The Presidency has defended the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami over the tirades of attacks and public demand for him to resign over alleged extremist views.
In a statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President Media and Publicity Garba Shehu the Presidency said, “This Administration is committed to improving the lives of all Nigerians – and that includes ensuring they are not over-charged or under-protected for those services on which modern life depends.
The statement reads,“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 percent, making it one of the top two playing a critical role in the emergence of the economy from the COVID 19-induced recession.
“In putting people first, the Minister and this administration have made enemies. There are those in the opposition who see success and want it halted by any means.
“And 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 protections.
The statement indicated that government is now investigating the veracity behind the claims of attempted inducement.
“Should they be found to hold credence – police and judicial action must be expected.
“The Administration stands behind Minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services. “
Pantami, last Saturday acknowledged his past views but said he has since renounced those radical comments blaming his past radical posture on age, immaturity and limited knowledge.
“Some of the comments I made some years ago that are generating controversies now were based on my understanding of religious issues at the time, and I have changed several positions taken in the past based on new evidence and maturity,” Daily Trust quoted Pantami as saying during his daily Ramadan lecture at Annor Mosque in Abuja.
“I was young when I made some of the comments; I was in 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 international events and therefore took some positions based on their understanding, some have come to change their positions later.”
His renunciation notwithstanding, more people on social media joined the call for him to resign. His critics said the views he expressed as a university student cannot be blamed on age.
Trouble started for the minister after Peoples Gazette unearthed his past views which were sympathetic to terrorist organisations.
“We are all happy whenever unbelievers are being killed,” Peoples Gazette quoted Pantami as saying in an audio recording. “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 incendiary comments while answering questions on the late Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, who masterminded the destruction of the World Trade Centre.
“At least 3000 people died when planes crashed into the twin towers of WTC on September 11, 2001.
Pantami initially denied holding any extremists views and chalked down the reports to defamation of character by people miffed by his policies as the minister of communication and digital economy.
But he said on Saturday that he has since been preaching against those extremist views he held more than a decade before he became a minister.
“For 15 years, I have moved around the country while educating people about the dangers of terrorism,” Pantami reportedly said on Saturday.
“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.”