A brewing storm over sensitive allegations unveiling Isa Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, as a fervent supporter of extremist Islamist sects, who preached their violent cause should not be overlooked. The minister is under fire for vociferously espousing the violent Jihadist narrative of al-Qaeda and the Taliban before he was appointed minister by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). These allegations are far too weighty and there is copious evidence that Pantami once held on to extremist ideology and expressed it openly. Therefore, the honourable step is for him to resign. Otherwise, Buhari should sack him for unfettered investigations to be undertaken.
The case against Pantami, which has gone viral on social media, is dangerously earth-shaking. Initially, the minister, who until his appointment in 2019 was the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency, denied the obvious. But when he was confronted with his preaching in the 2000s on social media, he backtracked and claimed “immaturity.”
Essentially, Pantami’s past is catching up with him. Although he claims that he has “repented” of his Salafist ideology, his violent preaching of those days is damagingly chilling. Among other things, he said, “Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda,” and, “This jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria.” In another, he reportedly endorsed the killing of “unbelievers.” And what is the difference between his statements and that of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the defunct Islamic State’s chief spokesman, who had called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops?” This is a cataclysmic ideology, which has upturned the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan; instigated the 9/11 terror attacks and charging at the very soul of Nigeria. So many more extremist views have been attributed to Pantami.
In his defence, Pantami argues that he has repented; that he erred as an innocent youth. This is a hollow excuse. He should not have aspired to the position of a minister, then. When, where and how did he renounce violent jihad? What of the fresh allegations on the social media that he approved an Islamic TV station to be broadcasting official programmes of the Ministry of Communications? Was this after his repentance? When did Pantami sever his ties to his jihadist past? According to Wikipedia, the minister, whom Buhari entrusts with the biometric data of Nigerians, trained under extremist Islamist scholars in Saudi Arabia, including Muhammad Ibn Uthaymin, whose extremist views include opposition to women driving in that country.
Whether Pantami admits it or not, his preaching then must have enticed some innocents into joining the Salafist crusade to cause mayhem and establish its global caliphate through bloodshed. The Boko Haram jihadists whom he now claims to have opposed, have tormented Nigeria, especially the North-East of the country, since 2009 with their vicious ideology. They have conquered territories, murdered people in thousands, kidnapped schoolgirls in Chibok and Dapchi, blown up the UN HQs in Abuja, attacked military formations and currently threaten the country’s corporate existence.
Beyond that, Pantami’s elevation to high public office exposes the ridiculous state Nigeria finds itself. All around, mediocrity, incompetence and questionable compromises are evident in the current miasma. First, Buhari was wrong to have appointed Pantami as a minister. It means the President’s yardsticks for such appointments are too pedestrian, perhaps based on extraneous ties apart from competence.
Second, the Senate, which screens ministerial nominees, is an abject, hollow chamber. In this case, the Ahmed Lawan-led Senate failed woefully. There was no rigour. It is shameful that nominees of questionable characters, some of whom harbour extremist views, did not have an NYSC certificate or forged documents are approved without question. The nauseating tradition of “take a bow” defeats the purpose of the screening, which is meant to sift out the chaff from the wheat. But the Senate has turned screening to a charade, sheer commercial and party affair, abnegating rigour.
This brings us to the State Security Service. What does it do when the executive forwards the names of nominees to it? As a party to the screening of nominees, there is no confidence about its reports to the parliament. The press, the watchdog, should be alert and henceforth, objectively unearth aspiring public office holders for the public to assess.
The Nigerian Senate should adopt a rigorous process in screening nominees. It is not compulsory that all the nominations from the executive should sail through; the job of the parliament is to deny incompetent and dangerous people the chance to gain top public office where they can do irreparable damage. In 2012, Goodluck Jonathan, the President, claimed that sympathisers of Boko Haram had infiltrated his government. “Some of them are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government, while some of them are even in the judiciary…Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies,” he had said. The Senate should wake up and replace indolence with diligence. Media scrutiny of prospective public officials should be stepped up.
The UK Institute of Government says individual ministerial accountability ultimately means an expectation that they should resign if something has gone seriously wrong. And truly, many things have gone awfully wrong with Pantami’s jihadist pantomime. His credibility as a minister has run out. He should bow out or be kicked out.