‘Don’t conclude so fast, you may never know what is behind the fact you know.”
–Ernest Agyemang Yeboah
By Cosmas Omegoh
Nigeria’s Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Ibrahim Isa Ali Pantami, is still steeped in controversy. This continues to help him gain optics as a man of a certain hue.
Over the past months, things they said he did, some of them he insisted he didn’t do keep reverberating around him – trusting him deep into the public space.
Until his appointment as a minister, not much was known about him. Now, he keeps grabbing the headlines, compelling his friends and foes alike mobbing the newsstands to know what is next about him.
Days ago, allegation of Pantami’s links with Boko Haram and Al- Qaeda leaders dominated a section of the media. Indeed, a newspaper and some online platforms had made the allegation.
His traducers went ahead to claim that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had placed him on its watch list.
These weighty allegations hauled the watching world into frenzy, forcing opinions to be sharply divided. The social media was mobbed by thousands who could not take any of the allegations. How could these be, they wondered. They kept baying for blood, calling for Pantami’s head. They wanted President Muhammadu Buhari to show him the exit door immediately if he was serious with governance.
Not satisfied, many were said to have hit the road to US Embassy in Abuja. Some sent in their inquiries – all seeking confirmation of what they were hearing. The embassy was said to have issued a terse statement saying: “Thank you for your inquiry; however, we defer all press inquiries on Minister Pantami to the FBI at [email protected]”
On the other hand, a section of people rose stoutly in Pantami’s defence, maintaining that he is such as clean guy who could not hurt even a fly, let alone doing things inimical to the peace and progress of the people and government of Nigeria.
First to rise on Pantami’s defence was Prof Ishaq Akintola of the Muslim Right Concern (MURIC), who called the allegations fake news.
“It is fake news. It is a lie from the pit of Jahannam. It is a product of malice, envy and evil desire concocted in the laboratory of the notorious ‘pull him down’ (PHD) syndrome. It exists only in the imagination of the authors of the evil plan. It will not stand the test of authenticity.
“Pantami is an honest, diligent and uncommon Islamic scholar whose ability to combine his discipline with digital expertise has raised him above his peers and made him an indispensable asset to this country. It is only people with diseased minds who do not want progress for Nigeria that can make such malicious yet false allegation against him,” Akintola said.
The he added that: “In fact, Dr Pantami removed the rug from under the feet of (Mohamed) Yusuf, the erstwhile leader of Boko Haram. This he did in several debates during his days as a university lecturer and those videotapes are still available for all to watch.”
Pantami also received the required oxygen he needed to declare himself righteousness when the FBI declared after an inquiry that: “Consistent with our standard posture, we can neither confirm nor deny whether an individual is on the watch list.”
The newspaper that published the alleged report had gone ahead to apologise to Minister Pantami after his lawyer, Karina Tunyan, SAN, demanded so. The newspaper said: “The minister mentioned in the story, Alhaji Isa Ali Ibrahim, also known as Sheikh Pantami, is not known to be on American Terror Watch List, nor is he linked to terror organisations.
“We regret and sincerely apologise for the embarrassment our story has caused the honorable minister whom we hold in high regard.”
Pantami while exonerating himself from the allegations levelled against him, tweeted: “My lectures against the doctrines and all other evil people have been available for over 15 years, including debates that endangered my life against many criminals in Nigeria.”
While acknowledging the apologies rendered by the media outlets, he further tweeted: “@NewsWireNGR your RETRACTION through your independent investigation, has been noted. However, investigative journalism requires the investigation before publishing, not after.”
Recall that Pantami’s latest travail is coming on the heels of another self-made one: the burden he placed on Nigerians mandating everyone to register and obtain the National Identification Number (NIN) amid the onslaught on COVID-19. He wanted the citizens to comply with the directive before December 31, 2020. And they should proceed to link their numbers to their Bank Verification Numbers (BVN).
In particular, he ordered various networks to yank off every defaulter who could not obtain NIN from their network within the stated time. His action, many insisted, sent the misery of the catastrophic year 2020 going full circle.
But the higher authorities had to wade into the matter before the deadline was extended to May 6, 2021, thus underlining the suspicion that the exercise was probably not subjected to deep thinking.
Till this moment, that registration exercise is still ongoing. Many are still passing through hell to get their NINs. Needless to say very strident criticisms have continued to trail the programme. Despite spirited attempts by the minister and his aides to explain the motive behind the move, many believe that the minister has been economical with the truth. They hold that Pantami has a sinister motive. They are outraged that such a sensitive issue is being handled by Pantami yet Nigerian are not getting full disclosure.
But Pantami has been adamant to the point of being accused of being arrogant. He said lately: “On the issue of NIN-SIM verification to fight insecurity, there is no going back. Our priority as government based on the provision of our Constitution 1999 (as amended) Section 14(2)b is security, not just economy. For sure, (there is) no going back at all.”
Matters like these among others sustain Pantami in public glare. But he keeps forging ahead; he keeps weathering the storm, doing so deftly.