NIGERIANS are asking for the resignation of Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Ali Isa Pantami over statements made in the past in support of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Taliban.
Pantami was appointed in 2019 as a Minister at the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second tenure after spending between 2016-2019 as the Director-General and CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).
Using the hashtag #PantamiResign, Nigerian have begun to demand online for his resignation 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.
Mullah Muhammed Omar, widely known as Mullah Omar, is an Afghan militant and leader of the Taliban who was the emir of Afghanistan (1996–2001).
The Taliban, according to Britannica, is an ultraconservative political and religious faction that emerged in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the collapse of Afghanistan’s communist regime, and the subsequent breakdown in civil order.
Osama Bin Laden is the founder of the militant Islamist organisation al-Qaeda and mastermind of numerous terrorist attacks against the United States and other Western powers, including the 2000 suicide bombing of the U.S. warship Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden and the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C.
The ICIR sought a response from an aide to the Minister Uwa Suleiman about Pantami’s reaction to the agitations, particularly on social media, that he should resign due to his past statements on terrorists and terrorism and also comments in support of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The aide, in her response, feigned ignorance of the agitations.
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 a 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.
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.”
Based on these, Nigerians on the social media, especially on Twitter, are calling for his resignation.
A tweep, @YemieFASH wrote, “A terrorist apologist is not worthy of being a government official. #PantamiResign”
Also, @chosensomto, a twitter user tweeted,” I will not join you people and have that ‘it was in the past’ conversation, because it’s same as arguing ‘if a repented Boko Haram member can become a minister?’ Terrorism is not a drinking habit you drop in the past; Pantami should resign immediately. #PantamiResign”
@funshographix said, “Isa Pantami once said. ‘Jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria.’’ He also said, ‘Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.’ Isa Pantami shouldn’t be in the government talkless (sic) of we saying #PantamiResign. People like Isa are many in govt.”
@dondekojo said, “Fact that a lot of moderates are quiet or defending Pantami after initially claiming Islamophobia may just prove the point that some terrorists enjoy protection from moderates. It’s been shameful to watch. Everybody must now demand his resignation #PantamiResign.”
Another handle, @DrOlufunmilayo, however, said the President Muhammadu Buhari, who returned to the country on Thursday from London, “might not be aware of the calls for the resignation of the Minister.”
“The funny thing about this whole #PantamiResign situation is that Buhari may not even be aware at all,” he tweeted.
In response to an article by a U.S.-based Nigerian Professor of Communication Farooq Kperogi titled, ‘Pantami is My Friend, But He Can’t Be Defended,’ oil and gas analyst Ademola Adigun said “Patanmi should resign. Your person is not different from your speech and what you espouse Farooq Kperogi.”
“You made plenty of sense and then you allowed your friendship with him to becloud your conclusions. People like him have no business in government or governance. And that suggestion that it is Telcos after him, Haba? Even so… he said what he said. He spoke his mind. Your mind is your person.”
Farooq had, in his article on Saturday, said there was a vast disjunction between his rhetoric and his person, stating further that he believed he had evolved from the days of his fiery homiletic entanglements with stochastic terrorism.
The article read in part, “Nevertheless, while I denounce Pantami’s past embrace of extremism in his public preaching, I want to point out that there is a vast disjunction between his rhetoric and his person. People who know him outside the pulpit attest to his compassion, kindness, and peacefulness.”
“I also think he has evolved from the days of his fiery homiletic entanglements with stochastic terrorism. I can point to a few evidentiary proofs. First, although he said in one audio that he wanted to push Nigeria to the point where there would be no iconography in our national currency and even political campaign posters, he now obviously loves photography.”
While some tweeted in demanding the resignation of Pantami, others tweeted in support, stating that he should not be judged by his past.
Notably, a former journalist at Premium Times Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, who exposed the National Youth Corps Scheme exemption certificate forgery of former Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun, in a series of tweets, said Pantami should not be judged by his past.
He had said, “On @DrIsaPantami: Yes, public officers deserve all the scrutiny. But while we’re at it, we’ve to be thorough, fair & nuanced. Yes, we can dig the past but passing judgement would have to be alongside context and current realities. A lot of people have had a severed past.”
“We all have a past. Not everyone will escape if our past actions and speeches are used against our present positions. Opinions and stands do change in the face of new knowledge or facts, or even maturity. And being progressive, other than dogmatic is whole mark of great minds.”
Abdulaziz’s tweets generated condemnation, with some Nigerians asking why he did not extend the same gesture to the former Minister of Finance.
Abdulaziz’s story on Adeosun certificate forgery led to her resignation in September 2018 barely three years after her appointment by President Buhari.
Also, Lukman Abdulrazak, a public affairs analyst based in Abuja, writing in an opinion article published by Daily Nigerian, an online news platform, alleged that statements made by Pantami in support of terrorist groups were based on solidarity with the Muslim interests at that time.
“In Northern Nigeria, where Pantami operated as a celebrity critic, there was well-deployed support for the anti-American forces and terrorist groups, including the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It’s also untrue that the sympathy for Osama Bin Laden, one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attack, was a solely Salafi affair. It cut across other sects in the North because the American presence in the Middle East was framed as agenda to decimate Islam. It took a while before the region began to see Osama as the monster he was, and just as reprehensible as the Americans who perpetrated horror in Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere during the operation.”
“Pantami, like the other clerics who held sway in that period, participated in commenting on the complexities of the Middle East politics based on solidarity with the Muslim interests, but cherry-picking his utterances to nail him as a terrorist sympathiser is both dangerous and unfair. Of course, the global terror network took a dimension that has alarmed the world and drawn criticism from their erstwhile sympathisers, this doesn’t erase the excesses of the American military in the Middle East,” he wrote.
CSO calls for investigation, petitions U.S. government
Meanwhile, a civil society organisation Concerned Nigerians has petitioned the United States government, urging the administration of President Joe Biden to investigate the Nigeria Minister of Communications and Digital economy’s alleged involvement with terrorist groups.
The convener of the group Deji Adeyanju, in a signed petition dated April 11, 2021, and titled, ‘Terrorist Watchlist –Isa Pantami,’ also asked that the US to place the minister on its terror watch list if the allegations against him were found to be true.
Pantami denies link to extremism, says criminals are behind attacks on him.
Pantami, despite considerable evidence showing his past extremist views, in an interview with Premium Times, said the allegations were untrue.
He said it was being peddled by forces against the Federal Government’s policy of compulsory national identity registration for all Nigerians and those residing in the country.
“I have no doubt about this. It has to do with the National Identification Number. Do you know one thing? This policy was started in 2011, it was not successful. Why? It was fought,” he said.