Isa Ibrahim Pantami, minister of communication and digital economy, is engulfed in many controversies over his actions in the past and present. Will he survive it or cave in? Only time will tell.
EVER since he was sworn in as a minister in charge of the ministry of communications and digital economy in August 20, 2019, Isa Ibrahim Pantami, has been neck-deep in controversy. One of his many controversies was his squabble with Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairperson of the Nigerian in Diaspora Commission, NIDCOM, when he drove her out of the office the Nigerian Communications Commission gave her commission with armed men. When Dabiri-Erewa cried out, Pantami labelled her a liar. In return, she called Pantami a misogynist and detailed the awkward working conditions that she and her staff went through just to get their work done. A commission in charge of supporting and guarding Nigerians in the diaspora has been reduced to a handful of employees sitting on the floor to work. But his action was roundly criticized as an abuse of human rights and gender offensive.
Shortly after this imbroglio, Pantami was caught on tape on a live broadcast snatching microphone from Prof. Isa Danbatta after he rudely signaled to him impatiently to end a speech he has hardly started making at an event, which President Muhammadu Buhari, was also a guest. The ever-cheerful Danbatta swallowed the embarrassment even though the media and concerned Nigerians flayed the minister’s action.
Hardly had the fury over this passed that Pantami initiated the National Identity Number, NIN, mass registration at a time the federal government was working very hard to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that was spreading in the nation. The minister’s haste to conclude the NIN ran contrary to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 directive on social distancing as the masses converged on registration centres in attempt to beat the deadline set by Pantami. It was such a pitiable case of government bodies working at cross purposes.
Of course, right-thinking Nigerians raised hues leading to the extension of the deadline for registration. But this was not before Monday Ubani, former vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and Human Rights activist, went to court and obtained a judgment on Tuesday, March 23, stating that “the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos as per Justice M.A. Onyetenu, making the ultimatum of April 9, given to telecommunication operators by the Federal Government to block all SIM Cards that are not yet registered with the National Identity Numbers, NIN, be halted as the timeline is grossly inadequate and will not only work severe hardship but will likely infringe on my fundamental rights (and millions of other Nigerians) to freedom of expression as guaranteed by section 39(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria as well as section 44(1) of the 1999 Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which prohibits the compulsory acquisition of right or interest over movable property.”
The court further declared that “in view of the Covid-19 pandemic and the rising cases in Nigeria presently, the deadline was given to me and over 200 million Nigerians to register their SIM cards with NIN, will lead to a rush, thereby resulting in clustering of Ubani and other Nigerian citizens in a NIN registration centre, subjecting us to the possibility of easily contracting the deadly and dreaded Covid-19 Virus, and such will amount to a violation of our fundamental right to life as protected by section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)”, according to a letter Ubani wrote to the minister.
The court directed that the Federal Government of Nigeria, Nigerian Communications Commission and minister of communications and digital economy to extend the deadline for the registration of SIM Cards with NIN for at least another two months from Tuesday, March 23, 2021.
Did Pantami obey the court order. Yes and No. The deadline was extended for one month and not two as recommended by the judge.
This notwithstanding, he was allegedly a founding member of Al Shabab ‘Terror Group’ that received N6 million monthly from a Bauchi State government in order not to turn his preachment against it. He could not be reached to refute this allegation.
Another extremist escapades of the minister of communications and digital economy was captured by The Niche, an Online publication, on April 21, stating how, as the chief imam of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, ATBU, Bauchi Mosque, Pantami’s preaching directly led to the brutal murder of a 400-level student, Sunday Achi, who was leader of the ECWA Student Ministries, ESM, in the campus.
Achi’s crime was that he distributed a Christian tract which Sheik Pantami said blasphemed Islam and Prophet Mohammed on December 9, 2004. Achi was allegedly dragged out from his room by Muslim fundamentalists at the prompting of Pantami, taken to a remote location within the school premises where he was stoned to death.
The Niche interviewed the martyr’s father, Prof. Samuel Achi, in Kaduna, who confirmed that his son was strangled to death inside the mosque where Pantami held court, not stoned. Samuel insisted that there was nothing blasphemous in the tract his son and his colleagues shared that should warrant a death sentence. Prof. Achi narrated his ordeal after 17 years detailing how the former governor of Kaduna State helped in retrieving his son’s corpse from Bauchi for burial in Kaduna by liaising with the then governor of Bauchi State, Adamu Muazu. Pantami could not be reached for comments.
Another sin of Pantami was revealed on April 22, when Peoples Gazette published a document that showed how Pantami and other Muslim leaders plotted to assassinate former Kaduna State Governor Patrick Yakowa. Realnews recalls that Yakowa was the first Christian governor of Kaduna State, which is divided between Muslims and Christians.
Pantami, according to the Peoples Gazzette, chaired July 13, 2010, meeting of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, a foremost Islamic body led by Sultan of Sokoto Sa’ad Abubakar, where it was agreed that Yakowa and his family must be eliminated because he was a Christian leader, leading a state in the Muslim-dominated North. “We must either use the security or other means to eliminate the governor, his family and all those they perceive as supporting him,” Pantami and other leaders said in their communique adopted at the meeting held at Bauchi Central Mosque.
The meeting complained that Yakowa was making moves to contest for governor in 2011 and he had the support of former President Goodluck Jonathan, a fellow Christian. Yakowa became governor in 2010 when Jonathan chose Namadi Sambo, then Kaduna governor, as his vice-president. He contested in 2011 and won a substantive four-year term. He was killed in a helicopter crash barely a year later in 2012, alongside former national security adviser Owoeye Patrick Azazi.
Peoples Gazette reported that this event had long been suspected to be more than just an accident, and investigation into what happened was never concluded or made public. The minister did not immediately return a request seeking comments about the 2010 meeting.
If this revelation was not enough to infuriate right-thinking Nigerians, the past gaffes committed by Pantami, has horribly troubled both lawyers and laymen. Pantami, while in his twenties as an Islamic cleric, during his preachments lauded the activities of Al qaeda, Osama bin Ladin, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror attack in the US that killed about 3000 Americans, and the Taliban.
An entry in Wikipedia, traced the revelation of Pantami’s iniquity to a publication in Independent Newspapers, which was also published in April by NewsWireNgr, an online publication linking him to Mohammed Yusuf, then leader of Boko Haram, as allies. The publication stated that Pantami was listed by the American government under its terrorist watch list. Though the publication was later retracted by NewsWireNgr, no retraction has been published on the website of Independent Newspapers Nigeria although the article was taken down, apparently under intense pressure.
Also, an independent investigation conducted by Premium Times found some of the claims to be untrue, namely the claim that Pantami was “friendly” in a 2006 debate with Yusuf where Pantami in fact argued with Yusuf in support of Western education and serving under a non-Islamic state, but could not confirm if Pantami was placed on the watch list by the United States of America, USA, as the US government does not disclose those on the list.
Initially, Pantami threatened to sue the publications that published the original article, stating that while he accepts the retraction from NewsWireNgr, “investigative journalism requires the investigation before publishing, not after” and that “major publishers will meet my lawyers in the court on this defamation of character.”
However, an audio published by Peoples Gazette shows that Pantami was sympathetic to Boko Haram members when delivering sermons at several worship centers in the mid to late 2000s. This revelation led to further resurfacing of Pantami’s old speeches, including a 2004 speech where he expressed support for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, stating: “Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda”. He also claimed that “jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria.”
These speeches along with others he made in 2006 where Pantami mourned the death of the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, (“May God have mercy on Ahmad Fadeel al-Khalayleh [al-Zarqawi’s birth name]) were included in a 2019 paper Debating Boko Haram that went mainly unreported in Nigeria. The statements have triggered furore and calls for Pantami’s resignation as communications minister under the hashtag, #PantamiResign.
As the controversy rages, and weighing the overwhelming evidence against him, Pantami stepped down from his high horse to deny condoning terrorism or holding bigoted beliefs. He claimed that the majority of his staff are Christians, he said in a Peoples Gazette interview that “if I did not like Christians or I did not see them as my brothers and sisters, I would not have been working with them for so long.” He also said that he had “long preached peaceful coexistence amongst people of every faith and ethnicity” along with claiming that the authors of Debating Boko Haram erred in failing to reach out to him and may have used a poor or biased translation of Hausa.
On April 17, Pantami admitted: “some of the comments I made some years ago that are generating controversies now were based on my understanding of religious issues at the time, and I have changed several positions taken in the past based on new evidence and maturity.”
A pro-Pantami campaign to counter the online calls for resignation was exposed when the official ministry of communications and digital economy Twitter account accidentally tweeted #PantamiWillStay and #PantamiwillnotResign on April 17, after two days of #PantamiResign trending; the tweet was quickly deleted. Also, supporters of Pantami with no clear connection to his ministry did eventually get the #PantamiWillStay hashtag trending on Twitter; however, due to the ministry’s accidental tweet, it is unclear if the trend was organic, according to Wikipedia
The Presidency also rose in defense of Pantami, stating that the “Administration stands behind minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services.”
Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, in a statement on April 22, said: the minister of communications and digital economy, “is, currently, subject to a “cancel campaign” instigated by those who seek his removal. They do not really care what he may or may not have said some 20 years ago: that is merely the instrument they are using to attempt to “cancel” him. But they will profit should he be stopped from making decisions that improve the lives of everyday Nigerians.
Garba noted that the minister has, rightly, apologised for what he said in the early 2000s. “The views were absolutely unacceptable then, and would be equally unacceptable today, were he to repeat them. But he will not repeat them – for he has publicly and permanently condemned his earlier utterances as wrong.
In the 2000s, the minister was a man in his twenties; next year he will be 50. Time has passed, and people and their opinions – often rightly – change.
“But all discerning Nigerians know this manufactured dispute is nothing to do with the minister’s prior words, but solely concern his actions in the present. This Administration is committed to improving the lives of all Nigerians – and that includes ensuring they are not over-charged or under-protected for those services on which modern life depends.”
According to him, Pantami has been leading the charge against illegal data deductions and pricing; he has revolutionized the government’s virtual public engagement to respond to COVID-19 and save taxpayers’ money; he has established ICT start-up centres to boost youth entrepreneurship and create jobs; he has changed policy to ensure locally produced ICT content is used by ministries, starting with his own; and he has deregistered some 9.2 million SIMs – ending the ability for criminals and terrorists to flagrantly use mobile networks undetected.
Garba said in two short years, Pantami has driven the contribution of the ICT sector to the GDP to more than 18 per cent, making it one of the top two playing a critical role in the emergence of the economy from the COVID 19-induced recession.
“In putting people first, the minister and this administration have made enemies. There are those in the opposition, who see success and want it halted by any means. And there is now well-reported information that alleges newspaper editors rebuffed an attempt to financially induce them to run a smear campaign against the minister by some ICT companies, many of which do indeed stand to lose financially through lower prices and greater consumer protections. The government is now investigating the veracity behind these claims of attempted inducement, and – should they be found to hold credence – police and judicial action must be expected,” he said.
Realnews reports that executives of telecommunications companies in Nigeria are yet to refute the allegations against them as being the trigger for public rage against Pantami and neither have they admitted they were responsible.
Whatever, some Nigerians right now are in a crucify him mode apparently because of the dastardly acts of Boko Haram, which has been on for more than 15 years; the ongoing terrorist acts perpetrated by unknown gunmen, bandits and killer herdsmen and worsening insecurity in the country. Hence, many have called for Pantami’s resignation despite his recant. Some people say that what he said is akin to hate speech, a crime which the federal government has been vehemently condemning since 2015 during the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari to date.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, main opposition party, has urged Pantami to resign, and also asked the Department of State Services to investigate him.
Mike Ozekhome, SAN, and a fiery human rights activists in his article “Isa Patami: The Leopard and Its Unchanging Spots” asked whether Isa Pantami realised the import of his earlier fiery teachings of extremism and religious intolerance, and bigotry, even as far back as nearly 20 years ago?
“I think not,” he said, citing a sample of Pantami’s expressed mindset and why Nigerians are united, in reactions that have since gone viral, are calling for his immediate resignation or outright sack.
“Amongst others in his Salafist ideology and spine-chilling teachings in support of two of the globally most acclaimed deadliest terrorist groups in the world (the Taliban and al-Quaeda), Ozekhome recounts that in a video that has since gone viral (which he was later forced to own up after initially denying his previous incendiary and inflammatory statements), he openly castigated then President Goodluck Jonathan, for sending the military to kill Boko Haram insurgents, whose blood he regarded as “our Muslim brother’s blood”.
Hear him: “We are praying to God to answer all our prayers. It is our right and obligation before all Muslim leaders, politicians, government appointees, academics. All of us should not fold their arms and watch helplessly how they shed our Muslim brothers’ blood and cheat them in vain. Even if the Boko Haram fighters commit a crime, but can we justify the way and manner they are being killed? Just look at how they are killing people as if they are shooting pigs, even though they committed a crime why the extrajudicial killing?
“Take them before the law for a fair trial. You caught someone sleeping and you killed them. If it is not Muslims that undergo such treatments who else?
“The Niger Delta people did something similar to this. They massacre people, stole weapons, killed expatriates and kidnapped some of them, yet you still accept them back, opened a ministry for them, gave them a minister and put them on a monthly salary pay without work.
“The militants did more harm compared to what Boko Haram boys did. But why will they do something like this? Why selective justice? “.
Pantami even prayed for the day when the images on the naira notes and the “Gregorian date, the Calendar of the infidels”, will be wiped out: “And therefore, we are praying to God, that based on our understanding, we pray for a day when the images on the notes in our pockets will be removed. No Muslim Cleric has ever spoken against these images as forbidden. May be self-sufficient enough not to need this currency. It is against the Religion to put even the images of Companions of the Prophet on the currency. May Allah help us to see that day when the Gregorian date, the Calendar of infidels that is on the notes ….”
Because of his pernicious views, “Boko Haram was thereby given the necessary muscle and many Muslims were innocently led to believe that Killing Boko Haram insurgents amounted to killing Muslims. Nigerians have today, witnessed the corrosive and deadly consequences of Boko Haram’s killings, maiming, arson and the general insecurity enthroned and watered by such dangerous hate preachments. Boko Haram has since abducted the Chibok, Dapchi, Kankara, Kagara and Jangebe girls; blown up the UN headquarters; engaged in serial cases of maiming, killings and kidnappings in Kaduna, Maiduguri, Bauchi, Damaturu, Madalla, Mubi, Gamboru, Yola, Gombi, Kano, Baga, Bunu Yadi, Konduga, Gwoza, to mention just a few places,” Ozekhome said.
“Has he really changed? What has changed? Can a leopard ever change its spots? In saner climes, Pantami should have resigned immediately without more. Or be sacked forthwith. Lifting the veil off his purported transformation or assumed transfiguration is so easy when viewed against the background of his new acts even as minister. Only recently, On March 22, 2021, Patami’s ministry hosted a virtual flag-off ceremony for a capacity development programme empowering 600 people with VSAT Installation Skills. Patami himself was present and he even spoke at the event. It was a Virtual Flag-off Capacity Development Programme on VSAT Installation Skills and TVRO Systems for 600 youths by Patami.
“The ceremony was not covered by AIT, Channels, NTA, TVC, ITV, or even FM Youtube channels. Rather, a very little-known Islamic TV channel called Al-Afrikiy was contracted to relay an event organized by a whole federal government of Nigeria. It must be borne in mind that Al-Afrikiy is not merely an Islamic-influenced learning TV station, it is also an Islam-only TV channel. It broadcasts strictly religious matters,” Ozekhome stated.
Joining the call for Pantami’s resignation, Punch newspaper in its editorial of April 20, described the case of Pantami as dangerously earthshaking, while Governor Nyesom Wike, Rivers State governor, supported his immediate resignation irrespective of his recent volte-face. Also, Kallamu Musa Ali Dikwa, director-general, Centre for Justice on Religion and Ethnicity in Nigeria, told an Online publication that he wrote thrice to the Nigerian government over the alleged ties the minister of communications and digital economy has with terrorism since 2012, but it did not listen.
Similarly, PUNCH cited the UK Institute of Government, which says individual ministerial accountability ultimately means an expectation that they should resign if something has gone seriously wrong. “And truly, many things have gone awfully wrong with Pantami’s jihadist pantomime. His credibility as a minister has run out. He should bow out or be kicked out,” it said.
This is not the first time Nigeria is witnessing unabated criticism of a minister in President Buhari’s administration. A case that readily comes to mind is that of Kemi Adeosun, former finance minister over a forged fake National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, certificate she presented. Try as she may weather the public angst, the matter refused to die down until she resigned from government and absconded to London from whence she came to take up the job. Will Nigerians witness a similar end to this Pantamigate? Only time will tell.
Apr 27, 2020@ 10:30 GMT|