BY Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, Ph.D
Mallam Isa Pantami is no ordinary Nigerian. He is a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Pantami is also no ordinary Minister. He is charged with the sensitive portfolio of Communications and Digital Economy. Before his ministerial appointment, he had headed the very sensitive and delicate position of Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency. As Minister, Pantami oversees the critical agencies of NCC, NITDA, NIPOST, NIGCOMSAT and GALAXY BACKBONE.
In this digitalised world, Pantami by his office has access to Nigerians’ private communications, NIN, identities, etc. Ordinarily, this would not have posed a problem at all, since someone, a Nigerian, out of our 210 million population, must head the Ministry any way. But, his antecedents are quite worrisome. That is what has led to the sudden bedlam and ruckus by Nigerians generated through the traditional and social media routes. How? Why? I will tell you. Isa is an acclaimed Islamic fanatic, fundamentalist and supporter of extremist Islamic sects. Taught in Saudi Arabia by fiery Muhammad Inn Uthaymin (nicknamed “giant of Islam, a Cleric who once opposed women driving for fear of mixture of men and women at petrol stations, traffic lights and Police checkpoints), Pantami as a Graduate Assistant, started preaching and leading prayers in mosques right from his days at the Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, where he had graduated from. He is said to be the Chief Imam of the Al Mannar mosque, Abuja, where he preaches. There is nothing wrong about one being close to his maker, including his present tafsir teaching during the Ramadan fasting season (Ramadan Kareem). So, I do not begrudge him of his passionate pastime. To me, it is even a plus that as Minister, he still finds time to worship his God. After all, the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be on to him), when asked by the pagans of Mecca (Makkah) to worship their gods, answered: “Say, O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion” (Surah Al-Kafirun109:1). What he was simply emphasising was the freedom and individuality of religion and conscience between a person and his God. We call this secularity. It is entrenched in section 10 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.
But, does Isa Pantami realise this in his earlier fiery teachings of extremism and religious intolerance, and bigotry, even as far back as nearly 20 years ago? I think not. Let me show you a sample of his expressed mindset and why Nigerians are united, in reactions that have since gone viral, are calling for his immediate resignation or outright sack.
Amongst other in his Salafist ideology and spine- chilling teachings in support of two of the globally most acclaimed deadliest terrorist groups in the world (the Taliban and al-Quaeda), some years ago, Patanmi had said unapologetically, “Oh God, give victory to the Talibans and to the al-Quaeda..This jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria”. He also reportedly endorsed the killings of “unbelievers” (non-Moslems).
In a video that has since gone viral (which he was later forced to own up after initially denying his previous incendiary and inflammatory statements), he openly castigated then President Goodluck Jonathan, for sending the military to kill boko haram insurgents whose blood he regarded as “our Muslim brother’s blood”.
Hear him: “We are praying to God to answer all our prayers. It is our right and obligation before all Muslim leaders, politicians, government appointees, academics. All of us should not fold their arms and watch helplessly how they shed our Muslim brothers’ blood and cheat them in vain.
Even if the Boko Haram fighters commit a crime but can we justify the way and manner they are being killed? Just look at how they are killing people as if they are shooting pigs, even though they committed a crime why the extrajudicial killing?
Take them before the law for a fair trial. You caught someone sleeping and you killed them. If it is not Muslims that undergo such treatments who else?
The Niger Delta people did something similar to this. They massacre people, stole weapons, killed expatriates and kidnapped some of them, yet you still accept them back, opened a ministry for them, gave them a minister and put them on a monthly salary pay without work.
The militants did more harm compared to what Boko Haram boys did. But why will they do something like this? Why selective justice? “.
He even prayed for the day when the images on the naira notes and the “Gregorian date, the Calendar of the infidels”, will be wiped out: “And therefore, we are praying to God, that based on our understanding, we pray for a day when the images on the notes in our pockets will be removed. No Muslim Cleric has ever spoken against these images as forbidden. May be self-sufficient enough not to need this currency. It is against the Religion to put even the images of Companions of the Prophet on the currency. May Allah help us to see that day when the Gregorian date, the Calendar of infidels that on the notes ….”
Boko haram was thereby given the necessary muscle and many Muslims were innocently led to believe that Killing boko haram insurgents amounted to Killing Muslims. Nigerians have today, witnessed the corrosive and deadly consequences of boko haram’s killings, maiming, arson and the general insecurity enthroned and watered by such dangerous hate preachments. Boko Haram has since abducted the Chibok, Dapchi, Kankara, Kagara and Jangebe girls; blown up the UN headquarters; engaged in serial cases of maiming, killings and kidnaps in Kaduna, Maiduguri, Bauchi, Damaturu, Madalla, Mubi, Gamboru, Yola, Gombi, Kano, Baga, Bunu Yadi, Konduga, Gwoza, to mention just a few places.
Reeling under the weight and yoke of damning public criticisms by a wide spectrum of Nigerians, Pantami (who had earlier denied making the statements), summersaulted and claimed that he has since changed his views and extreme religious ideology, which he claimed had been based on youthful ignorance. Said he:
“Some of the comments I made some years ago that are generating controversies now were based on my understanding of religious issues at the time, and I have changed several positions taken in the past based on new evidence and maturity,”
“I was young when I made some of the comments; I was in university, some of the comments were made when I was a teenager. I started preaching when I was 13, many scholars and individuals did not understand some of international events and therefore took some positions based on their understanding, some have come to change their positions later”.
Has he really changed? What has changed? Can a leopard ever change its spots? In saner climes, Pantami should have resigned immediately without more. Or be sacked forthwith. Lifting the veil off his purported transformation or assumed transfiguration is so easy when viewed against the background of his new acts even as Minister. Only recently, On March 22, 2021, Patami’s Ministry hosted a virtual flag-off ceremony for a capacity development programme empowering 600 people with VSAT Installation Skills. Patami himself was present and he even spoke at the event. It was a Virtual Flag-off Capacity Development Programme on VSAT Installation Skills and TVRO Systems for 600 youths by Patami.
The ceremony was not covered by AIT, Channels, NTA, TVC, ITV, or even FM Youtube channels. Rather, a very little-known Islamic TV channel called Al-Afrikiy was contracted to relay an event organized by a whole Federal Government of Nigeria. It must be borne in mind that Al-Afrikiy is not merely an Islamic-influenced learning TV station, it is also an Islam-only TV channel. It broadcasts strictly religious matters.
Why did President Muhammadu Buhari nominate Patami in the first place? Can he, as Commander-In-Chief, claim not to have access to information regarding Patanmi’s dangerous antecedents? I think not. Or, don’t you know the reason? Simple: his usual infamous inclination towards prebendalism, cronyism, sectionalism, tribalism, favouritism, religiosity and mediocrity.
By the way, where was the DSS which was supposed to screen Pantami before his name was sent to the Senate? Why did it turn its focus away from these destructive extremist views of the very Minister in charge of Nigerians’ information data, with unabridged access to same, including NIM, BVN, biodatas, etc?
What about our fawning rubber stamp “take-a-bow” Senate that was supposed to do a very thorough screening of Pantami? Why did it simply allow the Carmel to pass through the needle’s eye? When will it winnow out the chaff from the real wheat? Why has it turned a sacred duty on behalf of Nigerians into a “yes sir” party affair, which suggests that President Buhari can do no wrong, or make any mistake? This is reminiscent of Boxer’s slogan of “Napoleon is always right”, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. For me, Mallam, (Sheikh, Dr, Cleric) Isa Pantami should honorably resign, as Mrs Kemi Adeosun, former Finance Minister, once did. Where he fails to do this, Buhari should immediately relieve him of his ministerial position. His antecedents loudly proclaim him as a clear and present danger to Nigeria’s asphyxiatingly fragile unity, harmony and religious and ethnic tolerance. I know Buhari will not do it. At least, make we “siddon look”.