By Tonnie Iredia
Anarrative which dominated the Nigerian media last week was the argument that Dr. Isa Pantami,Minister of Communication and Digital Economy was not a fit and proper person to hold the position of Minister of the Federal Republic because he was once a supporter of international terrorist groups. Although political opponents and leaders of civil society organizations were the major forces calling for the removal of the Minister, a few voices from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, surprisingly found cause to join the aggrieved group.
For example, Cletus Obon, a public commentator and legal practitioner who is said to be an APC chieftain declared that Pantami should be sacked from his position if he was unwilling to resign in the light of revelations made about him. Obon who spoke on a national television programme last Monday said Pantami should resign, so as to not give the government a bad name.
As usual,a number of people and organizationsin Nigeria, immediately rose in stout defence of the Minister. One of them, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) argued that “Pantami should not be held responsible for the views he held on terrorism in the past, because he made the terrorism remarks when he was a teenager and an undergraduate.”
Other supporters denounced the reports that the Minister was a supporter of terrorist groups affirming that the reports were simply fake news. But the Minister they were defending had shown remorse and penitence pleading that he no longer held his previous views having become more matured and exposed to better informationas opposed to those he held before. He buttressed his plea by enumerating his activities in the last few years which he claimed had been dedicated to public condemnation of Boko Haram and insurgency even at the risk of his life. I doubt if he convinced many.
But what remains the national dilemma is that when views of the anti and pro-Pantami sides are taken together, one can easily come to the conclusion that except for an insignificant well-meaning group, the different sides to the controversy were driven by religious, ethnic or political sentiments of supporting their own or opposing an outsider. It is this urge to resort to primordial sentiments in the country that is by far a greater danger than what Pantami did or didn’t do.
The case of those supporting the Minister is even worse because many of them were not privy to the case they were defending. Yet, some of them were not contracted to speak for the Minister. Instead, they were just a group of people who are never willing to let anyone from their part of the country or political divide lose a debate. They forget that even if the person they are defending loses the case, his positionin cabinet,according to the Nigerian arrangement, can only be replaced by an indigene of the same state.If so, how do we discourage ethnicity aaa foremost intractable problem of Nigeria?
The inevitable implication of the trend wherebybusy bodies jump into every issue of public interest only to complicate the issues is that because of politics,Nigerians are never presented with the true picture of any public matter. Where the issues at stakeinvolvegrave problems, their resolution become practically impossible. But for the contending groups that have seized the Pantami controversy, a few people would probably have appreciated that for once, a Nigerian Minister who has been publicly indicted elected to offer apologies with ample remorse.
There is doubt if many stillremember the case of Pantami’s predecessor who sat in office till the last day without clearance from the National Youth Service Corps NYSC having evaded national service. Rather than apologize for such indiscretion, he argued his way through, not because his argument was persuasive but because he was politically privileged more so, astop politicians who should have condemned the attitude played the ‘silence is golden’ game.
Perhaps a more reprehensible position is when top politicians turn issues upside down. As soon as the Pantami case broke, some analysts blamed his clearance on the cosmetic screening of Ministerial nominees by the legislature. As if anyone can justify the infamous ‘bow and go’ screening, a member of the House of Representatives, Yusuf Gagdi pushed the blame to the people.
According to Gagdi, the Minister would not have been cleared if members of the public who knew his past views had petitioned against him. While the people have much to gain if it is only visionary leaders that are cleared to hold top positions, the job of clearing nominees is aconstitutional mandate of the National Assembly, in this case the Senate. Is it rational to give a job to a specified group and turn around to blame the general public for the failure to diligently implement the mandate?
Is it not because it is impracticable for all citizens to be directly engaged in governance that democracy evolved the concept of representation? Does Gagdi want to earn salary for a job but assign the job to the public?
Indeed, politicians are a funny lot; during electioneering, they promise more than what they can do. As soon they are elected, they begin to chorushow the problem was caused by a previous government forgetting that government is a continuum or how they never knew the exact scope of the problem they confidently pleaded to be allowed to handle. In the case of Ministerial screening, it probably would have made more sense if the Gagdi ‘alibi’ was pleaded by a Senator.
One wonders how those in the school of thought that the public should be blamed for the screening issue felt after a former official of the State Security Service,Dennis Amachree confirmed also on national television that the details of Isa Pantami were sent to the Legislature and the Executive arms of government before screening. In any case why would Nigerians waste their energies sending information to a framework that would publiclydemonstrate the irrelevance of the information through the ‘bow and go’ platform?
Another problem worthy of mention today is the inability of government to mobilize Nigerians to unite against a major problem. It would be recalled that the mobilization of Nigerians against Ebola was responsible for the effectiveness of that fight. Since 2019, when the present administration began its second tenure, the nation has faced a series of crises, such as insurgency, kidnapping, banditry etc. snuffing off several lives.
Rather than a massive national effort to mobilize Nigerians to see an end to the killings of citizens as a general fight, the political class has been more concerned about the 2023 elections which even as at today is some two years away. The failure to present a united front to the primary purpose of securing lives and property is one tragedy, another is the failure to use the period of governance to develop the nation instead of electioneering.
Government should play down on all other things for now and place priority on the creation of a unity of direction towards ending insecurity. Rather than defend or attack Minister Pantami, or indeed, waste energies on electioneering, relevant government platforms should mobilized to convert all those who were wrongly radicalized by any type of cleric to now tow the new lifestyle of Pantami for the good of the nation.