By Simon Reef Musa |
For the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, also known as Sheikh Isa Ibrahim Pantami, his past is about catching up with him as the days continue to cast long shadows as a minister. The former controversy-ridden religious cleric that once served as the Chief Imam of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi is accused of having supervised the killing of Sunday Nache Achi, a 400-level student, for distributing Christian gospel reading materials which Pantami labelled as blasphemous in 2004.
Since a newspaper broke the story that the minister has been placed under the terror watch list by the United States of America, national discourse has shifted to his past fiery sermons and attracting more than a passing glance from a wary public. Reacting to the initial report on being on the terror watch list of the US, Pantami had denounced the story and threatened to file charges if the news medium refused to publish a rebuttal and an apology. He got none of these as the newspaper embraced obduracy, daring him to go ahead with his threat.
Reaching out to the social media, those who won’t let go of the former chief imam of ATBU without scrutiny resorted to unearthing troubling video and audio clips to demonstrate not only his love for terrorists, but also his extremist disposition in rallying the faithful over the killing of Muslims in Plateau State. In one of his video clips, Pantami is shocked at national anger over the killing of a single female teacher in Gombe state when, according to him, many Muslims had been killed without any form of public outrage.
Perhaps, a simple apology over his past could have proved enough to douse the tension over his past, but the minister remained headstrong. His opponents went to work, and in no time he was thrown into the centre of national debate, with some questioning his suitability as a minister in a secular state. His alleged chairmanship of a meeting in Bauchi involving Islamic clerics and the alleged minutes of that summit has raised serious doubts on Pantami that only a thorough investigation can bring out the entire truth. Sensing that the noose was being tightened over his past as a religious demagogue, the minister swiftly attempted to right the wrong by owning up past clips that have now turned him into a prey for commentators.
Early this week, some choristers in cassock staged a ‘word press conference’ in Abuja to present an interim report on the allegations levelled against the minister. Without being told, every controversy in Nigeria involving big men and women always provides an opportunity for hired characters to play their game. At whose behest were these paid choristers acting?
It is obvious that having left his comfortable turf of delivering sermons in defence of Muslims and crying over perceived injustice done to them, Pantami has become a politician whose past and present actions must be scrutinized. According to a poet, Ramesh Kavdia, “Dirty Politicians create controversies, confusions and differences, Fools in public listen to it, believe it and fight with each other; and this always gives rules to bad hands.”
There’s no doubt that Pantami’s fiery past has clashed with the secular status of the Nigerian state. The storm of anger against Pantami is a reflection of the defection associated with Nigeria’s democracy that has proven incapable of safeguarding citizens. Members of the National Assembly should have saved the nation from this embarrassment if only they had played their part.
On Thursday evening, the presidency joined the fray when it shockingly declared that it was solidly behind the embattled minister. Acting as a PR organ of Pantami, the statement did not only dismiss those calling for his sack, it praised the minister for his giant strides. The statement further noted that the Federal Government is “now investigating the veracity behind these claims of attempted inducement, and – should they be found to hold credence – police and judicial action must be expected. The Administration stands behind Minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services.”
From the statement signed by Malam Garba Shehu, the minister is now the beloved of the Buhari presidency whose past should be forgiven as he has shown remorse over his past. What about the killing of a young man whose life was cut short in 2004, and many other infractions linked to the fiery preaching of Pantami? How ridiculous that can be!
I disagree with people attempting to link religious sentiments to Pantami’s travail. If religion is brought into the discourse, it is probably because the minister is accused of using religion to incite and stir the anger of Nigerians that led to not only the cold-blooded murder of an undergraduate, but also expose him as intolerant of other religions. The fact remains that Pantami’s past is being scrutinised to gauge if his past actions justify his present appointment as the Minister of the Federal Republic. In saner climes where morality and seriousness is attached to governance, the minister should have resigned a long time ago to allow unrestrained investigation.
As it stands, Pantami’s likely resignation and possible prosecution over his past has been confined to the dustbin as stated in that presidential statement. What the government should have done is to maintain neutrality, or at best, encourage Pantami to resign. By declaring that the cleric is a patriot who is being persecuted by haters over his numerous achievements as minister is an exercise in absurdity.
Lest we forget, Pantami’s ministerial portfolio is crucial to the security of citizens. Apart from attempts to replace BVN with NIN that is being handled by the ministry, there have been accusations that the NIN exercise is used to capture details of non-Nigerians. Some Nigerians fear that if NIN is allowed to replace BVN, then, foreigners, mostly from Niger, Chad, Cameroun, among others, could attain citizenship without any stress. Attempting to sweep the Pantami’s sordid story by alleging that his present woes is hinged on some attempts by telecommunication companies to paint him black is garbage. Covering the stench of the Pantami’s rumpus won’t make it go away. If the Federal Government had thought it wise to suspend the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, in April 2017 over the N200 million grass cutting project, why is the Federal Government not applying the same treatment on Pantami?
Nigeria is a secular state and the killing of a citizen on account of his religious persuasion should not be allowed to go unprobed. Presently, Pantami has become an open sore that must be treated for all citizens to acknowledge that the Buhari-led government is concerned with the welfare and safety of all Nigerians, no matter their ethnic or religious divides.
Members of the National Assembly must rise from their slumber and begin an inquest into the various allegations that have trailed this saga. Running a democracy without the effective role of the legislative arm is defective and give rise to the emergence of a group that has the capacity to subjugate transparent governance. Our lawmakers must render themselves effectual by asking tough questions on ministerial nominees to ascertain their competence and past records in order to avoid a repeat of another Pantami.
A vigilant National Assembly could have saved us the tension-soaked episode involving the troubling exposure of a once flaming cleric’s past in a nation that is threatened by religious intolerance.