After Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu, called on the House to demand the resignation or sacking of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Pantami, over allegations he was sympathetic to the cause of Jihadist leaders and deadly Islamic sects on Wednesday, April 20. A call for his resignation became stronger than ever. Controversy has been surrounding Pantami due to views he expressed in the past, propagating the cause of extremist Islamist sects.
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In 2012, former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, stated that terrorists and their sympathizers had infiltrated the Nigerian government. Over 8 years after he made this statement and it looks like the truth is coming out. The hashtags #PantamiMustGo and PantamiResign began trending on Nigerian Twitter in mid-April 2021. This comes after a series of reports that the present honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, may not be an honourable man after all and allegedly has ties to the Boko Haram terrorist sect plaguing the country for years now. From the evidence gathered from his past speeches, it is believed that he may also be acting in their favour as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
While Nigerians on social media continue to call for Pantami’s resignation and to probe by appropriate government agencies, the minister has refused to resign because he is a changed person. The evidence tying him to Boko Haram does not hold water. Making matters worse, President Muhammadu Buhari has thrown his weight at the back of the minister, saying in a released statement on April 22, 2021, that he stands with Pantami, fueling rumours that the president and his cabinet members have been compromised.
This begs the question, who is Isa Pantami? What accusations levelled against him and the evidence brought forward to back up his alleged ties with Boko Haram? Lastly, how are Nigerians reacting after Buhari pledged his support for Pantami?
Who is Isa Pantami
Addressed as Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, he is also known as Sheikh Pantami, and he is the present minister of communications and digital economy in Nigeria. He was appointed to this position by President Buhari in August of 2019. Before his appointment, Pantami lectured at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in the Information Technology Department for years and later joined the Islamic University of Madinah as Head of Technical Writing in 2014. In 2016, he got appointed as director and CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency of Nigeria (NITDA.
Isa Pantami, who is 48 years of age, hails from Gombe State. The minister is a graduate of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Univesity, where he obtained a first degree and master’s degree in computer science. He has another degree from Ahmadu Bello University and a PHD from Robert Gordon University, Scotland. Equally, Pantami was trained at Havard University in Digital Transformation and is an alumnus of both Massachusetts Institute of Management Development and Cambridge University. Today, Pantami proudly brags as a fellow of both the British Computer Society and Nigeria Computer Society.
Apart from being an academic scholar, Pantami is a publisher and faithful Muslim. For over 20 years, he has served as a Jumu’ah Chief Imam, leading prayers in Nigeria and the UK. He also serves as the Member of Shariah board member of Jaiz bank and a Shurah member and deputy secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria.
Alleged Relationship with Boko Haram
Until April 11, 2021, pretty much of Isa Pantami’s past had been hidden from the public. And Nigerians didn’t care to investigate as it is believed that the Nigerian government had done their due diligence before appointing him as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy in 2019.
Unfortunately, the veil covering his past deeds was removed on April 12, 2021. Independent Newspaper, an online media company, published an explosive report that the American Government has placed the minister under its terrorist watch list. The reports alleged that Pantami was friends with Mohammed Yusuf, the then leader of Boko Haram, killed by the military in 2009. Following uproar from Nigerians, the minister threatened to sue the media company and forced them to take down the story because their reports lack substantial evidence. Also, Premium Times went into Sherlock Holmes’s mood and debunked the reports that Pantami and Yusuf were friends. However, the publisher was unable to ascertain if Pantami has been placed on the US terror watchlist as, according to them, the US never divulges such information to the public.
Old speeches of Pantami expressing happiness whenever non-Muslim were killed and excepted of him praising terrorist groups such as the dreaded al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Boko Haram sects are building up and finally resurfacing.
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The People’s Gazette implied that Pantami was sympathetic to Boko Haram members when delivering sermons as far back as the late 2000s. He had condemned the Nigerian military killing Boko Haram members. A notable excerpt from Pantami speech in 2004 reads, “Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and the al-Qaeda,” adding that “Jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria.”
Another shows that the minister mourned the death of Iraq al-Qaeda leader, Musab Al-Khalayeh, in 2006. He said, “May God have mercy on Ahmad”. The report also documented how Pantami volunteered to mobilize the Hisbah police in the North to fight in defence of the Muslims.
Call for Pantami Resignation
After this report and several excerpts of Pantami supporting and summarizing with terrorists went viral, Nigerians launched another online protest for his resignation. They cited how former Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun resigned over something as minor as a forged NYSC Certificate and how the EndSARS protest leaders were branded terrorist, their bank accounts blocked by CBN, and some arrested. That’s not all. Many Nigerians insist Pantami may be a terrorist disguising. It may explain why the government can easily track harmless protesters but not members of the Boko Haram sect operating in Nigeria.
They urged Pantami to resign honourably or be sacked by President Buhari. But he refused rather he argued that he has changed and no longer a religious extremist. He said on April 17, 2021, during an interview, “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.” He further noted that he believes in peaceful co-existence now. It explains why most of his staff are Christians, adding that the translators of his past speeches have a poor understanding of the Hausa language or were biased.
Almost immediately, a pro-Pantami campaign took over the internet and began trading with the HashTags #PantamiWillStay and #PantamiWillNotResign. After the Ministry of communication and Digital Economy tweeted the same hashtag, it spread suspicion that the Minister paid influencers to trend the hashtags, enraging many people.
Pantami Instigate Violence Against Deji Adeyanju
On April 20, 2021, human rights activist Deji Adeyanju petitioned the US to place Pantami on their terror list if they have not already done so, stating that his extremism is too grievous to be overlooked. Adeyanju noted that Pantami once described Osama Bin Laden as both a hero and a better Muslim than himself, emphasizing that terrorists and their sympathizers do not repent but wait for an opportunity to get close to power so they can strike hard.
Unfortunately, Pantami supporters declared Adeyanju as an enemy of Islam and Nigeria’s peace. Rather than call them to order, Pantami posted on his Facebook page, “May Allah reject his blessings”, which immediately incited violence against Adeyanju. His followers circulated the human rights pictures in red crosshairs, causing Pantami to come under heavy criticism. But he denied the Facebook post saying his account was hacked.
Pantami Alleged Plot to Kill Yakowa
More details of Pantami alleged involvement in acts of terrorism emerged on April 20, 2021, as certain documents showing he plotted to kill the former governor of Kaduna State went viral. The documents, which are the minutes of the meeting Pantami chaired in 2010 at the Bauchi Central Mosque, allegedly showed that he and his cohorts pronounced Jihad on Christians in the North in a bid to Islamize the country. The communique adopted at the meeting also allegedly showed that Pantami and others at the meeting agreed to eliminate Patrick Yakowa for being the first Christian governor of Kaduna State. Although Yakowa died in a plane crash in 2012, it is now believed that Pantami and his cohorts may have something to do with it.
Pantami Alleged Complicit in Death of a Lecturer Son
Again on April 22, 2021, a retired University lecturer, Samuel Achi, said Pantami is responsible for the death of his son, Sunday Achi, who was killed in 2004. He said his son, who at the time was a 400 Level student of Architecture, was strangled to death at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University over allegations that he shared a tract containing blasphemous contents. He said the then Muslim society of the school led by Isa Pantami, who was the Chief Imam pronounced a fatwa on his son.
After a long silence on Pantami terrorism allegations, President Buhari finally released a statement via Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity. And Nigerians were shocked by what he had to say about it. He said his “administration stands behind Minister Pantami,” adding that the minister is being subjected to a cancel campaign instigated by those who seek his removal and destroy his career based on the things he said, regardless of when he said it.
Praising Pantami for all his achievements as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Buhari noted that the minister already apologized and his statements were made 20 years ago. He further added that his government is now investigating the veracity of the claims made against him, and should they be found wanting, police and a judicial action will come in.