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Pantami and the abuse of the pantomime

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Dr Isa Ali Pantami


In its broad usage, pantomime means “silent acting”. It is the form of dramatic activity in which silent motion, gestures, facial expression and costume are relied upon to express emotional states or narrative situations. The unspoken body rhythm of President Muhammadu Buhari was once touted as his body language. Recognising him to be taciturn, dour-faced and expressionless, certain jingoists had assured us they could correctly decode him. His inclination to be reticent or to be temperamentally un-talkative ironically earned for him the acclamation of a no-nonsense man who would do what he would do no matter the pressure or direction of enlightened public opinion. Buhari was understood to be silently acting in the interest of the public good.

It is to be observed that many Fulani state actors are by nature not voluble or are halting in speech. Only a proper study or a correct reading of their gestures or unspoken grimaces may reveal their true intentions. Some have interpreted this disposition as being artfully cunning or secretly mischievous. Whatever deductions we may make from our interpretation of this queer habitual countenance for expressing contempt, complacency, disapproval or condemnation, we are most likely only able to come up with value judgments. The average Fulani elite is generally perceived as subtle even as many discerning people are quick to assert that he is indifferent to pressures for controlling his personal or political conscience. His obvious indifference to the demands of office testifies graphically to the public view of the Fulani public office holder. He is able to spurn even the unconscious influences that bear on ordinary men. But he is wrong to give the impression that one’s occupation, vocation, activities, etc. have no psychological influence upon perceptions of public policy.

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There is a sense in which the public perception of Buhari relates to his disregard of the yearnings of the people for a better administration of the polity, to his continuing drive against political “radicals”, his near-emasculation of the political or economic pro-restructuring mass, and his acquiescence to a dual standard of justice for regional autonomy agitators, etc. Buhari has been wholly silent; he has been ominously silent. Many newspaper contributors have elaborated on these kindred themes in several articles. Buhari has either failed to speak on the nagging issues of domestic politics or has taken refuge in anti-liberal position. Many times, he has contented himself with the hackneyed repetition of hollow shibboleths of his media office and its handlers; and of his rabid party supporters. One is careful not to solely relate Buhari’s attitude to the many flops and flaws of his administration. It is not impossible that President Buhari himself resents the suggestion that anyone of his party men or of his cabinet could control or otherwise influence his political conscience. But what is more worrisome is Buhari’s troubling taciturnity or his implacable dis-inclination to speak.

When a person who has a natural make-up only for terse statements suddenly finds favour with loquaciousness and unbridled vituperations, he steps out of himself and runs contrary to his nature. He is bound to make a free fall of himself. His problem is further compounded as he espouses a vile philosophy or prophesises a dangerous creed. Sheikh Isa Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, has betrayed or exposed the surreptitious under-pinnings of philosophies that are contrary to nation building efforts and that have held us down in the patriotic challenge of building a virile country. Unknown to many, Pantami has had a tract record of religious militancy. He has espoused Salafism as a way of life. His sectarian views have pitted persons against one another. It is alleged that at the Tafawa Balewa University at Bauchi, the peace of the university was disturbed as a fatwa was pronounced on a student who was cited to have distributed on campus Christian religious tracts containing an alleged denigration of Islam or of its Holy Prophet. The poor student was allegedly stoned to death. Pantami’s incendiary preachments have reportedly earned him not only denunciation even among colleague clerics but have also made him persona non-grata in certain civilised communities of the faithful.

Pantami’s bigotry is notable. His brusque treatment of suave Abike Dabiri Erewa, Chairman/CEO of Nigerian in Diaspora Commission, over the beneficial use of office space quartered in the Ministry of Communication gives the impression of a man whose orientation under the fiery Saudi preacher, Muhammad Ibn Uthaymin, is truly infective and runs deep. Uthaymin’s disdainful regard of the place of the modern woman is exemplified, for example, in his objection to her being seen in public places or his opposition to her driving a vehicle on the road. Pantami could not stand the sight of a woman DG within the precincts of his premises. In spite of all these, the Presidency has curiously cleared Pantami of all he had been accused of and all of which he has himself admitted as true. He has asked for forgiveness, saying all he did were done in times of ignorance and under a youthful or rascally exuberance. In a non-sequitur clearance of Pantami however, the Presidency mischievously ignored the grave charges against him. It embarrassingly drew a red herring. It alleged that certain persons were responsible for the self-inflicted plight of the beleaguered Pantami. It further said it was investigating its hunch. The only “offence” Pantami may have committed, the Presidency has suggested, is that he was working in the interest of the ordinary people of Nigeria. Argumentum ad hominem in the face of serious, direct and incontrovertible evidence!

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Sometimes, the implications of our choices are hard to anticipate. And sometimes we are thinking only in the moment. More important than what the Buhari administration brandishes are the qualities or lack thereof that may be seen in the life of the government. What words would it like others to use to describe it?

Any person who is not in the public arena by way of holding a public office reserves the right to choose how he conducts his personal life. He may choose, for example, not to shake hands with women, not to talk to them or not to recognise their presence in a gathering as to pay them compliments. As a public man however, he is obliged to maintain official protocols like shaking hands at the introduction to him of guests, etc. Pantami, even as a public figure has reserved to himself the personal predilection of not shaking women or recognizing them in the order of protocol.

There is a general acknowledgement of this government’s dual standard of justice. The Presidency’s dismissive treatment of the Pantami affair is one loud evidence of the Buhari administration’s double standard even as it smugly carries on with the invidious policy of what is good for the goose is not to be tolerated for the gander. The Presidency’s clearance of Pantami is gauche; it is un-intelligent. It is unacceptable in a democratic environment.

It is only proper for the government to reverse its decision on Pantami by promptly relieving him of his office because his case has become an embarrassment to the Buhari government, to Buhari himself and to our professed fight against terrorism. It also embarrasses our claim to secularity.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote vide lawgravitas@gmail.com

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