A little over nine months ago, specifically on July 17 last year, I wrote, on these pages, a piece entitled: “Pantami: Why virtuous persons are reluctant to serve in government.” Owing to the recent calls from some quarters on Communications Minister, Dr. Ali Isa Pantami, to resign on the very false allegations of being an “extremist,” I reproduce herewith the piece under reference, as it seems even more relevant today. Excerpts:
“A clearly defining feature of our brand of politics in Nigeria is the pull-him-down syndrome that has been scaring away some of our best from partaking in politics, or accepting any political appointment in government. Doing so is not for the feint-hearted, except one is going to join the bandwagon and work in cahoots with the clique working for decades to destroy Nigeria from one administration to the other. You must be ready to be called out in the most negative manner once your agenda is about making positive difference in the lives of the people.
“A clear example of this is Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, Hon. Minister of Communications and Digital Economy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has right from childhood been of selfless service to humanity, and even though he is an Islamic scholar of distinction, Pantami has for decades been at the vanguard of fostering understanding and peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians. It was bad news for the agents of darkness when such a person, whose reputation as a man of unimpeachable integrity is all well known to them, accepted to serve Nigeria first as DG of NITDA and now on a higher calling as Minister.
“These blackmailers come in all shapes and sizes, using mostly the social media in cooking a dose of shameless falsehood against a man whose only offense is his refusal to allow a few rapacious individuals to continue shortchanging Nigeria, and also his avowed determination to serve this country to the best of his ability.
“And what is more! Most of the agents of darkness sponsoring negative writeups and all sorts of falsehood against the man are shadowy figures, who clearly do not have the courage of their conviction. As once written by my friend Malam Shu’aibu Gara-Gombe, some of these sponsoring dastardly campaigns of calumny against Pantami are a few political figures from his native Gombe State, who are afraid of his rising towering political figure, arising from the unprecedented achievements the man has thus far recorded for our country in his quest for Nigeria to grab a good share of the trillion dollar global digital economy.
“There are also others in government who are not happy that the digital economy portfolio was rightly added to the Communications Ministry. They were taking it as their own baby, even when they were adding no value, not even in the least, with it. And yet, there are a few whose hatred for Pantami’s guts stems from his trademark decency and integrity, and his well-known determination to help advance the cause of the Buhari Administration that they so much love to hate. Many of them cannot forgive Pantami because, courtesy of him, the years of the locust have gone forever.
“The fear of many informed Nigerians in all these is that people with excellent character and solid reputation like Dr. Pantami may in future be apprehensive about accepting to serve in government, especially at such a high level. They will think that if a man of unimpeachable integrity like Dr. Pantami could be made a subject of ceaseless attacks and irresponsible blackmail, what more of them who may not posses as much a sterling record as the Communications Minister?
“But then if there is anything, beyond his solid education and uncommon integrity and intellect that have given Pantami, then in his early 40s, the high post of Director General of NITDA, the position he held before getting promoted to the post of Minister by President Buhari, it is his ability not to look back when he made up his mind to achieve anything positive. He must have grown a thick skin that makes him immune to the kind of shit being smeared on his person almost on daily basis.
“So, for the promoters of the anti-Pantami agenda, this is bad news for you. The man you are working hard to bring down will not be cowed. And the President that you want to pit against him has implicit trust and confidence in Pantami and knows more than we all do that all the shenanigans and orchestrated hysteria are aimed at casting the Minister in bad light.
“Carry on with the excellent work, Dr. Pantami, and be assured of the solid support of majority of Nigerians who are already benefitting from your deep insight, forthrightness and selflessness.”
This nine months old article concludes here. If there is anything more to add, it is that I saw all of this coming, from the very beginning. Exactly one year ago, Boko Haram restructured its Shura Council under which it set up a very strong, well-funded media unit that it saddled with the task of intense propaganda and blackmail against the Nigerian military and more specifically the Buhari administration and all those making it proud.
It was around that period that the respected Premium Times newspaper carried out a survey on ministers making the Buhari Administration proud by making the needed positive difference, and Dr. Pantami came out tops in excellent service delivery to Nigerian people. So, I knew straightaway that the man was going to sooner or later be made a target of intense negative media campaign. Many Nigerians have unknowingly been helping the terrorists by spreading dirt against those targeted by the agents of Satan, and some newspapers also innocently make their platforms available for free.
Then Pantami did something the terrorists and their collaborators regarded as unthinkable: he resuscitated an idea started before his appointment as minister, that telecoms should stop selling pre-registered SIM cards to Nigerians, as they were being used by criminal elements, such as kidnappers, to perpetrate evil. That policy pronouncement, which Pantami ensured was implemented, saw to a drastic reduction in kidnappings for ransom, saving innocent Nigerians billions of naira in the process.
The hardworking Minister did not stop at that: determined to ensure criminality, using SIM cards, is reduced to the barest minimum, he came up again with the policy of linking National Identity Number to SIM cards.
Even the most ardent of Pantami’s enemies would remember that the terrorists were rattled.
We all heard Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader, crying profusely, saying his group was going to deal with Pantami for daring to bring about a policy that could put him and his cohorts out of business.
That alone ought to serve as evidence to every discerning Nigerian that Pantami has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism or any support for it.
Whereas Pantami’s appointment into President Buhari’s cabinet was hailed by millions of Nigerians, there were several others who were offended by it, even among some Muslim groups that have traditionally been up in arms against the Sunni doctrine that Dr. Pantami and indeed majority of Nigerian muslims subscribe to.
And of course given the religious divisions that got deepended since the desperate efforts of then President Jonathan to win a second term of office, some Christian leaders and groups readily condemns many things Islam or anyone defending the religion or the Buhari Administration, the same kind of treatment some Muslim groups meted out on Jonathan when he was president. But these individuals do not know that though Pantami is an Islamic scholar of repute, some of the biggest beneficiaries of his being in government are Christians, and that many of his personal staff members are indeed Christians.
It was the late sage, Nelson Mandela, who said that “only a fool does not change his opinion when faced with superior facts.” Dr. Pantami has admitted to making some comments now being mischievously used against him by some politicians and other vested interests, saying they were made years ago when he was younger and were based on his understanding of the situation at the material time.
What Pantami did not add was that in those years, majority of Nigerian Muslims were fully against the allied forces fighting Al-Qaeda, and Osama bn Laden was being perceived as a hero by many Muslims, not only in Nigeria but the world over. The remarks made by Pantami were made at that time, but years later, those opposed to Osama bn Laden convinced millions of Muslims that the man was indeed a terrorists, one of the worst known to humanity.
Before then, millions of Muslims all over the world were even naming their male children after the Al-Qaeda kingpin. There were very deep anti-American sentiments right from the late 1980s and early 1990s, around the time Saddam Hussein annexed Kuwait and the allied forces were rescuing that country from the man’s expansionist policy.
One recalls that a major superstore that started operating in Kano around that time had to change its name from Fahad Stores to something else, as Muslims in Kano thought the owner named it so in support of then King Fahad of Saudi Arabia. Though Saudi is seen as the headquarters of Islam, King Fahad at that time was fully supportive of America and the allied forces, and he was rabidly hated by millions of Muslims globally, owing to that. But as indicated earlier, all that changed years after, obviously because, as Mandela said, only a fool does not change his opinion when faced with superior argument.
I know of tens of politicians who openly condemned President Buhari when he ventured into partisan politics, and even during the times he contested for the presidency and lost. But many of these politicians are now close allies of the President, and it is because they have changed their opinions in the face of new facts.
Indeed, some of the leading figures of the two dominant religions of Islam and Christianity have at one time or the other, condemned the prophets who brought or propagated the religions, but ended up becoming frontline supporters and defenders of these religions. But the Pantami traducers would have none of that. For them, the word forgiveness or understanding exist only when it favours them.
A lot of Nigerians do not even know that some of those leading in the anti-Pantami campaign are the linchpins of the Media Unit of Boko Haram and ISWAP, who have openly vowed to deal with him for working in the interest of Nigeria. They are now working round the clock to leverage on this opportunity to do pull the man down.
America knows who Dr. Pantami is. It knows more than we all do that he is neither a terrorist nor a sympathizer of any terrorist or extremist group. The United States is aware of the circumstances under which he made those comments, and knows more than we all do that majority of Nigerian muslims, including the well-respected Dr. Pantami, no longer perceive Al-Qaeda as anything but the terrorist organisation that has wickedly killed thousands of innocent human beings all over the world.
If there is any consolation for Pantami and the millions of Nigerians sympathetic to his cause, it is that those supporting the Minister are far in the majority, and this kind of blackmail is typical in any environment where vested interests exarcabate fault-lines to their selfish advantage. But I have a word for these terrible individuals, and it is that he who must destroy another in order to succeed, should await destruction at the post of his success.