Those pushing for the removal of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, were on Thursday rebuffed by the presidency, which told them that the minister will remain in office since he has apologised for his past radical Islamic views and turned over a new leaf.
Pantami has been in the eye of the storm for some comments he made in the past which were considered to be supportive of terror groups, including Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Boko Haram, triggering a rash of calls for his resignation.
Although the minister recanted the views, laying it at the doorsteps of youthful exuberance, his traducers became more stringent in their push for his ouster.
He got a reprieve yesterday when the presidency accepted his recant.
“The minister has, rightly, apologized for what he said in the early 2000s. The views were absolutely unacceptable then and would be equally unacceptable today, were he to repeat them. But he will not repeat them – for he has publicly and permanently condemned his earlier utterances as wrong,” the presidency said in a statement by presidential media aide, Malam Shehu Garba.
In the 2000s, it explained, the minister was a man in his twenties and that next year he would be 50.
“Time has passed, and people and their opinions – often rightly – change,” it stated firmly.
The presidency fingered ICT companies who have been adversely affected by recent policies of the government, spearheaded by the minister, for what it called a ‘cancel campaign,’ dismissing it as an attempt to smear him.
It said the minister has done well on his job and deserves nothing but commendation.
According to the seat of power, “The Minister has been leading the charge against illegal data deductions and pricing; he has revolutionized the government’s virtual public engagement to respond to COVID-19 and save taxpayers’ money; he has established ICT start-up centres to boost youth entrepreneurship and create jobs; he has changed policy to ensure locally produced ICT content is used by ministries, starting with his own; and he has deregistered some 9.2 million SIMs – ending the ability for criminals and terrorists to flagrantly use mobile networks undetected. In two short years, Minister Pantami has driven the contribution of the ICT sector to the GDP to more than 18 per cent, making it one of the top two playing a critical role in the emergence of the economy from the COVID 19-induced recession.”
Putting the removal of Pantami completely out of the equation, it said: “The administration stands behind Minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services.”
It had some strong words for the ICT companies it accused of attempting to arm-twist the minister: “There is now well-reported information that alleges newspaper editors rebuffed an attempt to financially induce them to run a smear campaign against the minister by some ICT companies, many of which do indeed stand to lose financially through lower prices and greater consumer protection.
“The government is now investigating the veracity behind these claims of attempted inducement, and – should they be found to hold credence – police and judicial action must be expected.”
Deji Elumoye in Abuja