Stop Making the Insurgents Feel Good, By Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

On 7 December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the
Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, forcing the United States
into the Second World War. Two and a half months later, on 19
February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an
Executive Order under which Japanese-American men, women
and children would eventually be interned. The effect of the
order was to require “persons of Japanese ancestry to report
to assembly centers and providing for the detention of such
persons.”
Born in January 1919 in Oakland, California, Toyosaburo Fred
Korematsu was Japanese-American. Upon hearing of the war,
Korematsu attempted to enlist in the U.S. National Guard and
U.S. Coast Guard, but was turned away because of his
Japanese ancestry. To evade internment, Fred put himself
through minor plastic surgery to alter his eyes in an attempt to
look less Japanese, changed his name to Clyde Sarah, and
claimed to be of Spanish and Hawaiian descent. On 30 May
1942, Korematsu was arrested and charged with evading
internment. On 18 December 1944, by a split decision, the
United States Supreme Court upheld the Executive Order and
the internments under it.
In 1983, Korematsu’s wartime conviction was judicially set
aside. This would have been considered vindication enough by
most. On a visit to San Francisco in 1991, I met old Fred
Korematsu. He had become a hero of the Civil Rights
Movement. Witty and charming, his memory of the internment
was still very much alive: “It never goes away”, he told me.
President Bill Clinton would later grant him the highest civilian
honour available in his country – the Presidential Medal of
Freedom. Fred died in 2005 but in 2011, the Solicitor-General
of the United States filed a “formal admission of error”, an
extraordinary step effectively acknowledging that the 1944
Supreme Court decision in Korematsu’s case was wrong and
counter-productive.
The spreading footprint of mass-casualty terror in Nigeria is
causing considerable damage everywhere. The toll in people
killed, seriously injured, disappeared or abducted continues to
rise by the day. The value in property lost is incalculable. The
sight of human flesh minced and mangled beyond recognition
by these agents of hate traumatizes survivors and
communities. All around us, the evidence that this insurgency is
taking a huge toll is unmistakable.
No responsible government confronted with this toll can afford
to sit idle. Yet, as worrying as this physical and human damage
is, it could easily be made worse by acts of commission.
In the face of this spreading footprint of casualties,
government at various levels appears at last to be rolling out
some responses. While some of the measures might be
necessary, some are clearly wrong-headed and counter-
productive.Some states of Nigeria have allegedly required all
members of communities from named parts of Nigeria to
register for identification. Others are sequestering travellers
from parts of the country for “screening” with no sense of
constraints or regard for the dignity of the people affected.
These measures targeted at or designed to profile specific
communities with reference to their identities – or which
unwittingly produce that effect – are almost certainly
unlawful. They go against the provision in the Constitution of
Nigeria that precludes discrimination on grounds of ethnic
origin, religion, place of birth, or race.
More worryingly, these measures help the authors of mass-
casualty terror against our country to achieve the lasting
damage that they seek: the destruction of the fabrics that
hold Nigeria together. They sow the seeds of suspicion, bad
memory, and lingering injury that “never goes away”.
It must not be forgotten that those involved in these heinous
atrocities are a minority among us. Any strategy designed to
fight them successfully must begin by isolating them and
limiting their numbers and location. We cannot allow them to
grow in numbers, sympathies, or footprint.
There is no war more difficult to fight than a domestic
insurgency precisely because it seeks to destroy the things
that hold a people together; to sow mutual suspicions among
people and to break bonds of community that sustain livelihoods
and security. To win, those who direct such wars must always
remember not to hand cheap victory to the hateful minority by
granting them their divisive desires on a platter. There are no ready manuals for how to make progress but
there are some things that are best avoided. For instance,
responses designed to target members of communities because
of whom they are or where they come from should be avoided.
Measures that take food off the mouths or tables of poor
people such as closing down stalls run by people from specific
parts of the country deepen hatreds, push the victims to the
other side and can only make the insurgents feel very good.
We’re handing them on the cheap, the dismemberment of
Nigeria that they seek.
As I watch the measures being rolled out around the country in
response to this crisis I’m reminded of the words of Fred
Korematsu. If we’re going to win this thing, we must stop doing
those things whose effects “never go away”
Odinkalu
Odinkalu is the Chairman of the Governing Council of the
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

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