Sheikh Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, is not a public officer to be envied, despite his strategic portfolio and intimidating resume. He recently found himself in the centre of the storm for three wrong reasons.
First, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the CEO of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission, publicly accused Pantami of throwing her out of the office she was given in the ministry’s domain. Second, he introduced a National Identity Number registration scheme whose motive is questionable, according to some critics. Third, which is worst of all, his recorded religious hate sermons and utterances in support of notorious terrorist kingpins like Osama bin Laden and dreaded Taliban fighters has put him in the eye of the storm, for weeks, until the noise died down.
Pantami doesn’t talk much, compared to other loquacious public officers, but his actions speak volumes, and often rattle the system. He is obviously one of the President’s favoured men, which is why, say what you will, he would always weather storms because of his political affiliations, and his standing as an Islamic cleric in a government that is unabashedly inclined towards Islam.
A personality no less than the Sultan of Sokoto, HRH Sa’ad Abubakar III, the titular leader of Nigerian Muslims by virtue of his permanent headship of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Nigeria, has come out in defense of Pantami.
The Sultan was angry with the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria, who called for Pantami’s resignation. The Sultan is clearly satisfied with the Presidency’s defense of the embattled minister, which is predicated on the fact that he has recanted and apologized for his extremist views and actions, and that the man is competent and highly skilled for the job he is doing. Presidency’s statement even fingered some telecoms operators as the enemies behind Pantami’s travails, because his reforms hit them hard.
It could be conceded that Pantami sincerely recanted and his apology was genuine, because we all make mistakes. Moreover, an opinion held at some point could be a function of context, and so, like the minister claimed, his views have changed dramatically since he first expressed those hardline positions that endorsed terrorism and the killing of non-Muslims.
What bothers me in the whole Pantamigate saga is that those who have spoken in defense of the man didn’t think that his offence was weighty enough to justify the call for him to resign. Perhaps because of the bloodbath we witness daily from the activities of criminals across the country, we seem to have lost our sense of rage. Otherwise, why won’t Pantami’s outrageous support for the killing of non-Muslims not draw the ire of the Presidency, the Sultan and his Muslim supporters?
One expects the Presidency to condemn the process that allowed Pantami to scale through the Senate’s nomination scrutiny, despite his ugly past. But nothing was said about that. No apology was given by Aso Rock for this gaffe nor were we assured that greater due diligence would be applied in future nominations and Senate hearings of candidates sent to the upper chamber.
The guy was given a slap on the wrist and told to keep his job and let his critics and enemies, real or imagined, should go to hell. That’s not how to enhance the standard of public morality. Some have rightly argued that if the President could retain Pantami despite this serious dent on his image, why didn’t he keep Kemi Adeosun who lost her job as Finance Minister because of an NYSC discharge certificate scandal? Which offence is weightier? It’s unfortunate that Mr. President has not been even-handed in his handling of both cases.
It is also irritating that, in Buhari’s Nigeria, everything is viewed from ethnic and religious provincialism. Since the President got the largest votes from the Muslim majority areas, which he obviously rewarded with appointments of more Muslims and other Fulanis to key positions in his government, he ought to have been cautious in his handling of matters concerning non-Muslims and people from outside his Hausa-Fulani zone. The Sultan disappointed us with his abrasive comments against Christian leaders over the Pantamigate affair.
Pantami himself didn’t expect Nigerians to applaud his ugly past because he’s a Muslim or part of the current Fulani ruling elite. Buhari is the President of all Nigerians, regardless of their tribe, religion, gender or place of abode, because he got his votes from across all demographics in the country. He ran three times, and despite getting more than 12 million votes consistently from his Fulani/Muslim majority states, he couldn’t win the Presidency, until the Christian majority zones voted for him in 2015. He and his backers shouldn’t forget that.
It is imperative that the APC-led federal government devise a better crisis management mechanism, instead of always using petrol to put out fire. Each time there’s an explosive national issue, reactions from Aso Rock are often incendiary. A more conciliatory approach to national issues is ideal at a time like this, when the nation is gravitating towards the precipice because of security challenges.
Pantami’s past support for terrorism stirred passions, which is clearly understandable. The reaction of his sympathizers, especially highly provocative statements of the Presidency and the Caliphate, didn’t help matters. And President Buhari’s silence on this issue is not helpful either. Perhaps, a soothing word from him would have gone a long way in dousing the present tensions.
Weekend Spice: Trust, but cross-check often, because people change.
Ok folks, thanks for reading; keep safe, COVID-19 is real. Stay motivated.
•Ayodeji, author, rights activist, pastor and life coach, can be reached on 09059243004 (SMS & WhatsApp only)