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‘How Pantami inciting sermon led to Sunday Achi’s death’, Former ATBU students

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A FORMER student of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) has said Sunday Achi would have been alive if the embattled Minister of Communication and Digital Economics, Dr. Ali Isa Pantami, had toned down his inciteful preaching.

The former student who spoke to The ICIR on condition of anonymity said Pantami should be held responsible for the death of Achi. He said Achi would have been alive if Pantami had toned down his “hateful preaching”. According to him, the incident leading to the crisis that caused Achi’s death happened in October, but he was killed in December.

But the minister in another forum had denied this claim, saying he saved some Christian students from being attacked during a religious crisis in Bauchi. “This is what I teach and stand for. This is my fatwa,” he said.

Sunday Nache Achi was a fourth-year architectural student and President of Evangelical Church Winning All, previously known as the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) fellowship at ATBU, who was killed during the ethnoreligious crisis that took place in 2004 after a disagreement between Christian and Muslim groups on campus.

He was reportedly killed on December 8 2004, after being dragged out from his room.

The Minister was the Chief Iman of ATBU during the crisis.

An aide to Pantami, Uwa Suleiman, in a telephone conversation with The ICIR, denied reports that her boss had anything to do with the death of Achi or incited crisis during his stay at ATBU.

Uwa Suleiman
Pantami’s Spokesperson, Uwa Suleiman,
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Police Public Relations Officer of the Bauchi Police State Command, Ahmad Wakil, ended the call when The ICIR sought information about Achi’s death.

Similarly, media spokesmen to President Muhammadu Buhari, Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu and the State Security Service’s (SSS) spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, did not respond to The ICIR inquiring about Pantami.

The messages sent to the presidential aides and the DSS spokesman were marked ‘delivered.’

A 2004 report of the incident that led to Achi’s death by Compass Direct, a news agency for persecuted Christians worldwide (now defunct) published by Worthy News, stated that Achi was killed because of a disagreement between Christian and Muslim students.

Worthy News reported that Idakwo Ako Paul, who shares a room with Achi in a student hostel on campus, told Compass that the young man (Achi) was attending a Bible study the evening of December 8 when a band of Muslim students came looking for him.

“Three Muslim students dressed in Islamic jihad style burst into the room at about 8 p.m.,” Paul said. “I was scared because, in the past two months, there has been palpable tension on the campus between Muslim and Christian students.

“They wanted to know where my roommate was. I told them I didn’t know, and they left. Sunday returned to the room about 11 p.m., and I told him what had transpired.”

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The report further said Paul retired for the night while Achi worked on architectural drawings for a class presentation the following morning. However, not long after falling asleep, Paul was awakened by his roommate’s shouts.

“Wake up, Paul, wake up!’ Sunday was shouting. I jumped out of bed to be confronted again by these Muslim students. This time they were more in number and were wearing masks.


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“They dragged Sunday Achi out of the room. I tried running after them, but one of them pointed a pistol at me and ordered me back into the room. They locked me in there. I kept shouting for help, but the Muslim students in the hostel deliberately kept to their rooms.”

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The following morning, a Christian student came to the hostel, discovered Paul locked in the room and broke the door to let him out. The two of them were about to alert other Christian students to the danger when they received news that Sunday Achi’s body had been discovered beside a mosque near the home of the university’s vice-chancellor, Worthy News reported.

The former student interview with The ICIR read part, “A group of students, about three of them who were his members, went on a room to room evangelism in the hostel. He was the president of ESM (ECWA student ministry).

“They went on evangelism from one to the other. They do that from time to time, and on that faithful day, they went into a room and met a group of students that were Muslims. After presenting their message to them, some had contrary views to what was presented, and a debate ensued.

“Immediately after the debate started, it became more or less a religious debate. One of the three ECWA students from the ministry brought out a pamphlet. A pamphlet that is more or less has to do with a comparative analysis of religion. Comparison between Christian and Muslim Jesus Christ and Mohammed. That was the content of the pamphlet.

“So after they gave the boys the pamphlet, they left. Not knowing that the boys were not happy with some of the things they read. Those boys took the pamphlet to a boy name Abdulahi Lukman who was my classmate. Unfortunately, Lukman is late now. He was the Muslim student society leader on campus” (Because he is dead, this could not be confirmed by The ICIR).

“He forwarded it to Pantami, who took the matter to the management of the school-university. And the school decided that the students should be dismissed. Some at the Senate then tried defending them, but the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Garba Aliyu Babaji, insisted that the students should be dismissed from the university.

Ali Isa Pantami
Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Ali Isa Pantami

“If not for Pantami, who is someone I respect to be very honest, Sunday Achi probably would have been alive today.”

He also told The ICIR that he lives close to the school mosque where Pantami usually preaches as the mosque’s chief Iman.

“I understand Hausa very well, and my house was directly adjacent to the mosque. It was outside the university, but the school mosque was by the fence. Very close to the university’s fence, and the Vice-Chancellor was living very close to the school mosque. Opposite the mosque. Pantami for weeks after that thing happens, most evenings, when we are home after lectures, he will preach down to the middle of the night in Hausa language. I grew up in the north and understood Hausa better than my mother tongue”, he said.

“I just wished it was something we recorded then. But it is not thought because we did not know that someone like him would become a minister as he was an assistant lecturer and a cleric.”

“Three days before he [Achi] was killed, Pantami was always crying in the mosque saying so many inciteful things and say, “Oh our dear Prophet, someone has blasphemed against you, and there is no way that the blood of the person who blasphemed against you will be allowed to go free”. No person lived around the vicinity of that mosque that did not know of what he was saying.”

When asked why Achi didn’t relocate from the school campus despite the tension generated by the alleged blasphemy incident, the former student said Achi was told to leave, but he didn’t.

“When they first came to look for him, he wasn’t around. He was at the chapel. When he returned, his roommate told him that about three to four Muslim boys came looking for him. He told him that those who came to look for him didn’t come as those who came for peace as they were looking furious.”

“As at that time, most Christian leaders left the campus because they became a target. The President of FCS (Fellowship of Christian Students), Micheal Omale, my classmate, left the campus. We even advised him to leave as everyone became a target, particularly the leaders. So when they told him, before then, so many of them were confronting him, but there were no attacks in the weeks before his death. So probably he felt it was the normal interrogation. So when the roommate spoke to him about it, he didn’t see it as something that would be serious. He just sat down in his room and began drawing. Achi was an architect, and he had a presentation the next day.”

“So he sat down and was drawing and while he was drawing the roommate fell asleep, It was his noise that woke the roommate, and he saw that he was being dragged. Immediately the roommate woke up and tried to confront them; they threatened and locked him inside the room. Unfortunately, so many students were around, but they were sympathiser due to what they have been told that he was the leader of the students that blasphemed against the Prophet and didn’t do anything to stop them from taking him away.”

He also told The ICIR that he was among the first student that saw Achi’s dead body at the school mosque.

“Not until the following, I was part of the first set of people who saw his corpse. His body was dumped beside the mosque. There is a small stream beside the mosque and a nursery bed belonging to the students of agriculture in the same area, and that was where his body was dumped.”

“We left our hostel early. Around six in the morning because we had a test that day. Our house was just behind the fence, and the mosque was close to the mosque. When we came out, we saw someone in Jellabiya and a three-quarter pair of jean lying and facing the ground. So we couldn’t see the person face. We even laughed at the body as we thought it was someone who was drunk or had abused a drug. Not until we got to our venue, we heard that they came and dragged Achi out of the room, and nobody knew where they took him away. We rushed back to where we saw the body and noticed it was him.”

Also, another student member of the ECWA student fellowship who also craves anonymity before being interviewed by The ICIR said Achi was strangulated and not stoned as being widely reported.

He also confirmed that Achi became a target because the three students who went on the evangelism and shared the pamphlet left the school after they were expelled and couldn’t be found, and they resolved to attack the president.

“He was killed inside the school. He was staying in Block A opposite the football field. He wasn’t stoned, but I suspect strangulation. His body had grass on it and was out of shape, and then I suspected broken bones because of the shape he was in.

Pantami had nothing to do with Achi’s death – ATBU lecturer

The Head of Department Mechanical/Production Engineering at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bawa Mohammed, an engineer who spoke with The ICIR, denied claims that the Minister had a hand in the death of Achi.

Pantami had nothing to do with Achi’s death, he said. The lecturer who spoke to The ICIR said Achi’s was probably killed due to political intrigues.

The lecturer interview with The ICIR read in part, “Isa Pantami has nothing to do with Sunday Achi story (death).  For his involvement with Al-Qaeda, I have nothing to say about that one as I know nothing about it. But as far as I can say for the Achi story was, five people came for evangelism. They came for aggressive evangelism. They portrayed the Prophet of Islam in a blasphemous campaign. The Achi man did not support it, but he was the leader of the movement for fellowship.”

“He didn’t support the movement, so they move the thing to the federal polytechnic Bauchi. He was in the room around some days with his roommate, and they said around 11 pm or thereabout some people came in and took him away.”

“Now, when he disappears, the roommate couldn’t go and report. Till 6:00 am. The people that killed him made an error; they just dragged him. If you struggle with someone, there will be a sign of struggle, but this person made an error by dragging him and dumping him in front of one mosque in the morning.”

“The investigation went on in town, and they said one number they saw was from one Gombe State government car that was moving in and out, so he could have been killed for not conniving or whatever it might be.”

“It was not as a result of Pantami saying go and kill anyone or somebody. I was a living witness and was there in 2004, and I know what transpired. Except the security operatives may not want to talk, I believe they know who killed him, and it might be a fight of elephant at the top, but the grass suffers.”

“I know that there is friction between the governor of Plateau and Bauchi then. Many stories were linked to that incident, and there were a lot of pocket items to cause trouble in Bauchi, but God did not allow that to happen.”

“I am not in a good position to say this, but to say that someone said go and kill this person is not valid. He might have issued a fatwa, but many stories are surrounding the crisis and many attempts by some people to cause a problem, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t think it is the inciting that led to Sunday Achi’s death.”

But all three students who spoke with The ICIR denied that politics or alleged differences within the school Christian body was the cause of Achi’s death. The third former student who also spoke to The ICIR anonymously insisted that politics had nothing to do with Achi’s death.

Meanwhile, Achi’s father, Samuel Achi, a former lecturer at the Kaduna State University, Kaduna in an interview with Punch Newspaper, said Muslim students murdered his 24-year-old son and 400-level student of Architecture at the ATBU at the time over an allegation that he circulated a tract that contained blasphemous content.

Achi's Father
Achi’s Father, Samuel Achi, a former lecturer at the Kaduna State University, Kaduna

According to the interview, the 67-year-old don said he was aware that the minister was the Chief Imam of the university’s mosque when the incident happened in 2004.

He further said the tracts shared by his late son did not contain any blasphemous content. Still, the Pantami-led Muslim community at the university pronounced a ‘fatwa’ on his son, stressing further that were Pantami, who was the then chief imam of the mosque a man of peace, the killing of his son would not have occurred.

Efforts by The ICIR to get Pantami’s reaction to this report proved abortive as he switched off the phone number known to be associated with him.

But the minister, during his daily Ramadan lecture on the 17th of April, rendered in Hausa and translated by The ICIR, denied supporting terrorism. Rather he said he saved some Christian students from being attacked during a religious crisis in Bauchi.

“In my position as a Muslim, I am not in support of terrorism. I don’t support Al-Qaida or the Taliban. And if anybody tries to say that my teachings support that, that’s their opinion, not mine,” he said.

“I know some people are going about with my clips of teaching that I did in the past. Most of these teachings were done in the 90s. I started preaching right before I got to the age of twelve. At such an age, it would be easy to make mistakes. Some people said I was driven from the position of an Imam. I wasn’t. I became an Imam in the university before I was appointed as a lecturer. When I started lecturing, it wasn’t long before we built a mosque inside the town of Bauchi.”

“After the mosque was built, not long, I got a job as a lecturer. As I started lecturing, Authorities from the mosque sent me a letter, saying I should choose between one of the two positions, either as an Imam or a lecturer.”

“I told them I wanted to lecture. Being an Imam is a service to Islam and that I will do for free for God. I don’t want any form of payment. Since I started coming to preach in this mosque, has anybody paid me?”

He also disclosed that he saved some Christian students from being attacked during a religious crisis.

“Me, I do part-time dawah, not full time. That makes it easy for me to fend for myself like any other working individual. So when it is time to preach the word of God, I do it for free. Apart from that, I want to add one more thing.

“There was a time someone called me over the phone and said there was a fight between Muslims and Christians in Bauchi. All in all, what I can say is I was none the wiser of the incident. I was coming out of my house when I was told of the fight. And I came to settle them.”

“Ibrahim was there with me, and he bears witness. I was even stoned for coming to stop the fight. A day after, some Muslims assaulted two Christian corps members, a male and a female. They were about to lynch them close to my house. I was the one who saved them by keeping them safe in the mosque.”

“Afterwards, I called the police to protect them. I was the one who saved them from the hands of those who wanted to kill them. For that reason, I was insulted because I kept those that were not Muslims in the mosque. I did that because life is precious.”

“This is what I teach and stand for. This is my fatwa. if anyone hears anything contrary to this about my teaching, then that is not me. One last thing I would like to add, please let no one fight with anyone. Teaching religion is difficult. And every day, I gain experience. So please, we should learn to be patient and tolerant of each other.”

The ICIR had earlier reported on how Nigerians began demanding for resignation or sack after multiple reports accused him of endorsing terrorism while expressing admiration and praise for Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Ladin, and founder of the Taliban Islamist group Mullah Omar.

He has also been accused of intolerance for non-Muslims.

Appointed in 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari after spending between 2016-2019 as the Director-General and CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), he has since August 2020 leading Nigeria’s National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) registration and integration after it was transferred to his ministry.

Some past controversial statement of the Minister recently had begun surfacing online where he was accused of intolerance for non-Muslims and endorsing terrorism and genocidal act. The video showed Pantami giving support to terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

He was also reported to be a preacher with ‘dangerous views’ against the American government, non-Muslim, strong support for Jihad in Nigeria.

Pantami’s statement of admiration for the Taliban’s, Al-Qaeda and Jihad were from some of his preaching and lecture recordings translated by a professor and African expert at Naples University in Italy Andrea Brigaglia, and a Nigerian scholar Musa Ibrahim of the University of Florida in the United States, both of whom contributed to the academic paper published in March 2019 that explored the emergence of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Andrea Brigaglia, in his contributing paper to ‘Debating Boko Haram,’ documented how some clerics in Northern Nigeria, including Pantami, and late Sheikh Ja’afar Adam, who was assassinated at his mosque in 2007 in the northern city of Kano, created mass support for Jihadism in Nigeria. It was titled ‘The ‘Popular Discourses of Salafi Counter-Radicalism in Nigeria’ Revisited: A Response to Abdullahi Lamido’s Review of Alexander Thurston, Boko Haram.’

Some of the controversial comments made by the Minister were: “We are all happy whenever unbelievers are being killed,” Pantami said. “But the Sharia does not allow us to kill them without reason. Our zeal (hamasa) should not take precedence over our obedience to the sacred law.”

In his praise of Osama Bin Laden, the late founder of Al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia-born global terrorist, while responding to audience questions about his views on Osama’s ‘killing of innocent unbelievers’ during a lecture about the Taliban, Pantami said although he conceded that Bin Laden was liable to mistakes because he was human, “I still consider him as a better Muslim than myself.”

Also, in a lecture delivered by Pantami in 2006, the Minister offered his public condolences for the death of the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Zarqawi.

Apart from old recordings, a document also appeared online on Wednesday, which is purportedly from a 2010 meeting he chaired at the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), a top Islamic body, where it was agreed that Christians should be prohibited from building churches in the city centres across northern Nigeria, which has a majority Muslim population. However, millions of Christians also live there.

Pantami had also featured in a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks in 2011 about a religious crisis in Bauchi.

The US cable read, “Imam Fantami Isa, who preached at the mosque, had been previously thrown out of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University and of a Gombe mosque for preaching inflammatory rhetoric.”

Olayinka works with The ICIR as the Social Media Manager, Reporter and Fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via [email protected] You can as well follow him on Twitter via @ShehuOlayinka1

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Blasphemy against the Prophet and room-to-room missionary work on a University campus are inappropriate. But, the correct move should have been for Muslim Students to gather evidences and present same to a Court of Law.

  2. I read with great interest your reported account of the unfortunate killing of Sunday Achi on the campus of ATBU in December, 2004. I commend you for the detailed and thorough account of the incident. Obviously, religious intolerance by some groups has been and still is a big unresolved problem in Nigeria.
    If we can not co-habit peacefully because of different religious beliefs, then Nigeria as a nation may not survive. You can only pray and hope it does.
    The father of the deceased was a colleague of mine at Bradford. Please if you don’t mind and you do have his contact details, forward my email address to him. Thank you so much.

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