Sheikh Isa Ali Pantami holds a strategic position in the Muhammadu Buhari presidency. He is the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. He is young at 48 and brilliant given his impressive academic pedigree. Though he is not a member of the Aso Rock cabal he occupies an ultra-sensitive ministerial position that directly affects daily lives of Nigerians for good or bad. Executively he is in charge of the National Identification Number (NIN) scheme, the mobile telephone network and every IT logistics in Nigeria. He is not doing badly professionally but that is now a lesser concern for Nigerians considering the scandal he is embroiled in lately.
Before his appointment in 2019 as Minister Pantami was the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency. His competence is never in doubt even though we have quota-system Ministers and agents of state in sensitive positions of the federal governance. Nepotism and mediocrity are real problems in this Buharian confused presidential era.
Minister Pantami was alleged to have been on a United States government terror watchlist. Though he denied it it emerged that he had, as a young radical student in northern Nigeria, espoused some repulsive Salafist ideology, eulogizing the late terrorist-in-chief, Osama Bin Laden and declaring his happiness whenever ‘infidels’ (Christians) were murdered! He had openly canvassed support for both Al-Qaeda and Taliban exploits praying Allah to give them victory over their enemies!
Since the despicable views of his, held in the distant past, surfaced online and offline Pantami has been boxed on the defensive. He had recanted sounding like a man beaten. He said he regretted his views blaming it on youthful exuberance and ignorance. He made it clear that some of his staff are Christians from the southern part of the country. He declared that he is now mature and no longer holds the same extremist opinion.
The Presidency through the Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, had characteristically risen in defense of Pantami arguing that he had changed his ways and corrosive views and that he made them when he knew not the import of jihadist theories he propounded. Juvenile delinquency? No one was surprised by the federal government’s position on the matter. The Buhari presidency is itself an apologist of Fulani terrorists and terrorism.
President Buhari can never ask Pantami to resign or sack him. The reason is simple: Pantami is an untouchable Fulani blue-blood. He had expressed the views that Buhari himself believed in (and still believes in)! The President ‘loves’ his creed and his Fulani brothers and sisters to the extent that he could pardon their every aggression or transgression; he could feel their ‘pain’ or their gain. He has never pretended to love an Ijawman, an Igboman or a Yorubaman. Or Christians in general.
Mullah Pantami may qualify to be labelled as a repentant ‘terrorist’ or better still, a bigot whose present job had made a ‘better’ person forcing him to toe a more responsible line in his Islamic rhetorics. Given the controversial revelation concerning his apology of terrorism or advocacy for the slaying of the unbelievers in the past he may have seen the ‘light’ as he grew older.
The Minister had argued, and the presidency concurred, that corporate traducers and political enemies were behind his current travails. Yet what he never told us was how and who these traducers and enemies were. If he is doing his job correctly in the overall interest of Nigerians then he has our full support. But his past misguided lifestyle fraught with messages of hate and terror cannot be defended.
If Minister Pantami were to be a christian or a southerner he would have since been relieved of his ministerial duty. But he belongs to the right camp and his sermons, whether they were preached in the desert or decades ago, had no special significance attached to them. Again, his principal, deep down in his conscience, sees nothing wrong in such sermons that beatify Allah and cast the opposite faiths as inferior and worth eliminating.
Leah Sharibu is still in captivity because she confessed her Christian faith refusing to convert to Islam as demanded by her captors. While the Boko Haram terrorists that abducted hundreds of students of the Chibok school had released almost all of them miss Sharibu is reported to have become a mother of two against her wish and will. She is now a sex slave! Yet President Buhari had promised to release her years ago! Her crime was her initial refusal to dance to the Islamic tune.
We could accept that Pantami made the exposed inflammatory remarks seized by youthful radicalism or exuberance bothering more on fundamentalism but the serious issue under focus here is how ‘repented’ he is now. If President Buhari has found it very difficult if not impossible to change from his dictatorial ways after abusing the democratic system post-Shagari while trying to confuse us to the contrary then Pantami could feign repentance or play possum in order to survive the storm.
For us, therefore, Minister Isa Pantami is more of a ‘terrorist’ than he can ever admit. If the late terrorist-in-chief, Osama Bin-Laden, could be described by Pantami as a “better Muslim than myself” then the young Minister must have terrorism affiliations and affinity still harbouring his inner being. The sooner he leaves government concentrating more on espousing Islamic theories or coming out openly to identify with Abubakar Shekau or other terrorists at large the better his reputation.
Between ‘baby-terrorist’ Pantami and the rest of us, ‘infidels’, it is only one Supreme Being (God or Allah) that would be the ultimate judge at the fullest of time. The innocent blood of the ‘infidels’ shed over the years over which Pantami had confessed his attachment or merriment must come into play whenever Armaggedon hits humanity like a thunderbolt.
Now that Minister Pantami has grown up taking up government appointment after having condemned those doing so many years ago and renouncing his extremist terrorism-loving views it is left to be seen how Nigerians would be able to reconcile the past with the present. Now that he has grown to adulthood his radical anti-christian pro-terrorism positions, we have been told, should be blamed on misguided youthfulness.
Now that the teenaged budding Islamic fundamentalist had grown to full maturity becoming responsible for our national identity and data records as a Minister we must hope and pray that his mea culpa is not one stage-managed to hoodwink us all.
Now that the hitherto youthful ‘terrorist’ Pantami has issued publicly his remorse or contrition recognizing and acknowledging that what he said or believed in decades ago was reprehensible enough let us believe, in the spirit of ‘to-err-is-human-and-forgiveness-divine’, that the Pantami of the distant past and the Pantami of the present represents two worlds apart.
His former life and the present one may present certain differences in manner and approach to the issues of the day as regards both terrorism and the two dominant faiths in Nigeria yet the truth Pantami and his executive defenders are afraid of remains that history has a way of reminding us all about our deeds and misdeeds no matter the intervening years or decades.
For Pantami, therefore, the verdict of history has reached its conclusions. No amount of denial or blame could put its damning judgment away. His case is a valid lesson for those who think that what is said in words or writings could fade away with the passage of time.