, believe that America merely watched while a democratic election was delegitimized in Nigeria in 1993.

That The Supreme Price is being released this year is serendipitous given Nigeria’s prominence in the news: the schoolgirl abductions by Boko Haram, the country’s kidnapping crisis in general and the corruption surrounding the wealth of the Nigerian economy.

As the film unfolds, viewers can’t help but connect the dots between the current conditions in Nigeria and the neglect by the West during a time when Nigeria needed international help the most. With all of those Save Africa initiatives in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, one might have expected the West to support a democratically elected African leader that might save Africa. If Moshood Abiola had received assistance in 1993, he might have implemented economic policies that would have helped ordinary Nigerians benefit from the country’s oil profits—not just a select few.

Also surprising, I found, is that The Supreme Price seemingly makes the case for a key tenet of conservatism: If Nigeria’s oil industry were privatized—and not nationalized—politics might not be such a hotbed of corruption.

“There’s one source of revenue [in Nigeria], and that’s oil,” Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian playwright and political activist, explained, “and there’s one organ controlling that revenue, and that’s the government.

“You have a cabal of individuals whose entire understanding of national development is to be as close to this single source of revenue as possible,” he continued.