In the African societies some of us sprouted from, it is common to see grannies passing the traditional beliefs, customs and stories of communities through the generations by word of mouth. This is often done at night after the hustle and bustle of the day; what we now call bedtime stories. Whereas this is done to inculcate positive values, there are individuals in some societies that deploy that moonlight atmosphere to concoct false stories just to indoctrinate their young and upcoming generations. It is to the latter class that the world owes the trouble spots dotting many landscapes across the globe. These same elements exist in governments and corporations in Nigeria and elsewhere.
The decision to join the league of those commenting on what others have dubbed the face-off or public spat between the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, on one hand, and the chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Hon. Abike Kafayat Oluwatoyin Dabiri-Erewa, on the other, is, for me, a very difficult one, basically because I don’t like commenting negatively on media colleagues.
Of course, there are colleagues who no longer see Abike Dabiri’s 15 years’ stint in the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) as making her a journalist, not just because she has since “crossed to the other side” (a derogatory term for those in government), but for her sponsorship of a bill to repeal the Nigerian Press Council Bill and replace it with the Nigerian Press and Journalism Council Bill, in 2009. The bill was roundly condemned and aptly seen as an attempt to gag the media. Though she vehemently denied the charge in a TV programme on November 30, 2009, the allegation has somehow stuck.
When, in 2017, Abike stirred the hornet’s nest by engaging in her first known public spat with Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, the gentleman Minister of Foreign Affairs, I was one of those who stood with and by her. This was even more so when a veiled reference was made to her being ridiculed by the minister because she was a woman. I am a man who has tremendous respect for womenfolk, perhaps because, almost 40 years down the line, I keep longing for my doting mother who I lost when I was barely 11 years old.
Fast-forward to May 2020, and the same Abike Dabiri is still using the same feminist strategy to garner support in her public spats, this time with Communications Minister Pantami, who she now accuses of being a misogynist.
“You did that to me because I am a woman,” Abike Dabiri childishly wrote on her Twitter handle penultimate week. For added effect, she also audaciously claimed that Pantami‘s “disrespect for women is legendary.” Earlier in the same Twitter rant, she went to the ridiculous extent of calling Pantami a liar. It was a strategy that somewhat worked very well for Abike in her public fight with Minister Geoffrey three years ago.
For those who are just reading of the fight the Abike woman is picking this time around, let me give a brief background. On May 15th instant, the NIDCOM boss wrote a letter to Pantami asking for retrieval of items “carted away” as a result of what she referred to as “seizure” of NIDCOM’s offices at the NCC Annex Headquarters, Jabi, Abuja, which she alleged was ordered by the minister.
Earlier on, in February this year, she wrote a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari against Minister Pantami on the same matter. Unfortunately for her, the President, obviously better informed of the reality on the ground, did not find any merit in what she wrote, and chose not to dignify it with a reply. Some online media platforms, perhaps sponsored, erroneously went to the ridiculous extent of blaming Malam Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Buhari, of sitting on the petition she sent. The man is no more alive to defend himself, but even if that was true, Abike ought simply to have used the opportunity of another man now being in the saddle to write a letter of reminder to the President.
Instead of her to do that, perhaps recalling the sympathy she had generated when she engaged Onyeama in a public spat three years ago, Abike decided to go to the marketplace with her condemnation of what she alleged Pantami did, calling the minister all manner of names and, in the process, subjecting the Buhari administration to serious ridicule. Now, courtesy of Abike Dabiri, even the opposition PDP is somewhat celebrating the fight, and all manner of compatriots opposed to the Buhari administration are busy saying all sorts of negative things against the government of the day, with many of them mischievously encouraging her on to say more.
But let’s analyze Abike’s claims and see whether they could pass any integrity test. Her major claim of Pantami unilaterally seizing the office allocated by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to the agency she heads was disclaimed by NCC itself. In a statement personally signed by Dr. Henry Nkemadu, director, public affairs, NCC, the agency wrote that its attention was “drawn to a video making the rounds on social media alleging that the Nigeria Diaspora Commission was ignominiously thrown out of the NCC building. It is, therefore, important that the general public is acquiesced with what really transpired with regard to the incident leading to the evacuation of the Diaspora Commission from the NCC building.
“Following the completion of the NCC building at Mbora, Abuja, designated as NCC Annex and the acute shortage of accommodation space for the staff of the commission in the NCC head office at Maitama, Abuja, the board of the commission directed the decongestion of the head office building. Some of the departments of the NCC had started moving to the new office complex of five floors when discussions were held between the NCC and the Diaspora Commission to enable the Diaspora Commission also utilize any free offices within the complex. The fifth floor allocated to them had to be used to accommodate other departments from the NCC headquarters to ease the congestion. NCC’s offer to house the Nigeria Diaspora Commission was predicated on the long held position of the NCC that agencies of government will achieve more through strategic collaboration, partnership, synergy and sharing to the extent allowed by relevant laws.
“During this period, the NCC secured approval for the commissioning of the office complex by the President, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, and the launching of four important projects of the NCC and the renamed Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (FMC&DE):
1. Launching and unveiling of the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2020-2025;
2. Commissioning of the Communications and Digital Economy Complex;
3. Launching of the Emergency Communications Centre and Toll-Free number 112; and
4. Flag off of the Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training
These important projects were a culmination of extensive collaboration between NCC and the other parastatals of the FMC&DE and fittingly the complex was renamed the Communications and Digital Economy Complex in tandem with the new drive of the Federal Government towards a digital economy.
“The NCC has not withdrawn the offer but had hiccups arising from the preparation for the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the Communications and Digital Economy Complex and launch other projects relating to the mandate of government. The board and management of the NCC took a decision to ensure that every activity in the building was in line with the Federal Government’s digital agenda.
“Incidentally, after the offer of the office spaces to the Diaspora Commission, the director-general, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had not visited the complex to take possession of any of the offices and also the commission had not started using any of these spaces as offices.
“As is usual in ensuring security and accountability before, during and after presidential visits, the building had to be cleared to allow for only known and identifiable persons to have access within the complex. Therefore, the Honourable Minister of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, could not have sent armed men to drive the staff of the Diaspora Commission out of the Communications and Digital Economy Complex.
“At this time, only NCC staff were accredited to have access within this premises as required by the security officials. All the properties belonging to the Diaspora Commission are safely warehoused in some of the offices in the complex. This is contrary to the position of the director-general of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa that the removal of her commission from the building was punitive. This is not the correct position and we agree with her that there are always challenges in every human activity but the unforeseen challenges that arose in this case are not different and require understanding of all concerned.”
What, then, is my sister Abike Dabiri talking about? Of course, there are people who are saying that the NCC is bound to say this because it operates under the Ministry of Communications that Pantami heads. Strangely, these same people have forgotten that the NCC is a semi-autonomous body headed by a professor who is nobody’s yes man.
The allegation of Pantami being a misogynist is also thoroughly wicked and preposterous. Luckily, the minister doesn’t have to go far to fully defend himself in this score. He is an Islamic scholar of note, whose preachings are everywhere in the marketplace, more so on the Internet. There is a group that has challenged Abike Dabiri and her followers to produce even one instance where Pantami looked down on women or said anything that suggests his disrespect for the womenfolk. Islam as a religion holds women in the highest esteem, and Pantami as a scholar of distinction is on record to have relayed this a countless number of times in his preachings.
It is all available in CDs and on the net, which every doubting Thomas could easily have access to.
Predictably, so many people have come to the defence of Minister Pantami, definitely not because he is a serving Minister of the Federal Republic, but mainly because they are beginning to see in Hon. Abike Dabiri, a woman who is given to picking unnecessary fights with her superiors. They are seeing in the woman, a tendency to insult her superiors and then rush behind feminism to generate undeserving sympathy. It is rather shocking that a woman who rose to membership of the House of Representatives could not see that she is, by her actions, openly biting the fingers that feed her, as she is subjecting President Buhari who appointed her to her current post to all manner of insults and ridicule.
Commenting on the matter, a good friend and colleague, Maiwada Danmallam, the respected public affairs analyst wrote as follows:
“First, it was a video planted in Sahara Reporters in which Abike Dabiri tried to give lie a whole new meaning beside taking it to a new level which, even in Nigerian context, is akin to changing the meaning of shamelessness. The highest point of the video and perhaps, its intendment, was the mocking of Dr. Pantami’s appointment, “Minister of Digital Economy” which she mentioned with obvious disdain and disrespect and of course, with clear motive of humoring.
“Not done with trying to drag Dr. Pantami into a childish and unnecessary controversy, Dabiri took to her Twitter handle calling him names the least of which was a liar! This is the lowest any senior government official could go. Even among mates in the Abuja corridors of power this is an all time low! Dr. Isa Ali Pantami is a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria appointed by President Buhari. The Ministry he is heading, hitherto known as Ministry of Communication, was upgraded by President Buhari to Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy. If anybody should be mocked for giving Nigeria’s digital economy the serious attention it deserves or for domiciling this responsibility rightly under the Minister of Communication, it couldn’t be Minister Pantami who is just an employee but President Buhari who deemed it fit to upgrade the Ministry and also, deemed it fit to appoint Dr. Pantami as its Minister.
“If anything, this is the clearest challenge to President Buhari’s competence and sense of judgement and, by no less a person than one of his most visible appointees, Abike Dabiri. Even to Dabiri who has been going about as if she’s the next best thing to happen to this administration after the merger that brought it into power, this is repulsive, obnoxious and unforgivable. Dabiri’s level of arrogance and disrespect is the least expected in an administration built on the basis on which the Buhari administration was built. Not only in this administration, even in a “beer parlour” situation there’s seniority and for a head of an agency to take to Twitter insulting a Federal Minister, it couldn’t be anything but a deliberate plan to embarrass the administration.
“The gender card isn’t any less nonsensical and bizarrely smart in a silly way. It was a mere effort to mobilize angry venomous, cheap and out of business pseudo-activists like Aisha Yesufu against Sheikh Pantami otherwise, Dabiri couldn’t have missed the tons of videos saved for her on YouTube not only confirming Sheikh Pantami’s subscription to gender equality viz-a-viz rights and dignities of women but also his generous contributions to inculcate these values into Nigerians. He is the least qualified to be accused of hostility towards women much less, Dabiri that’s almost a man given her “over sabi” and unnecessary onslaught against Nigeria’s menfolk.
“In any case, If Dabiri was not attacked as a woman for maneuvering to upgrade herself from a SSA Diaspora to the Chairman/CEO Diaspora Commission, I don’t see why anybody will attack her as a woman not as a liar when she lied! No! A bike Dabiri was not attacked for being a woman but for being a liar! Actually, she wasn’t even attacked by Minister Pantami. She put his honor and integrity on the line by concocting things that were not which, if left unaddressed could harm his reputation and he responded in as assertive manner as needed to protect or redeem his image. By the way, how is it an attack when a liar is called a liar?
“Lastly, if it’s beyond Abike Dabiri to understand the dangers of reducing issues of governance into mere subjects of Twitter debate, then i can only pray for Nigerians in diaspora whose fate is put in her hands. This may explain why attacks on Nigerians in places like China and South Africa are still lingering while she’s busy wearing a mouthful tag of “Chairman/CEO Diaspora Commission.”
I cannot help joining well-meaning Nigerians calling on the Buhari Administration to put a permanent stop to these kinds of shenanigans. You cannot be blackmailing the same government you are serving just because you can conveniently garner undue sympathy by invoking feminism. We are all born of women and no man worth the name should look down on women. But then the role of the man in the family system is also indispensable. Women are also not known as aggressors. They are the embodiment of love and peace. Any woman that deviates from these deserve no sympathy from anyone. The highly-placed individuals that Abike Dabiri is attacking are human beings also worthy of respect.
There are those who believe Abike Dabiri is being used by some vested interests in the same government to bring down Minister Pantami, as a continuation of their war with him since the Digital Economy aspect that they thought they had monopoly over was added to the Communications Ministry by the Federal Government. While this may sound a little far-fetched, the fact remains that there are people who can go to any length to bring down the system once they don’t get what they want.
There is no doubt that these people are fighting dirty to bring down Pantami. For them, it doesn’t matter that Africa’s biggest economy stands to take a big bite of the global digital economy that is now worth an estimated $11.5 trillion. They are not happy that Pantami is getting it right in his determination to get Nigeria extract maximum benefit by his strengthening of its digital infrastructure, unlocking investment, boosting skills training for its youthful population, and implementing reforms to create jobs and reduce poverty.
The digital economy is developing at an exponential rate globally. It is the single most important driver of innovation, competitiveness and growth. For a country like Nigeria with a huge population of small and medium-sized enterprises, this is an area that holds huge potentials for entrepreneurs and economic transformation. It is key to President Buhari’s hope of taking 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.
The government can therefore Ill-afford to be distracted by one of its own. I dare say that unless the Buhari Administration stops this woman and her likes in their tracks, they could end up attacking the President with devastating effects one day. A stitch in time saves nine.