The Nigerian presidency says it “stands behind” a beleaguered minister who faces demands for resignation after the extreme Islamic views it had in the past have recently come to light.
Isa Pantami, minister of communications and the digital economy, and also a famous Muslim cleric, expressed favorable views for groups such as al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.
In one sermon from the 2000s he said he considered al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden a better Muslim than he was, and in another he said he was happy when infidels were massacred.
Recordings of him expressing these views began circulating on social media last week, leading to requests for resignation or dismissal from President Muhammadu Buhari.
But in his first reaction since the beginning of the saga, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said the minister was “subject”[ed] to a “cancellation campaign” “.
“In the 2000s the minister was a man of about twenty; next year he will turn 50. Time has passed and people and their opinions – often rightly – change”, reads the statement.
The minister also attempted to drop his past views over the weekend, telling a local newspaper that some of the comments were based on his “understanding of religious issues at the time” and that he changed several positions “based on new evidence and maturity”. .
But that hasn’t stopped requests for layoffs or resignations with many using the #PantamiMustGo hashtag on Twitter to express concern about his access to sensitive data as a communications minister.
It was also defended with the hashtag #PantamiMustStay as the issue revealed the religious and ethnic lines in this multi-ethnic country.
What exactly did Mr. Pantami say?
There has been a steady stream of new evidence of the views he held in the past, and the latest are the documents that appeared online on Wednesday.
The documents allegedly come from a 2010 meeting he chaired at the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), a major Islamic body, where it was agreed that Christians should be prohibited from building churches in city centers in northern Nigeria, in Muslim majority population although millions of Christians also live there.
Audio and video recordings of Mr. Pantami’s ardent prayers and sermons have also emerged at different stages of his career as an imam. In one sermon he volunteered to lead a Sharia police force, Hisbah, to Shendam in the Plateau state, where there had been a deadly religious conflict, to fight in defense of the Muslims.
In a 2006 speech, Pantami publicly offered his condolences after the death of al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
In an audio clip, where he talks about the Nigerian army’s war against Boko Haram, he appears to be on the verge of tears as he passionately describes the militants as “our Muslim brothers” who did not deserve to be “killed like pigs”.
In another audio recording, he declares that he is always happy when infidels are massacred.
He did not deny the authenticity of these texts, audio and video clips.
What did the government say?
The Nigerians were waiting for a reaction from the government and it came Thursday via a presidential spokesperson.
Garba Shehu, who speaks for President Buhari, said the administration “is behind Minister Pantami”.
“The minister rightly apologized for what he said in the early 2000s. The views were totally unacceptable then, and would be just as unacceptable today if he repeated them,” he said in a statement he also shared on his Twitter account:
But critics pointed out that the minister was already 30 when most of his controversial statements were released and therefore was fully aware of the ramifications.
The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) tried to discuss Pantami’s views in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, but was blocked by the ruling party.
Why are these views coming to light?
It started as a rumor last week when a local newspaper reported that Mr. Pantami had been placed on a US checklist for his alleged links to terrorism.
There was no confirmation from the United States and Pantami threatened to sue the newspaper and others who led the reports, leading to a retraction and an apology.
But a series of audio and video clips of Pantami making provocative comments have since been posted on social media.
There were also extensive reports from the Nigerian online newspaper Peoples Gazette.
An old Wikileaks document was also re-circulated that quoted a US diplomatic cable from Mr. Pantami thrown out of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi state and a mosque in Gombe for preaching inflammatory rhetoric.
There were also social media posts about his time at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University where Mr. Pantami, as a cleric of a local mosque, was accused of instigating the gruesome murder of a Christian student leader who preached on campus.
Mr. Pantami denied these allegations and also said he was never fired from the university.
He told the local newspaper, Premium Times, that people opposed to the introduction of a mandatory national identification number, which would be required to obtain a cell phone number, were the ones who attacked him.
Who is Isa Pantami?
The 48-year-old is currently Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy
Previously he was head of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA)
From the state of Gombe in northeastern Nigeria, where he began his training at the Tsangaya Koranic schools popularly known as almajiri
He holds a PhD from Robert Gordon University, Scotland, but also studied in Saudi Arabia
He is the head imam of the popular Al Mannar mosque in Abuja, where he still conducts annual teachings during the Ramadan fast.
Why are some Nigerians so worried about Pantami?
As head of the communications ministry, he oversees the agencies responsible for databases of Nigerians and expatriates in the country.
Some people have expressed concern that a minister with a past sympathy for Islamist militant groups has access to such critical data.
Mr. Pantami also oversees the web infrastructure for most of Nigeria’s ministries and government agencies, military, intelligence agencies, and satellite infrastructure that provides aviation communications and navigation support.
The backlash he’s facing appears to be largely on social media.
Offline, regular Nigerians are less concerned about the minister’s past views and he has received support from Muslim groups in the north, many of whom do not share his extreme views of the past but say his apologies are proof that he is a man. changed.