WHY HONORABLE DR. ISA PANTAMI DESERVES A NATIONAL HONOUR By Abdullahi Abubakar Lamido

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A lot has been said and written about the well-orchestrated trending campaign of calumny against the vibrant Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Sheikh, Imam Dr. Isa Ali Pantami. A fabricated story was shared by a newspaper linking him to terrorism. The same originator of the story retracted it and apologized, describing it as simply baseless and misleading. Yet some fifth columnists saw in it an opportunity to launch a war against the promising minister. Sadly, some became gullible! 

The mischief makers used the strategy of selectively picking statements from some of Pantami’s old sermons, making mistranslations and interpretations. But who can escape the trap if the same formula of mutilating people’s statements and mistranslating some their selectively picked sentences were to be applied on him as done in the case of Pantami’s old sermons? How many people and nations should we condemn today if we were to judge them by their past? And, by the way, when did it become a sin for one to denounce his past mistakes, join the path of peace building and dedicate his entire life to fighting what he himself used to perceive to be good? Even if he held the position before, isn’t it plausible that he not only denounced it but also declared a sustained intellectual war against it? Wait! Before anybody supported Al-Qaeda it was the US itself that supported and financed it. The US later became its number one enemy. Should we, then, judge the US based on its earlier position and say it is Al-Qaeda’s ally? Back in Nigeria, who was Buhari in the 1980s: a democrat or a fascist? He despised democracy and politicians. After the collapse of communism and the fall of the Berlin wall, and with more maturity in age and experience, he changed completely, embracing democracy and growing to be the most popular politician in Africa. Many Nigerian politicians and intellectuals, as well as the global prophets of democracy, embraced and celebrated his conversion. Fact is, no matter what he believed and uttered as an exuberant university student, Isa Ali Pantami is now a completely changed person. Time modifies views. Exposure adjusts perception. That has been the case with all great men in documented human history. Pantami should even be congratulated for having grown to maturity so early, judging by the short period within which he swapped from emotion-based preaching to an intelligent, eloquent, progressive preaching approach.  

Ordinarily, one wouldn’t care to write on this unnecessary hullabaloo. In fact, when a friend asked me to make a rejoinder to one self-important Atlanta columnist called Kperogi, I told him that not all gibberish merit my attention.  The guy who falsely prides himself as Dr Pantami’s friend, shamelessly asked the minister to apologize for a crime he didn’t commit.  But the same Atlanta noisemaker is someone who for the past six years has consistently bombarded Nigerians with lies, fabrications, unsubstantiated, unverified claims and unprintable abuses in his weekly writings. He has neither repented, nor apologized for that. Preaching what he does not practice! 

It is actually disappointing how “intellectuals” could abandon clear evidences in favor of fabrications. How could they disregard thousands of lectures and lessons of person where he promotes peace, and rather begin to judge him on scattered, often misinterpreted statements he made at young age? It is an accepted standard that actions speaks lauder than voice. But perhaps in Atlanta voice speaks lauder than action. That is why the writer sets conditions for the Hon. Minister to do what he claims other preachers did. ut that shouldn’t be a surprise anyway if it comes from paid fifth columnists disguising as objective journalists and professors. 

One also wonders how a person who has been recognized globally as a peace advocate, an interfaith bridge builder, a fearless anti-terrorism and de-radicalization hero who has sacrificed his life for fighting extremism through intellectualism and good preaching, is now forcefully promoted as an ally of terrorists? In recognition of his contributions towards fighting violent extremism, Sheikh Pantami has been invited by various governments and international organizations for talks and efforts towards ending violent extremism, including the government of Switzerland.  Before joining government, he participated as an invited resource person in dozens of conferences, roundtables and conferences on combatting and preventing violent extremism organized by embassies, regional organizations and so on. He was commissioned to partake in developing policy documents on de-radicalization, and preventing violent extremism. His name reverberates in all meetings and conferences on combatting Boko Haram ideologies as a fearless commander in the intellectual war against terrorism who defeated the founder of the group, saving thousands of youths from extremist tendencies. As someone who has been in the business of interfaith dialogue, de-radicalization, and preventing violent extremism for at least 15 years now, I know this pretty well. I am not analyzing a secondary data here.   

But why all the mischief against Pantami? Why the enmity? It is hard to dismiss the fact that one of his major sins for which he is being witch-hunted is his being a Muslim, an Imam, and a Sheikh who occupies a position that some Islamophobes would never want to see a Muslim occupy. The fact that he, in an unprecedented manner, excellently combines ministerial and “Sheikhical” roles is not palatable to Islamophobes. How could a person leave the venue of the Federal Executive Council Meeting only to go straight to a mosque pulpit for Islamic preaching? They wonder! But this kind of thinking represents a typical case study of religious intolerance. As a pluralist nation, we must accept the fact that a Sheikh can be a Minister and an Imam can be a senator just as a Pastor has the right to be a Vice President and a Reverend Father a governor. Failure to accept living with this reality would continue to cause some people hypertension.

But is this the only reason why the vibrant Minister is being hunted? Even though it is one, there are others. Actually more serious ones. I believe the whole uproar needs to be situated in its proper context; as the calculated diversionary strategy that it actually is, by expert criminals who believe that the best defense is attack. They think by putting the Honorable Minister on the defensive, they would succeed in getting him abandon his long awaited project of linking SIM with NIN, which targets to bring an end to their business of criminality. Here is a Sheikh who has refused to dance to the tune of selfish criminals that have always used their privileges to milk the poor. He has refused to succumb to their corrupt offers. As the first and so far the only Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, he has doggedly pursued digital reforms that are systematically killing their crime economy? 

A major capital of these conflict entrepreneurs is modern communications technology. The indefatigable Minister Sheikh, on the other hand, has insisted on practical strategies that would eventually push them out of business. So for them, the fight against Pantami is the beginning and end of wisdom. It is the only guarantee for their survival in business. He promotes digital economy. They promote criminal economy. They are, simply, irreconcilable antagonists. It is worrying how we have failed to understand their game. Most of the discourse on the saga rather focuses on the shadows, doing the wish of these criminals; trying to defend Pantami on an issue that needs no any defense, rather than insisting on the success of the NIN-SIM and other related projects against their wish.  

What is expected of patriotic Nigerians from the North and the South, Muslims and non-Muslims, the elites and the masses, is to rally around Pantami by supporting the NIN-SIM and other good policies and ensure that together we work towards a better and safer Nigeria. And if the reward for hard work is more work, then what we should be thinking of is not only how to ensure Dr. Pantami succeeds as a Minister but also how to retain him within the influential political class so he would contribute more in making Nigeria a better place for all of us and to inspire young Nigerians towards joining the peaceful movement for better Nigeria.

Dr. Pantami is divinely destined to be a Sheikh, an Imam, a PhD, an international scholar, a NITDA DG and a powerful, promising Minister in Buhari’s cabinet. This is God’s making. No amount of blackmail can change it.  And if God has designed that he would hold a higher rank in the future, this campaign of defamation can only be a facilitator. He is not infallible. He is human. But a uniquely blessed one. Yes, his detractors see him as a man with so many sellable qualities that portend grave dangers to their selfish economic, political and religious interests. He would of course be a subject of envy being a man of faith, knowledge, wisdom, eloquence, hard work, determination, incorruptibility, doggedness, creativity, initiative and “finishiative”, as well as concern for the development of, and creating opportunities for young Nigerians; qualities that have collectively earned him a rapidly growing national political relevance.  But those calling for the resignation or the sack of the Digital Boss are deceiving themselves by dreaming that Buhari would expel the Digital Minister for doing exactly what the retired General invited him from Madina to come back home and do. He has only started. Sky is his limit. If not starting point! No amount of propaganda will make him resign. 

And for the records, Dr. Pantami owes nobody any apology for statements he made over 20 years ago which have been mutilated and deliberately mistranslated. In fact, what Pantami deserves is a national merit award for being consistent in his fight against violent extremism and banditry. He deserves commendations for being the first person to engage the leader of the dreaded Boko Haram in an organized debate that saved thousands of young Nigerians from the group’s dreaded path. He merits national commendation for his doggedness in making life difficult for bandits, terrorists and kidnappers as well as their financiers in the now highly insecure Nigeria. What he deserves are gold medals for his nearly two decades of consistent engagement in peace building, fighting violent extremism, promoting religious tolerance, and building interfaith understanding and harmony. He should be judged and rewarded by his current unequivocal stance against terrorism not based on isolated cases of mistakes he made during his enthusiastic youthful, student age. Patriotic, well-meaning Nigerians should be thinking of giving awards to the energetic Minister who, at the risk of being attacked from every angle by the godfathers, financiers and accomplices of bandits, terrorists and kidnappers, has remained resolute in using technology to end the insecurity that characterizes our dear nation. The wise doesn’t allow himself to be stung twice from the same hole. We should avoid aiding our foes in fighting our friends. We should shine our eyes. #IstandWithPantami#

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