The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Sunday joined those urging President Muhammadu Buhari to remove the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, for his alleged sympathy for terrorist organisations, including the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.
The party also asked the Department of State Security to invite the minister for questioning.
The PDP demanded that Buhari should immediately show Pantami the door given the sensitivity of the issue at stake.
According to a statement by the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan: “Our party’s position is predicated on the heightening concerns in the public space and in the international arena of possible compromises by the communication minister, who has access to sensitive government documents and information, in addition to data of all individuals, including high profile personalities in the public and private sectors as well as the traditional and faith-based circles.”
The minister’s travails began early last week when a national newspaper amplified social media claims that he had been placed on the watch list by the United States for alleged links to terrorists.
Pantami, however, denied the claim, threatening to sue the newspaper for libel. The paper immediately retracted the story.
The minister would later say in an interview with an online medium that he was being targeted because of his insistence on the National Identification Number (NIN) registration by every Nigerian and foreigner resident in the country, explaining the policy had made life unbearable for criminals.
But that did not deter those who wanted to link him to terrorism as they released, in Social Media, past videos in which Pantami, a well-known Islamic scholar, was reported to have said that while he was against the extremist anti-western ideologies of Boko Haram, he supported some of what Al-Qaeda and Taliban had preached.
“We are all happy whenever unbelievers are being killed,” an online medium quoted Pantami as saying in an audio recording, adding: “But the Sharia does not allow us to kill them without a reason. Our zeal (hamasa) should not take precedence over our obedience to the sacred law.”
Pantami reportedly made the provocative comments in an answer to a question on the late Al Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, who was the mastermind of the destruction of the World Trade Centre in which at least 3000 people died when planes crashed into the twin towers of WTC on September 11, 2001.
Confronted with this evidence of empathy for terrorists, the minister recanted the comments on Saturday, saying that he had changed several positions he had taken in the past based on new evidence, adding that he had become more mature.
According to him, “I was young when I made some of the comments; I was in the university, some of the comments were made when I was a teenager. I started preaching when I was 13, many scholars and individuals did not understand some of the international events and, therefore, took some positions based on their understanding, some have come to change their positions later.”
Pantami said he had made efforts to mend his ways, explaining that the radical views he held in the past had been tempered by fresh knowledge and age.
“For 15 years, I have moved around the country while educating people about the dangers of terrorism,” he said, in apparent remorse, to a national daily in an interview on Saturday.
He added: “I have travelled to Katsina, Gombe, Borno, Kano states and Difa in Niger Republic to preach against terrorism.
“I have engaged those with Boko Haram ideologies in different places. I have been writing pamphlets in Hausa, English and Arabic. I have managed to bring back several young persons who have derailed from the right path.”
But despite Pantami’s recant, the PDP added its weighty voice to the growing demand in the public space for his removal from office.
“The PDP is particularly worried about allegations in the public suggesting that the minister compromised the NIN (national identification number) registration exercise by giving room for the registration of aliens and invaders from other countries as our citizens,” the party said.