The last is yet to be heard of the links between President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet member and terrorism. Media efforts are being made to conceal facts that are already in the public domain about the Communication and Digital Economy Minister Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami.
There are rumours that executives of telecommunications companies in Nigeria are sponsoring the media attacks against him due to Pantami’s December 9, 2020 directive that halted the sale, activation, and registration of new SIM cards until an “audit of the Subscriber Registration Database” is completed. But the million-dollar question is this; are the hands of Pantami clean? The truth is that he has a shady past.
Below are some of his past inflammatory utterances that could set Nigeria on fire:
(1) He supported Osama Bin Laden, the world renowned terrorist: In response to a question about Osama bin Laden’s “killing of innocent unbelievers,” Pantami said although he conceded that Bin Laden was liable to err because he was human, “I still consider him as a better Muslim than myself” and pointed out that “We are all happy whenever unbelievers are being killed, but the Sharia does not allow us to kill them without a reason.”
(2) He once supported Boko Haram: Online newspaper, People’s Gazette, unearthed an audiotape in which he engaged in a weepy defence of Boko Haram terrorists against extra-judicial killings and asked for an amnesty for them just like Niger Delta militants. “See what our fellow Muslim brothers’ blood has turned to? Even pig blood has more value than that of a fellow Muslim brother,” he said.
(3) He called for the killing of Christians: In the aftermath of the religious crisis in Shendam in Plateau State in 2004 in which Christian militiamen murdered scores of Hausa Muslims, Pantami was livid and tearful. In an audio tape of his preaching, he said the “Ahlus Sunna,” that is, people who are now called Salafists, should strike back and shun politicians and religious clerics who preached peace and restraint. “This jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria (hādhā jihād farḍ ‘ayn ‘ala kull muslim wa-khuṣūṣan fī Nījīriyā),” he said.
(4) He once supported the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorist group In his March 2019 paper titled “The ‘Popular Discourses of Salafi Counter-Radicalism in Nigeria’ Revisited: A Response to Abdullahi Lamido’s Review of Alexander Thurston, Boko Haram,” Professor Andrea Brigaglia of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, writes: “Subsequently, Pantami offers himself as a volunteer to mobilise the Hisba police of the Muslim-majority states and to be appointed as the ‘commander’ (Hausa: kwamanda) of a militia ready to travel to Yelwa Shendam to join the fight in defence of the Muslims. The speech, which is about twenty minutes long, concludes with the prayer: ‘Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda’ (Allahumma ’nṣur Ṭālibān wa-tanẓīm al-Qā‘ida).”
(5) He was a preacher of violence and extremism: In April 15, 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable (exposed by WikiLeaks in 2011) about the religious crisis in Bauchi during that year said “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.
(6) He is against the politicians and the government In his previous sermons, Pantami expressed contempt for working for the government and even derided Islamic clerics who preached peace.
(7) Questionable educational accolades: Pantami claims he was “trained” at “Oxford; Harvard; Cambridge; MIT/IMD” although he only attended a few weeks’ courses there after being in government. Nigerians have continued to call on Pantami to resign due to the delicate seat he occupies in Buhari’s cabinet.
He is the federal minister in charge of the personal data of over 208 million Nigerians. If his ties to terrorists are confirmed to be true, then we are all in danger considering how unsafe we will all be if all this information are posed to dangerous non-state actors. Although Pantami has renounced his controversial utterances, blaming them on his young age and lack of exposure at that time, Nigerians believe he should be eased out of office.
NB: A large part of this publication was extracted from a recent column written by a US-based Nigerian, Professor Farooq A. Kperogi.