BY ISRAEL OJOKO
When the report linking Nigeria’s minister of communications and digital economy, Ibrahim Isa Pantami, to Boko Haram and other terrorist groups first appeared earlier in April, I knew it will lead to public uproar considering the sensitive office the 48-year-old is holding.
The report, though has been taken down, and apology rendered, also said Pantami was consequently placed on the watchlist by the United States of America. No evidence has surfaced as regards that allegation, and even the US has denied it.
Another reason why I knew the story will spread like wildfire is that, for months, the ministry has been under criticism over the SIM card-national identification number (NIN) registration.
One thing I told myself, was to ‘siddon look’ and monitor how things unfold, especially reactions from the man in the middle of the storm and his employers, before writing an opinion, if at all I will.
I have read many news reports that followed the initial one with the minister, in audio and video recordings, making extremist statements. I read Pantami’s response, where he recanted those radical views, saying they were made while he was a youth, based on his understanding at the time.
I also read the reaction of the presidency and the expectedly divided opinions on social media. Some are calling for his resignation, some for his sack, while others rose to his defense.
I must say, that after one month the issue first came into public glare, I am unsurprisingly disappointed. But again, I was quick to remind myself that this is Nigeria. So, I just considered my mental health and drank some clean water.
As the head of Nigeria’s communication ministry, Pantami does not only oversee the database of Nigerians and private companies, he is also in charge of web infrastructure for most government ministries and agencies, armed forces, intelligence agencies, and Nigeria’s satellite infrastructure that provide communications and navigation support for the air force.
What this means, in a sane society, is that the ministry also assists in the fight against Boko Haram terrorist and other security threats by supporting the military, police, and secret service with communication and information before, during, and after a battle against insurgents.
A major concern, therefore, is, whether the head of such a sensitive portfolio should be seen to hold or have held extremist views in the past?
President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesperson Garba Shehu, reacting on behalf of the presidency said: “The Minister has, rightly, apologized for what he said in the early 2000s. The views were absolutely unacceptable then and would be equally unacceptable today, were he to repeat them. But he will not repeat them – for he has publicly and permanently condemned his earlier utterances as wrong.
“In the 2000s, the Minister was a man in his twenties; next year he will be 50. Time has passed, and people and their opinions – often rightly – change.”
This is one of the parts that got me disappointed. At a time the country is going through one of its worst security challenges in history, the federal government chose to look away from the main issue and rise to the defense of Pantami like a parent will do to an ignorant toddler. But Pantami is not ignorant, he was only more vocal at that time (in his 30s) than he is now in his late 40s.
In a country where over 36,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram since its inception a decade ago, careless and inciting statement, whether past or present, that threatens the fragile peace, security, and unity of the country should never be tolerated, irrespective of who said it and when it was said. But that can only happen if this was a sane society.
I was also wondering what was the process that was taken before Pantami assumed office as a minister of the federal republic. If this was a sane society, the national assembly would carry out its job diligently in finding out that a person with Pantami’s antecedent does not deserve a sensitive public office, and he would have been screened out and rejected.
On social media, the divergent view of Nigerians on this issue is not surprising, but what is truly disappointing is to read how some people, in their wisdom, were able to link the call for Pantami’s sack or resignation, to religion or ethnic divide.
I read how many people, from Pantami’s religious and ethnic group, support the 48-year-old and have refused to see that his earlier inflammatory speeches in support of and sympathy with terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, Taliban, and Boko Haram, are real issues not to joke with.
I am not surprised though, because this society has been one with much insanity.
But if this was a sane society, peace, security, and unity will be of priority to the leaders and the led, rather than religion or tribe.
If this was a sane society, Pantami would have been asked to step down to serve as a deterrent to millions of Nigerian youth who would be cautious and know that whatever their words and actions are today, there are repercussions tomorrow.
If this was a sane society, Pantami would have been charged under the EFCC Act, knowing that his combustible and inflammable comments no doubt were intended to cause fear or make any government or bodies abandon a standpoint, induce fear in the public or government.