Isa Pantami vs. Nigerians: An Explainer

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Nigerians are calling for the resignation or sack of Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami. This has lasted a one-week period and the outcry is just as unrelenting as when it began.

How did it all begin?
On the 12th of April, Independent Newspaper published an article that claimed that Isa Pantami is on the US terror watch list. Shortly after, a video was circulated by another news outlet, Newswire. In this video, Isa Pantami is having what seems to be a cordial interaction with Boko Haram founder, Mohammed Yusuf, thus linking him with the terrorist group.

All of the above claims were refuted by the minister who made it known, via his Twitter account, that he’ll be seeking retribution for the defamation of his character. It turned out that the video of Isa Pantami talking to Mohammed Yusuf wasn’t what it seemed at first glance. What had seemed like a friendly conversation, was actually a heated debate. Isa Pantami was actually criticizing the belief systems of the jihadist group.

Meanwhile, Newswire published a retraction and deleted the article from their website and social media. Furthermore, Bashir Ahmad, Personal Assistant on New Media to the president, made a statement describing all the claims as false.

How did Nigerians take the news?
Nigerians were having none of it and have been trending the hashtag #Pantamiresignnow. No one wants a suspected extremist in a position of power. Many expressed their distress at Isa Pantami’s ministry being in charge of the National Identification Number (NIN) collection. People expressed the danger of Isa Pantami having access to the national database, especially after it came out that he lobbied for the move of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), from the presidency to his ministry. This act has increased suspicions.

Of course, Isa Pantami had his supporters, including a journalist, popular for his investigations on the former finance minister, Kemi Adeosun. The said journalist asked that Isa Pantami’s past be overlooked, claiming that no one wants their past indiscretions used against them. He (the journalist) was promptly accused of hypocrisy.

In some quarters, the entire situation was twisted into an attack on the North. Isa’s supporters also began to parade David Hundeyin, a freelance journalist who helped circulate the video, as an enemy of the North.

What happened next?
A plot twist was introduced into the whole scenario when a lecture Isa Pantami gave in 2006 was circulated on the internet. In this lecture, he praised the actions of terrorist groups the Afghan Taliban and Al-Quaeda. Other colorful remarks were uncovered from his past, in which he spoke disdainfully about Christians.

The above revelation was followed closely by another piece of evidence further implicating Pantami. The minutes from a Juma’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) meeting he supposedly presided over in July 2010, went viral on Wednesday. In it, Pantami expressed dissatisfaction at the increased influence of Christians, and more importantly, it contained a plot to get rid of the late governor of Kaduna, Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa.

What has the reaction been?
Isa Pantami eventually admitted to having held extremist views in the past, claiming to have denounced them upon enlightenment and maturity. He said that he has dedicated his life’s work to writing and teaching against such views, even helping youths who have gone astray

As for the minutes from the JNI meeting, the Christian Association of Niger (CAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) have released statements declaring the document false. The chairman of CAN, Kaduna State Chapter, John Hayab, said this is an attempt to widen the rift between Christians and Muslims.

Meanwhile, the NSCIA’s deputy secretary-general, Salisa Shehu, also said that the document is false. His claim was made on the grounds that Isa Pantami has never been a member of the JNI and could never have presided over the meeting. He also said that the minutes did not follow the usual protocols, amongst other reasons.

How has the government responded?
Up until yesterday, the presidency has been silent on the brewing unrest surrounding Isa Pantami. This silence, as expected, only increased the levels of suspicions, as well as bred more animosity against the government. The statement that was released yesterday, is not directly from the president, but through Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President.

Essentially, the statement was in support of Isa Pantami. It derided cancel culture, saying that this call for Pantami’s exit from office is resultant of its infestation. Buhari, by proxy, said that Pantami’s past actions were the doings of a young man and shouldn’t be held against the man he is today. It went on to list and highlight his achievements as the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy. According to the statement, this attack on Pantami is the work of criminals who are threatened by his good works. It stated that investigations will be made as to the origin of this attack, with the expectation of judicial action.

What should we expect to happen?
The Federal Government has explicitly stated its support of Isa Pantami. Therefore, not much can be done unless irrefutable evidence links him to terrorist groups in recent times. Once again, the government overrules the people.