As controversy continues to surround the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, over alleged links to terrorist groups, the Presidency has come under severe criticism for backing the embattled senior government official.
Pantami, in one of his old sermons that resurfaced recently, praises notorious terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, and also speaks highly of terrorist network Al-Qaeda. However, he recently apologised for his extremist views, claiming he had since changed.
But the Presidency, in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Thursday, said, “The administration stands behind Minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services.”
However, a cross-section of Nigerians, including members of the House of Representatives, the Nigerian Bar Association, and the Christian Association of Nigeria, slammed the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), for protecting an alleged terrorist sympathiser.
The minority caucus in the House of Representatives criticised the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, for faulting how the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, called for a debate on the issues around the embattled minister.
Opposition lawmakers argued that Elumelu came on the right order, saying Gbajabiamila should not have prevented a debate on the call.
The caucus also condemned the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, for allegedly insulting Elumelu, asking the House spokesman to apologise to the Minority Leader.
According to the caucus, while “standing with millions of Nigerians,” it “demands that the Speaker should immediately act on the prayers of the motion by conveying the same as the position of the House to Mr President, having accepted the appropriateness of the procedure and taken legislative note of the prayers therein.”
The spokesman for the caucus, Francis Agbo, on Friday, said this in a statement titled ‘Isa Pantami: Elumelu’s Motion Properly Presented on the Floor – Minority Caucus Replies House Spokesman…Caucus Insists on the Resignation of Minister Isa Pantami…Calls on House Spokesman to Apologise to the Minority Leader over His Reckless Statement.’
The statement read, “Our caucus will not condone any unwarranted attack on any of our colleagues, let alone the Minority Leader, who is doing very well by speaking the mind of the silent majority of Nigerians, who have no platforms to speak out.
“In any case, we are aware that Hon Kalu was not in plenary when the motion was moved. We expected him to have consulted the rule book before attacking the Minority Leader, for we believe if he had done that, he would have saved the 9th House of Representatives the embarrassment his statement has caused.
“We, therefore, demand that Hon Kalu should withdraw his statement and tender an unreserved apology to the Minority Leader and Nigerians for misrepresenting the rules of the House.”
However, in its response, the House issued a statement titled ‘Isa Pantami: Elumelu’s Improper Presentation – House Refuses to Withdraw Statement and Reiterates Zero Tolerance of Terrorism in Any Kind,’ insisting that Elumelu failed to comply with the rules guiding presentation of motions on the floor of the chamber.
In the statement, Kalu dismissed the arguments by the opposition lawmakers, insisting that the rules of the House must be followed.
The statement partly read, “The House acknowledges the severity of the issue and its nature as a matter of public concern. As always, the House stands ready to give audience to Rep Ndudi Elumelu or any other member of the House on this issue, provided that such audience is sought through the proper channels and brought under the relevant rules of the House.
“The relevant issue raised by Hon Elumelu, which is of national importance, is inadmissible under privileges for what it seeks to address, since matters under privilege, once breached, must be personal and internal to the House.
“This is why all matters of privilege are sent to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, not to the President directly as the House resolution, as alleged by the yet-to-be-tutored ‘spokesman’ of the minority caucus. One wonders what the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges will be doing with the sack of Pantami.”
CAN questions Buhari’s willingness to fight terrorism
Meanwhile, the apex Christian body in the country has called on the Department of State Services, the Defence Intelligence Agency and the National Intelligence Agency to investigate all the allegations raised against Pantami regarding his alleged links with terrorists groups, including Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The Head of Media, CAN, Pastor Bayo Oladeji, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH in Ibadan on Friday, said the Buhari regime had shown a lack of seriousness in the war against terrorism by allegedly turning a deaf ear to the weighty allegations against the minister.
Oladeji said, “The position of CAN is that the DSS, DIA and NIA should investigate the allegations against Pantami. Turning a deaf ear to the allegations against the minister shows that the government is not serious with its counterinsurgency.
“In a civilised society, Pantami ought to have resigned or stepped aside. He should have voluntarily offered himself to be investigated but in Nigeria of today, anything goes.”
The Chairman, Ondo State chapter of CAN, Rev John Oladapo, said the statement credited to the Presidency on Pantami’s link with terrorist groups, was an indication that the Buhari-led Federal Government was supporting terrorism in the country.
Oladapo, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said the statement credited to the Federal Government on the matter was embarrassing, adding that the situation was that of Nigeria versus Nigerians in the fight against insurgency.
The CAN Chairman in Ekiti State, Rev Fr Peter Olowolafe, urged the authorities to do the right thing and learn to promote justice and truth.
Similarly, the PFN described the position of the Presidency to the allegation against Pantanmi as a mockery of Nigeria and its people, adding that the minister ought to have resigned from office to allow proper investigations carried out into the allegations against him.
The National Publicity Secretary of PFN, Bishop Emmah Isong, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday, stated that the allegation of a terrorism link should not be overlooked by any government serious about fighting terrorism.
NBA, PDP, CSOs, others say Pantami must go
In a related development, the Nigerian Bar Association criticised the Federal Government over Pantami’s stay in office, saying the regime should not be seen as having sacred cows.
The National Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Dr Rapulu Nduka, told Saturday PUNCH, “I believe that public office is not a child’s play. People occupying it should be accountable. Whether his views have changed or not is between him and God. The government should not be seen as having sacred cows or that some people are untouchable.
“A former Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, resigned when the issue of her NYSC certificate scandal came up. That is better. In fact, it is wrong for people to think that Nigeria revolves around them. That is wrong and it is not true. Nigeria is bigger than any individual. This is quite unfortunate and this leads us to the issue of the Nigerian agenda.
“The Presidency should not act in such a way that people would think that whatever they think or say is of no consequence. The Presidency should not act in such a way to say that the views of Nigerians are not right or are of no consequence. Our leaders should not act in such a way or ask Nigerians to shut up.”
Also, a former Vice President of the NBA, Mr Monday Ubani – raised the alarm over the backing Pantami, received from the Presidency, despite “extremist views, aligning himself with Al-Qaeda and some of the other terrorist groups.”
Ubani added, “That the President doesn’t find anything wrong in his position, I am alarmed. He (Pantami) is now a man with excess baggage and nobody, no matter how much they clear him, will ever trust such a person, whose antecedents are well-known and he has never renounced his views before it was found out recently.
“If he had renounced the views before he was found out recently, that would make me know that the man is truly a changed man. As long as he never renounced his conviction before now that he was found out, I will never believe that he has renounced those views.”
The Peoples Democratic Party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the Presidency’s support for Pantami showed a “desperation to provide official cover to a terrorist apologist.”
Ologbondiyan alleged that it also confirmed “apprehensions that the Buhari administration and the All Progressives Congress are patronising acts of terrorism in our country,” adding that Nigerians were traumatised that the Presidency could mount a “hopeless defence and justification” for Pantami’s actions.
“It is instructive to note that this anti-people stance has heightened public anxiety that the Buhari Presidency is a haven for traitors who are providing support to acts of terrorist activities in our nation.
“Our party holds that this has further exposed why the Buhari Presidency has failed to decisively confront terrorism as well as why terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and insurgents are emboldened to ravage our nation and massacre our compatriots.
“It is inexcusable that the Buhari Presidency is showing grave insensitivity to the fact that thousands of Nigerians have been massacred, maimed and horrified; that hundreds of communities have been devastated and that our nation has been under siege because of the actions and public comments by individuals like Isa Pantami,” the statement read.
While calling for DSS investigation, the PDP urged Buhari to reassure the citizens by immediately withdrawing the statement from the Presidency, relieving Pantami of his position as minister and taking a “bold step to flush out terrorist apologists from the Presidency.”
Similarly, a non-governmental organisation, Centre for Law and Civil Culture, gave Pantami a two-week ultimatum to hand in his resignation and tender an apology to Nigerians.
The centre, in a statement by its Executive Secretary, Abdulganeey Imran; and Chief Strategist, Bayo Bernard, on Friday, said it would resort to legal action should the minister shun its call.
Human rights activist, Mrs Aisha Yesufu, also criticised the Presidency for backing Pantami against the call of many Nigerians for his removal.
Yesufu, in a video posted on Facebook on Friday, said Nigeria should not be seen as a nation that supports terrorism or entrusts the vital information of its citizens in the hands of a sympathiser of terrorist organisations.
“The Presidency is not Garba Shehu. The Presidency is not even Muhammadu Buhari. The Presidency is an institution and that must not be seen in any way whatsoever (as) supporting someone who is now known to have been a terrorist sympathiser. We cannot be a nation that allows people who support terrorism to be out there in the public domain as our public servants.”
Pantami spearheaded policies against terrorism, says aide
But the media aide to the embattled minister, Uwa Suleiman, argued that Pantami had repeatedly kicked against terrorism, which she said was why he spearheaded policies such as the registration of Subscriber Identification Module cards to curb acts of terror.
She also said the current linkage of SIM cards with National Identification Numbers was enforced by the communications minister in his fight against terrorism.
Suleiman said, “One of Pantami’s earliest policies on the registration of SIM cards was aimed at fighting terrorism as it hindered the wanton unregulated sale and registration of SIMs.
“The current NIN/SIM linkage also seeks to further give impetus to that policy. So, how does any right-thinking individual go to the press with apparently contradictory allegations? Who else remembers the threat to life from Shekau arising from the inability to carry on business as usual?”
The minister’s aide, however, did not respond to a question on how Pantami felt about the Federal Government’s position on the allegations against him.
She was also silent on whether the minister would publicly preach against Al-Qaeda and Taliban and their extremist dispositions now.
Adeosun certificate forgery different from Pantami’s case –Shehu
Meanwhile, Shehu has said Adeosun’s crime of alleged certificate forgery is different from Pantami’s extremist views.
The presidential aide, who spoke on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ programme on Friday, said there had been pressure on Buhari to sack Pantami whose controversial sermons had recently gone viral.
Some Nigerians on social media had said it was ironic that Adeosun, a former minister who was accused of forging her National Youth Service Corps certificate, was never supported by the President until she finally caved in to pressure to resign.
Shehu, however, said the Presidency’s response “would have been different” if Pantami had forged his certificate like Adeosun did.
“In the second case, which is that of Pantami, you are probing the thoughts, what is called ‘McCarthyism’; you search the inner recesses of the minds of individuals, bring out things they have said, or they are about to say, or you think they would say, and use that against them.”