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Pantami: Terrorism allegation and underhand antics of opportunists, By Olusegun Adeewura

Posted by News Express | 11 May 2021 | 11 times

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•Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Pantami

Nigeria is undoubtedly challenged on many fronts. Rising inflation and high unemployment rate exacerbated by general insecurity are few of the travails.

Angry reactions to the state of the nation, and any issue of interest for that matter, have therefore become a trend due to apparent loss of confidence in government’s ability to solve the problems of daily existential needs.

Therefore, it is not out of place that voices rose against the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, when an online news site falsely alleged that he had been purportedly placed on the United States’ ‘’terror list’’ or “watch list” for supporting extremist groups like al-Qaeda, Taliban and local fundamentalist Boko Haram over a decade ago.

Activists and interest groups reacting to the false report backed with videos, at every forum and occasion, have demanded the Minister’s resignation or his sacking by President Muhammadu Buhari.

While the publisher of the fake news has since recanted and pulled down the malicious publication having realised the gaffe, the United States authorities have denied placing or naming the Minister on a terror list or watch list.

There is a world of difference between being on the “terror list” and the “watch list”. If the U.S. or any country for that matter considers the views of any foreign citizen potentially dangerous, it has the right to place such individual on a “watch list”. Up till now, there is no proof or evidence of the alleged action against Pantami by the U.S.

The Minister has even publicly recanted those radical views saying they were made while he was a youth based on his understanding at the time. He added that his world views have since changed. He took a step further to condemn religion extremism and terrorism. For these and other actions, there has been a radical turnaround in fortune or misfortune, depending on your side of the divide, for Pantami who would be placed on execution list by the same fundamentalist sect he was accused of being friendly with.

The Presidency has also risen in defence of Pantami, and clarified that he did not, and does not have any criminal record or association with terrorists to warrant the ‘cancel campaign’ against him. Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said having apologised for what he said in the early 2000s, Pantami should be forgiven.

“The views were absolutely unacceptable then, and would be equally unacceptable today, were he to repeat them. But he will not repeat them – for he has publicly and permanently condemned his earlier utterances as wrong,” he assured.

Even in the context of Karl Max’s dictum that religion is the opium of the people, one would expect Pantami’s accusers to dispense forgiveness because the holy books preach penitence and forgiveness, which the minister has demonstrated.

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.’’ (Acts 17:30); ‘‘But if anyone repents after his wrongdoing and puts things right, Allah will turn towards him. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.’’ (Surat Al-Ma’ida, 39). These suffice.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), rising in defence of Pantami, who has been widely painted a “notorious hater of Christians”, has also warned against linking the Minister with the death of Patrick Yakowa, the first Christian to become Governor of Kaduna State, who died in a helicopter crash in December 2012.

CAN Kaduna State Chairman, John Joseph Hayab, cautioned that no one should believe a purported document relating to a meeting of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), held at Bauchi Central Mosque in July 2010, and allegedly chaired by Pantami, where Yakowa’s assassination was hatched.

It is yet to be established that Pantami was an officer of JNI at any level, apart from just being an Islamic cleric. He could therefore not have presided over the meeting of the group as alleged. How did it happen that a pan-Nigerian organisation like the JNI would only invite members from only Kaduna, Plateau, Niger and Bauchi States to a meeting whose agenda would have far-reaching implications for the country?

But all of these won’t make the anti-Pantami campaigners back down. What really was Pantami’s offence? He is obviously a victim of witch-hunt by some fifth columnists.

Pantami’s sins might have arisen from some of his policies, which appear to have made certain interest groups in the ICT sector uncomfortable. That point was well articulated in the defence of the Minister by a presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu ‘‘He is obviously being targeted for attack by people uncomfortable with his policies as the Communications Minister”, Shehu said as he declared that government “stands behind Minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services”.

But, why should anyone or a group of persons want Pantami out of the way? Why would they want him brought down from his current commanding height as the chief driver of a digitally-enabling economy for Nigeria?

Perhaps the achievements of the Minister do not matter to them once their selfish interests are served. Among other strides in his less than two years in charge of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Information Communication Technology grew significantly, contributing 17.83 per cent to the GDP, while he has bolstered ICT as the fastest growing sector of the Nigerian economy in quarter fourth 2020, contributing 14.7 per cent.

The Minister’s enemies also seem to have forgotten quickly that Pantami, as the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), where he previously served, transformed it into a strategic agency for enabling national ICT policies. 

It is indeed disheartening that Pantami’s traducers have chosen the sensitive platform of religion to aim a dart at the Minister. But what would be their gain? Nothing; absolutely nothing.

•Adeewura, a public commentator and development analyst, writes from Lagos.

Source: News Express


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