Isa Ali Pantami
Isa Ali Pantami

Pantami’s alleged support for terrorism: Does the minister deserve a soft landing?, by Abubakar Alkali

NEWS DIGEST – It is very difficult to comprehend the position of the federal government or better still, its purported tacit support for Dr Isa Ibrahim Pantami, Nigeria’s minister of communications and digital economy in the face of the ground-breaking allegations of his (Pantami’s) support for global terrorism and outlawed terrorist groups.

The incomprehensibility of the federal government’s support for Dr Pantami on this issue is more so when juxtaposed with the position of the law on this matter as contained in the Terrorism Prevention act 2013 which is clear, explicit and unambiguous in section 5(1) (a) and (b) that:

Any person who, knowingly in any manner, directly or indirectly, solicits or renders support-
(a) for the commission of an act of terrorism or
(b) to a terrorist group
hereby commits an offence under this act and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than 20 years.

The law is also clear on what constitutes ‘support’ for terrorism as contained in section 5(2) of the TPA 2013 which states  inter alia that:
For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section, support includes:
(a) incitement to commit a terrorist act through the internet or any electronic means or through the use of printed material or through the disemmination of terrorist information.

The combined effects of section 5 subs (1) and (2) of the TPA 2013 clearly outlined the legal implications of making sweeping pro-terror statements as Dr Pantami is reported to have previously in support of Al- Qaeda, the Taliban and other terror notables such as Mullah Omar, Osama Bin Laden, Abdullahi Yusuf Azzam, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi amongst others.

Nonetheless, some analysts feel that Dr Pantami should be left off the hook having ‘recanted’ and apologised for his pro-terror statements. This school of thought feels that Dr Pantami was ‘too young’ to understand the gravity of his statements at the time. The cleric himself said he was 13 years old when he started preaching but those on the other side said he was 34 years at the time he made the pro-terror statements. Either way, it simply doesn’t carry weight to make a statement out-of-office and recant after two decades while in-office especially as regards religion. The implication here could be understood to mean that Dr Pantami succumbed to the lure of his office and political seat by withdrawing his statements when prompted. That stated, clearly Dr Pantami has expressed penitence and sorrow over his statements. He was clearly remorseful when he made the ‘circumstantial recant at the popular An-Noor mosque in Abuja last week.

In the light of these controversies generated on both sides of the divide- those calling for Dr Pantami to go and those calling for him to stay- the right thing for the federal government to do is to perform a ‘balancing act’ by giving Dr Pantami a soft landing and change of office even if to save itself the unnecessary distraction, embarrassment and heat. I quite honestly think Dr Pantami deserves a soft-landing if the federal government decides to wild the big stick.
In this regard, Dr Pantami being an Islamic scholar, could fit properly and make invaluable contributions to our dear country as a member of the Nigeria inter-religious council (NIREC) whose objectives are to promote religious harmony and sustainable peace in Nigeria.

The office change-over would have resulted in a win-win situation for Pantami, his opponents and proponents.
It is not a demotion from his ministerial seat, it is national service.

Whenever these controversial scenarios present themselves, where you have divided opinion on an issue, the government at the centre normally takes a middle of the road approach such that the interests of both parties are taken into consideration, as much as possible. It is against the tenets of technocracy and democracy for the federal government to take side with one opinion -Pro-Pantami – and leave out the other -Anti-Pantami- even when the other side has presented glaring and incontrovertible evidence – both audio and video- to support their claim of Dr Pantami’s alleged promotion of terrorism through his pro-terror statements and alleged soft spot for terrorist groups and enablers particularly Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
On Boko haram, the widely publicised video of Dr Pantami’s confrontational debate with the late Boko haram leader Mohammed Yusuf lends credence to the fact that he (Dr Pantami) is against the ideology of Boko haram. In that video, Dr Pantami took on Mohammed Yusuf and argued vehemently against the concept of ‘western education is forbidden’ as promoted by Boko haram.  A lot of people felt Dr Pantami won that debate fair and square.

According to Mallam Garba Shehu, the Presidential spokesperson, Dr Pantami is being subjected to a ‘cancel campaign’ (whatever that means) due to his (Pantami’s) good work as a minister particularly on the NIN registration. This is indeed the position taken by the Pro-Pantami groups including the Muslim rights council (MURIC) who asked Dr Pantami not to resign. By and large, Nigerians expect much more than NIN registration from the federal ministry of communications in the face of the current sea of kidnappings-for-ransom across the country. Nigerians expect our communications authorities to create digital infrastructure including the possible use of drones and other digital equipment to identify kidnappers and terrorists hiding in the forests to perpetrate criminality. Today, Nigeria is awash with kidnapped/abducted innocent citizens including innocent students scattered over several forests from Zamfara to Katsina to Kaduna to Ekiti to Ondo Ebonyi to Igangan. The kidnappers use mobile phones yet our communications experts cannot deploy digital technology to locate these criminals and work with the security agencies to stem the tide of growing insecurity threatening to break the back of our dear country Nigeria.

The rumours of a witch hunt of Dr Pantami could well be true as quite clearly, there appears to be a link between the Pantami saga and some key players in the telecommunications industry who felt it is no longer business-as-usual with Dr Pantami as minister of communications. This is further underscored by the introduction of the SIM card registration exercise as part of the giant strides Dr Pantami has taking against terrorists/bandits and other emerging trends in criminality. The registration of SIM cards is a good step. However, the federal government still has an obligation to do the needful and save Nigeria the unnecessary distraction because it is not clear if the Pantami saga willl go away anytime soon.

On a personal note, I don’t think it was right for Dr Pantami to recant the statements he previously made which seem to support terrorism if he actually meant them. Why chicken out if he was sure of what he said?
Dr Pantami’s assertion that he made these pro-terror statements when he was young and immature and/or started preaching at 13 years even made the situation worse. This reason is immature in itself because circumstantial recanting based on immaturity is not admissible in law.

As a matter of fact, my good friend Dr Pantami should have stood his ground and defended his position religiously if he was sure of what he said even if it means costing him his job. As the chief imam of the mosque at ATBU in those days, he couldn’t claim that he doesn’t understand what he was saying at the time.

This analogy gains weight with the understanding that Dr Pantami made those alleged pro-terror statements from the sacred scriptures in the Holy Quran and Hadith. This is not a child’s play of course. Is it that Dr Pantami didn’t understand the holy and sacred scriptures as contained in the Holy Quran and Hadith when he was making these statements during his Khutbahs which he delivered for several years? Is it because of the fear of losing a public office that upon prompting while in office as a minister, he recanted? More questions than answers but one thing is very clear: political office is transient.

The Pantami saga has raised dust indeed over the past week. However, there is the need for leniency. It behoves on the federal government to find a middle ground and a balance to this saga by doing a change-over for Pantami to a more religiously inclined public office possibly at NIREC or any religious department or agency so that he can continue to make positive contributions to the peace and development of our dear country Nigeria.