President Muhammadu Buhari’s avowed war against terrorism had the rug pulled from under it by the rather absurd defence of Dr Isa Pantami, Nigeria’s Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, by the presidential spokesman, Mr Garba Shehu.
Nigerians had made strident calls for Dr Pantami’s resignation or sack following the sordid revelations of his proclivity to global and domestic terrorism and fervent support for its activities represented by the deadly Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Boko Haram organisations through his public lectures and sermons as an Islamic cleric, before his appointment as a minister.
Our compatriots felt that his speeches, as a fully grown adult, before his appointment, revealed a disposition that made it inappropriate for him to hold public office in a secular and multi-faith country like Nigeria.
President Buhari’s spokesman, Mr Garba Shehu, offered a rather lame defence predicated on two fragile prongs of specious logic. He presented Pantami as a victim of a “cancel campaign” being spearheaded by powerful forces in the telecoms industry hell-bent on forcing him out of office over some policy decisions.
The second prong of Mr. Shehu’s incompetent defence was that Pantami was in his twenties when he made those statements in the 2000s and he has rightly apologised for his utterances.
The National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity), views this imprudent and logically-deficient defence of Pantami by no less than Nigeria’s Presidency as an ill-judged action that provides a safe haven for a self-confessed sympathiser of terrorism and the attempted imputation of motives to critics, a transparent ruse to deflect public opinion from the deluge of calls for his resignation or removal from office
The hollow argument that Pantami was in his 20s when he made those inflammatory utterances was a brazen lie from the seat of Nigeria’s government. There is sufficient evidence in the public space that indicate that Pantami who is now 48 years old, was in his 30s and already an adult when he espoused the dangerous Salafist ideology which is one of the bedrocks of global terrorism. There is no proof presented by either Pantami’s personal defence or in Mr Shehu’s impotent allocutus, of where and when, the ‘repented’ Minister actually cut ties from the Salafist doctrine that he so strenuously advocated for several years.
The Presidency’s curious explanation that Pantami’s allegations of being a campaigner of global terrorism is a lesser infraction than the forgery allegation that led to the resignation of the former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, stands logic on its head. This shameful non-explanation strongly suggests that the Buhari administration is so deeply infected with bigotry that the defence of a Minister is informed by factors more primordial than the integrity of governance.
For the avoidance of doubt, we believe that President Buhari’s decision to retain Pantami as Minister despite documented evidence of him being unsuitable for that position in the first place going by all ethical benchmarks that dictates the selection for public officers, is an indication that his appointment and subsequent clearance by the security agencies and the Nigerian Senate was not an happenstance. It is an awful indication of failure in the process of selecting citizens fit for public office and exposes the character deficit of the Buhari administration.
It is heart-breaking that the Pantami controversy has further underscored the appalling level to which governance has degenerated under the Buhari administration. Almost in all facets of governance and its war against terror including intelligence gathering and combat operations, the Buhari administration has repeatedly exhibited gross incompetence, corporate irresponsibility and narrow-mindedness in choices that should not have been taken in the overall interest of the country.
For a country that is ranked third in the Global Terrorism Index; where insurgents have killed an estimated 36,000 persons and displaced two million from their homes according to the United Nations, the Pantami saga presented the Buhari’s Presidency with a rare opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the fight against local and global terrorism and regain public trust. But yet again, the administration in its characteristic culture of impunity could not rise above sectarian interests.
The Presidency’s spurious defence is unsatisfactory and we repeat the urging of millions of Nigerians – Isa Pantami, must go! The Federal Government should underline its commitment to religious plurality and democratic ethos by disengaging this crusader of religious extremism. The more determined the Buhari administration is to ensure Pantami keeps his job, the more the administration becomes insensitive, irresponsible and dishonourable.