By Ladesope Ladelokun
IF there is one thing that has not only exposed this administration’s double-dealing in handling sensitive national issues but mocks its much vaunted anti-terror fight, it is the public support for the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy,Dr Isa Pantami, in spite of hair-raising revelations about his dark past that cast him as a terrorist sympathiser and Jihadist.
Pantami landed in hot water after a publication by a national newspaper accused him of being on the United States terror watchlist. Also, in the said publication were Pantami’s unsavoury comments that glorified and endorsed terrorism. But Pantami would not let it lie without a fight. He wanted a battle in the courts to save his name, but you can only defame a man that has a name to protect. Truth be told,the minister had already defamed himself the moment he expressed public support for murderous terror groups with prayers for victory to boot.
To be fair, there may not be evidence that Pantami has a place on the United States terror watchlist, audio materials of his inflammable sermons are nerve-wracking – and under-fire Pantami has not denied they passed his lips. In one of his vicious preachings in the 2000s, the embattled minister had said: ” This Jihad is an obligation for every believer,especially in Nigeria. Oh God, give victory to the the Taliban and to all al-Qaeda ( Alahamma’nsur Taliban wa-tanzim al Qaida).”
Specifically, in 2006, Pantami,who was 34 at the time, offered an emotion-laden condolence message when the leader of al-Qaeda,al-Zarqawi,died in Iraq. The Nigerian minister had said: “They have killed the Shaykh,the martyr Abdallah Yusuf Azzama – May God have mercy on him – but did the struggle end? They went on to strike Chechnya,and they killed many of them, did it end?…Whenever one goes,another one comes, and he is even more awesome than the first.” Now, that Pantami heads a ministry that controls the country’s massive data and sensitive details of national intelligence is enough to elicit shivers of horror; something that casts a slur on our leadership recruitment process.
Since he only renounced his pro-terrorist comments when damning evidence surfaced amid harvest of knocks from the Nigerian people, it is not clear what volume of poison he still carries. And,now that he has renounced his radical comments,what shall we do about those he led astray and those who killed and got killed because they were indoctrinated?
With his renunciation of pro-terrorist comments, the argument about his sympathy for terrorists has no doubt been laid to rest. So, it is safe to say it is not in the realm of speculation that he loved terrorists heart and soul as of the time he was 34.
But the joke is on his defenders. It is hard to shake off the shock that supposed decent Nigerians would deliberately twist facts and tear to shreds whatever garment of honour they don just to defend a man that publicly endorsed the brutal exploits of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Tell them he supported terrorists,and they will make a song of his National Identification Number, NIN, campaign.
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Beyond the hue and cry that has greeted the grotesque past of Minister Pantami,the travails of the embattled minister has once again laid bare how Nigeria is deeply polarised along religious and ethnic lines. Not a few Nigerians believe he is only being hammered because of his religion and ethnic background.
It is apropos to state that the issue with the minister is neither about tribe nor religion. Not even his competence. The uncomfortable truth his disciples must come to terms with is the fact that he was never even qualified to be a minister in the first place if ours were a sane country. It explains why it is infantile, even asinine, to label right-thinking Nigerians anti-North and anti-Islam for demanding the resignation of Isa Pantami.
When the history of how terrorists conquered parts of Northern Nigeria is written, Pantami’s name will feature prominently. Not because he killed an unbeliever in that region, or blew up a worship centre erected by them. It will definitely be for terrorism fuelled by his misleading sermons.
Already, there is an ongoing attempt to rewrite and change the verdict of history on Pantami. The plot is to change the narrative and sell Pantami to Nigerians as the angel we have mercilessly crucified by reaching out to influential and respected Nigerians to trumpet sugary things about him. But the minister’s loyalists scored an own-goal when they tapped rights activist and journalist,Mr Richard Akinnola, for the dirty job. He did not just reject the unholy contract, he exposed them on his Facebook wall. Indeed, there are still Nigerians who would not trade their integrity for a plate of porridge. Not even all the money in the Central Bank of Nigeria’s vault.
Akinnola wrote: “Somebody reached out to me on behalf of Pantami. He wants me to help change the narratives, of course,with juicy offers. I felt insulted. My mind went to a question a reporter asked Gani Fawehinmi. He asked him what would be his reaction if Babangida announced his name as a minister. Gani shot back: “I would sue him for defamation for associating my name with his evil regime.” So I told the guy that I felt insulted with his offer to defend Pantami. Chai,I don suffer. They usually say every man has a price. That’s fallacy.I no like money reach dat side. God forbid!”
In his first term as Nigeria’s president,President Buhari had said he delayed the appointment of his ministers for six months because he was careful not to appoint anyone that would embarrass him. Flowing from this,we can say Buhari appears to place a premium on the character(or integrity if you like) of his appointees.
But, retaining Pantami as a member of the Federal Executive Council despite public outcry and disturbing evidence of the minister’s sympathy for terrorists is not just concerning but portrays the president as putting personal interest above national interest. It is totally unacceptable, even unthinkable, that a government that professes to fight terrorism in one breath has no qualms defending the dark past of a minister who expressed sympathy for terrorists in a soulless statement in another breath.
The argument by the presidency that Pantami was young and immature when he endorsed terrorists is laughable. Even at 34? Does the presidency know that Joseph Kabila and Yakubu Gowon were 29 and 31, when they became the president and head of state of Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, respectively? If there are still men of honour left around the president, they should scream to the ears of the president to fire Pantami with alacrity.