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A Coup Made In Nigeria, Sold In Ethiopia

Shuaib Shuaib writes that the recent attempted coup in Ethiopia could have very easily been planned and executed in Nigeria.

Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed / Photo credit: ecadforum.com
Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed / Photo credit: ecadforum.com

In 1995, Ethiopia adopted a new constitution dividing the country into nine blocks of ethnic regions.

With over 100 million people and 80 different ethnic groups, the country is second only to Nigeria in both population and ethnic diversity in Africa.

Like Nigeria, it has also gone through long years of dictatorships with ethnic divisions and tensions largely suppressed by its rulers.

The Ethiopian constitution that provides for a loose federation of semi-autonomous regions is the dream constitution of ethnic nationalists in Nigeria.

The belief is that ethnically drawn regions will create economic competition between the regions and offer individual regions the best opportunity for economic development.

Asaminew was not only stoking ethnic nationalism, he had become popular among the youth who face lingering problems of poverty and unemployment

The ethnicity driven political competition and how it will shape actions of ambitious politicians are simply glossed over.

But maybe in Ethiopia, we will find examples of both.

Even with the 1995 constitution, the country was ruled mostly by the Tigraya, a minority tribe that makes up just less than 10 percent of the population. And the men at the helm ruled with repression.

And today, after being displaced by the Oromo, the majority tribe who make up a third of the population, with the election of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister, the Tigraya are talking of either confrontation or secession.

But recent tensions, violence and the reported coup attempt are driven not by the Tigraya, but by the regional and ethnic ambitions of the Amhara who make up just over a quarter of the Ethiopian population.

And the champion of their cause, General Asaminew Tsige, was only recently gunned down by security forces after an alleged coup attempt to take over the Amhara region.

Asaminew was not only stoking ethnic nationalism, he had become popular among the youth who face lingering problems of poverty and unemployment.

There are lessons in the unfolding events in Ethiopia for advocates of restructuring in Nigeria. Three million people have been displaced by ongoing ethnic violence in Ethiopia. The only time Nigeria has witnessed anything close to that number of people displaced due to ethnic tensions was during the civil war

Now there are fears he has been turned into a martyr, which could spell even more trouble for the country.

The Amhara people are supposedly nostalgic about the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie when they were the ones who called the shots politically.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia is walking a tightrope by clamping down and arresting 250 opposition members in response to the June 22 alleged coup in the Amhara region of the country.

According to Christian Tadele, a spokesman for the National Movement of Amhara, who himself was arrested and later released, “56 NAMA members have been arrested in Addis Ababa with dozens of other members in other parts of Ethiopia, in an orchestrated attack not only on NAMA but the Amhara nation as a whole”.

Ahmed, who has been in office for only a year risks aggravating ethnic tensions by the crackdown.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia is walking a tightrope by clamping down and arresting 250 opposition members in response to the June 22 alleged coup in the Amhara region of the country

He was been widely praised in the west for his political reforms and his government touted as a model for Africa. Now it’s all been threatened by ethnic divisions.

Never mind that he speaks fluent Amharic, Oromo and Tigrigna, it is still ironic that his own actions on coming to office are what today is haunting him.

Almost immediately after taking office, he opened up the political space by unbanning political parties, freeing political prisoners and welcoming back home, dissidents in exile.

One of the many political prisoners freed was General Asaminew Tsige who had previously spent a decade behind bars for alleged coup plotting.

And in an attempt to appease the Amhara, Asaminew was made the security chief of the Amhara region. That move backfired.

This only gave him cover to build a private militia in the guise of a special police unit.

And attempts by the head of the regional government in Amhara, Ambachew Mekonnen, to rein in the growing threat and aggression was apparently was triggered the coup that ultimately claimed the life of the governor himself and his attorney general.

Armed agents loyal to Asaminew reportedly stormed a meeting that was meant to be top secret and apparently centred around curbing his powers or removing him all together.

Ahmed, who has been in office for only a year risks aggravating ethnic tensions by the crackdown. He was been widely praised in the west for his political reforms and his government touted as a model for Africa

There, his militia killed the region’s governor. Simultaneously, in Addis Ababa, the country’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Sears Mekonnen was reported to have been killed by his bodyguards.

There is still conflicting reports as to whether the army chief’s murder is part of a wider conspiracy. There are, however, already rumors swirling that he was killed because he comes from the minority Tigraya tribe.

The series of political events, ethnic tensions and agitations for regional autonomy in the build up to last week’s failed coup attempt in Ethiopia are reminiscent of what the politics and ethnic divisions looked like in 1960’s Nigeria.

The coup that nearly was could very easily have been planned and executed in Nigeria.

But come to think of it, a coup with all of the hallmarks of last week’s did take place in Nigeria, January 1966 and a counter coup in July of the same year.

But unlike Ethiopia, at a point in Nigeria, it became almost impossible any one ethnic group to arm itself, plan and stage a coup.

Over the years, the chances of success have become more and more remote. That says a lot about the changing Nigerian society.

Ethiopians as a people fell into a trap that Nigeria just managed to escape by a whisker. They built a country based on ethnic enclaves, in blocks and regions of tribal identity.

It is a country that has already split into two with Eritrea going its separate way. Now what is left of it is tilting towards what some have described as the Yugoslvia of Africa.

In the opinion of the U.S Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy; Ethiopia’s model of ethnic federalism has led to incredible internal pressure.

Ethnic federalism, he believes has worked in Switzerland because the country shares all of its riches among the regions.

The series of political events, ethnic tensions and agitations for regional autonomy in the build up to last week’s failed coup attempt in Ethiopia are reminiscent of what the politics and ethnic divisions looked like in 1960’s Nigeria

It is exactly the sharing in the so called national cake that breeds resentment in Nigeria and has groups like Afenifere calling for the restructuring on the country on an ethnic basis or going back to the structures of the 60s.

Nigeria’s solution to managing ethnic and religious tensions has been zoning the presidency between the six geopolitical zones.

Even though that arrangement currently hangs in the balance, it hasn’t led to any armed uprising between the ethnic groups and against the state.

The same cannot be said for the regional structures that existed in the 1960s. Still, some want the ethnic federalism or just want true federalism, whatever that means.

The outcome could not be more predictable.

Others just want the creation of state police. The recent scandal involving former Ogun governor, Ibikunle Amosun stockpiling arms for private use is a clear indication of what that will look like.

All that is missing from the mix, to set the country on fire, is a politician with Asaminew-like ambitions playing up ethic nationalism.

Even the creation of states based on tribe and religion is always a bad idea, much less the creation of entire regions.

It doesn’t ease ethnic tensions and divisions, it aggravates them. That was the reasoning behind the creation of what is today the European Union; to prevent war by coming together and working for common goals.

The arms industry in the 1950s was driven by the coal and steel industries.

Even the creation of states based on tribe and religion is always a bad idea, much less the creation of entire regions. It doesn’t ease ethnic tensions and divisions, it aggravates them

Only just coming out of the Second World War, France and West Germany signed a treaty to cooperate in the production of coal and steel production. But the real objective was political, to prevent conflict.

Since 1951 when the first treaty was signed, the union has served Europe well. The only conflict it has witnessed was in the former Yugolslavia, the one country where ethnicity determined which part of the country you should live in.

There are lessons in the unfolding events in Ethiopia for advocates of restructuring in Nigeria.

Three million people have been displaced by ongoing ethnic violence in Ethiopia.

The only time Nigeria has witnessed anything close to that number of people displaced due to ethnic tensions was during the civil war.

But of course, chances are that most of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalists will be blind and stone deaf to events in Ethiopia.

That says a lot about us as people. As a society, we could not be more ignorant of ourselves and the fact that we lack knowledge of our history.

Worst of all is the inability to put historical events into perspective, interpret them and identify their true causes.

This in turn makes it impossible to assess the impact of planned actions and how to remedy current difficulties.

It is wishful thinking to imagine that Nigeria can go back to ethnically drawn regions and there would be no political repercussions.

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