By Emmanuel Elebeke
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami has been in the eyes of the storm for the past one week over the allegation that he has links with terrorist groups.
This followed a newspaper report by one of the Nigerian dailies on 12th April in which it alleged that the Minister had shown support for Abu Quata-da Al Falasimi and Al-Quada and Boko Haram, which made US placed him on the intelligence watch list.
According to the report, the Minister had in some of his past statements which were captured in video on YouTube established his support for the terrorists groups which qualified him to be on the watch list.
But in a swift reaction, the Minister through an interview denied having any link with terrorists as alleged in media reports.
The minister while reacting to the widespread report said he has been preaching against the doctrines of Boko Haram and similar groups, endangering his life in the process.
The Minister in another occasion maintained that he does not hold extremist views nor support Boko Haram.
He also said that no Islamic preacher both in the past and in recent times has criticized and condemned the activities of Boko Haram terrorists than he did.
One of Nigeria’s leading Islamic rights groups, Muslims Rights Concern, MURIC had also come to the defence of the Minister, describing the report as fake news.
For MURIC, the report was ‘‘a product of malice, envy and evil desire concocted in the laboratory of the notorious ‘pull him down’ (PhD) syndrome, saying that it was only a ploy by his detractors to pull him down.’’
It insisted that the allegation existed only in the imagination of the authors of the report, asserting that it will not stand the test of authenticity.
Meanwhile, Nigerians have since then calling for the sack of the Minister or he resigns from his office, claiming that he needed to clear his name from the weighty allegation considering the sensitive position he currently occupies.
A columnist, who claimed to be an associate of the Minister, Farooq Kperogi said he found it difficult to defend the Minister on the controversial allegation because for him, ‘‘it’s impossible to deploy the resources of logic, reason, basic decency, and even religious morality to defend some of the sermons Pantami gave in the early to late 2000s, especially in light of his current position as a federal minister in charge of a vast treasure trove of citizens’ sensitive information.’’
However, one of the aids to the Minister, Mr. Yusuf Abubakar holds different view about the Minister contrary to what the report said.
He told Vanguard in a chat that he was shocked to read some of the allegations raised against the Minister, which did not portray the true picture of who the Minister is.
According to him, the media comments and attacks against the Minister were concocted mostly by people who do not know him in person.
He described Pantami as a man of justice, who believes in talent development and discipline.’’
‘‘Based on my personal experience, during his inaugural speech, Pantami said, ‘‘If you are to progress under my leadership, you must focus on education and hardwork to lift you.’’
‘‘He also said he was for anti-corruption, that stuck to me, that was my first time of seeing him was as Director General of NITDA and I worked towards that. Immediately, he got elevated to minister, he invited me to come and work with him.
‘‘He is a man of honour, untribalistic and a man of vision. His leadership has influenced me a lot, I have gained a lot of experience from him, even at my house, I treat everybody equally. Pantami does not look down on his drivers, he respects everyone. When people visits him, he escorts them being a male or female. He is a man of honour and discipline.
‘‘I feel very bitter reading all the media comments and attacks against him because most of these things are being concocted. I think, people who do not know him are those making all sort of comments about him and insinuations.
‘‘Their actions are uncalled for. I advice that they should get to know him because he is very simple person, if not for coronavirus, more people would have come to know him. He is a very simple and easy going person.’’
Yusuf warned who decried the excesses of social media called for caution on the part of social media influencers.
‘‘I see these comments as a surprise but the social media has done a lot of hate within Nigeria. When one person makes a mistake, people keep on repeating him. I think there is need to control what is going on in social media because if we continue this way, their fake news may push the country into another dimension.
‘‘People are just reacting based on here-say, our social media influencers need to be more professional because professionalism lacks in what they do. It is a very unguided space, everybody can say anything.’’
On whether the report is going to affect the ministers’ performance, he said: ‘‘I don’t think this is going to affect his performance.’’
On the call for his sack, Yusuf said: ‘‘I think people don’t step down based on allegation but based on facts. I think all these are uncalled for. The motive right from day one has been amplified videos.
‘‘I am aware that immediately minister announced the new policy on NIN, Boko Haram threatened him, and from the on-going event, I think there is a connivance to work against him.
‘’If Boko Haram had announced that it does not want the exercise to go on and when the deadline is about to come to an end, we start seeing other threats.’’
On the claim by the Minister that most of his staff are Christians, Yusuf said: ‘’His driver Mekerfi Jefi, is a Christian and he drove him at NITDA and he took him to Ministry. I have heard him say in three occasions that wherever he goes, he will go with Maikefi. I am aware that his Secretary, Dr. Femi Adeluyi and his spokesperson, Uwa Suleiman are all Christians.’’