#PantamiResignNow: Calls for Nigerian minister to resign over extremist views grow
The calls for Nigeria’s minister of communication and digital economy Dr Isa Ali Pantami to resign over his past extreme religious views continued on Sunday.
48-year-old Pantami, for the first time, on Saturday acknowledged his past views but said he has since renounced those radical comments, Daily Trust reported.
The minister blamed his past radical leanings on age, immaturity and limited knowledge.
“Some of the comments I made some years ago that are generating controversies now were based on my understanding of religious issues at the time, and I have changed several positions taken in the past based on new evidence and maturity,” Daily Trust quoted Pantami as saying during his daily Ramadan lecture at Annor Mosque in Abuja.
“I was young when I made some of the comments; I was in university, some of the comments were made when I was a teenager. I started preaching when I was 13, many scholars and individuals did not understand some of international events and therefore took some positions based on their understanding, some have come to change their positions later.”
His renunciation notwithstanding, more people on social media joined the call for him to resign. His critics said the views he expressed as a university student cannot be blamed on age.
“This is not about age. I was once a teenager too – and I never supported killing people of different religions or beliefs,” a Nigerian lawyer and activist Ayo Sogunro tweeted on Sunday morning.
Sogunro said if Pantami “truly wants to make up for his past,” he should resign and “continue the work of engaging and de-radicalising young jihadis, not handle national affairs.”
Another lawyer and human rights activist Festus Ogun said if Pantami refuses to resign, “we’ll force him out of office by mass action. It is the patriotic thing to do.”
#PantamiResignNow was trending on Twitter in Nigeria on Sunday morning when this report was being written. Days earlier, #PantamiResign also trended.
The beginning of trouble
Trouble began for the minister after Peoples Gazette unearthed his past views which were sympathetic to terrorist organisations.
“We are all happy whenever unbelievers are being killed,” Peoples Gazette quoted Pantami as saying in an audio recording. “But the Sharia does not allow us to kill them without a reason.”
“Our zeal (hamasa) should not take precedence over our obedience to the sacred law.”
Pantami reportedly made the incendiary comments while answering questions on the late Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, who masterminded the destruction of the World Trade Centre. At least 3000 people died when planes crashed into the twin towers of WTC on September 11, 2001.
Pantami initially denied holding any extremists views and chalked down the reports to defamation of character by people miffed by his policies as the minister of communication and digital economy.
But he said on Saturday that he has since been preaching against those extremist views he held more than a decade before he became a minister.
“For 15 years, I have moved around the country while educating people about the dangers of terrorism,” Pantami reportedly said on Saturday.
“I have travelled to Katsina, Gombe, Borno, Kano states and Difa in Niger Republic to preach against terrorism.
“I have engaged those with Boko Haram ideologies in different places. I have been writing pamphlets in Hausa, English and Arabic. I have managed to bring back several young persons who have derailed from the right path.”
Not a stranger to controversies
This is not the first time Panatami is facing controversies.
In May 2020, the chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) Abike Dabiri-Erewa lambasted the minister for disrespecting her because she is a woman.
The disagreement between both senior officials in President Muhammadu Buhari’s government became public after NiDCOM published a video in February 2020 on its Twitter and accused Pantami of masterminding the eviction of its staff from office space at the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) building in Abuja.
NCC is under the control of the ministry Pantami heads.
Dabiri-Erewa doubled down on that claim in an interview with the Nigerian government-owned NTA. The interview was aired on May 22, 2020, and was later published on NTA’s YouTube channel.
Pantami said on Twitter that he was not responsible for the eviction, claiming that the media reports did not tell “a true story.”
He later deleted the tweet.
Dabiri-Erewa, however, insisted that Pantami was to be blamed for the problem, stopping just short of calling the minister a liar.
“An Islamic scholar should not lie Hon Minister,” Dabiri-Erewa tweeted, “You did that to me cos I am a woman. Your disrespect for women is legendary.”
“Left the ugly incident behind me since Feb. But pls release all our office equipment. Public office is transient.”
President is prone to not making decisions about firing his minister quickly anytime they are involved in controversies.
Pantami’s case is not expected to be any different.
Moreover, Nigerian politicians do not have the culture of resigning even there is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoings against them.
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