NIGERIA’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim, also known as Pantami, is busy fighting off those who accuse him of holding extreme Islamic views. He seemed particularly frightened by claims that the United States of America, USA, sees him as an extremist. I laugh at this because America is, in fact, an unrivalled terrorist state with an infamous record of directly invading 84 countries and being militarily involved with 190 of the 193 member states of the United Nations.
In spreading and imposing its extreme imperialist views oiled by its extremist evangelists like former Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, it has fought thousands of battles across the world from Germany to Japan, Cambodia to Iraq, through Laos to Vietnam. America has acted as military protector in countries like Poland, Qatar, Bahrain and Ukraine and has boots on the ground in scores of countries from Pakistan through Qatar to the Antarctica.
The USA which has officially invaded and occupied Honduras seven times, and Nicaragua, scores of times, is mainly responsible for the current conflicts in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan. It carried out quite a few bloody coups around the world such as those against Prime Minister Muhammed Mosaddegh of Iran in 1953, President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954, and President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973. It was involved in the elimination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1961, and toppled the purposeful government of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in 1966.
The USA created and funded the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan to the tune of $3 billion and encouraged foreign youths like Osama Bin Laden to join this movement which overthrew the Afghan government of Mohammad Najibullah. Consequently, anarchism reigned until the student movement, the Taliban, led by former Mujahideen combatant, Mullah Omar, imposed law and order.
Pantami is frightened that he is accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban, which by the way, is quite different from the terrorist Taliban in Pakistan. Although the Afghan Taliban later made mistakes like allowing extremism which resulted in atrocities like its March 2001 blowing up of the twin Sixth Century statues of Buddha, imposing strict Sharia, banning television and allowing Bin Laden to roam freely in the country, its advent was salutary as it restored order and governance. So to support the Afghan Taliban did not mean one was a terrorist.
In my August 6, 2017 column titled: “Mullah Omar is dead, the Taliban lives On”, I argued that Mullah Omar was essentially a disciplined patriot who shunned wealth, publicity and corruption and led by example, including the demystification of power. I also pointed out that the Afghan Taliban had never attacked anyone or target outside its territory. Indeed, till date, the Taliban has only fought for the control and independence of Afghanistan.
If Pantami’s heart and hands are clean, why should he be panicky that a terrorist country is alleged to have put him on its watch list? What Nigerian or international law states that to be on the American watch list is to be a criminal or extremist? Fighters for social justice like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were on the American security watch list, while Angela Davis was actually placed on the ‘Ten Most Wanted’ list. For decades, the USA classified liberation fighters like Nelson Mandela as terrorists, while it planted bombs under civilian ships and in civilian ports in Nicaragua. What is that but terrorism?
As for Boko Haram, Pantami is not in strange company, so he does not need to start sweating over whether he once supported Boko Haram. His principal, President Muhammadu Buhari once complained against members of that terrorist group being killed by the government.
The minister has also intimidated the Daily Independent Newspapers into withdrawing its story about his alleged extremist views. His lawyers claimed that the publication badly damaged Pantami’s reputation as a scholar and notable public figure. My position is that the newspaper was too quick in retracting its story and taking it down, thereby missing the opportunity to advance the cause of the media which includes the constitutional duty to hold government and its functionaries accountable to the people. For the development of a country like Nigeria, we need the elite to go to court and expose who they truly are. I remember my young days in journalism in the 1980s, the then leading lawyer in the country, Chief Rotimi Williams, wrote the Newswatch magazine to apologise over a publication alleging that he intimidated The Guardian Newspapers to address him as a Chief against its policy of addressing everybody as ‘Simply Mister.’ When the magazine declined, Williams sued it for allegedly damaging his reputation. But the defence lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi told the court that Williams has no reputation to defend. To buttress this, he dug up the June 6, 1949 judgement of Justice Charles Abbot which indicted Williams for the theft of a client’s money entrusted to him. Needless to say what became of the libel suit against the magazine.
But so many other reports have surfaced so much that even Pantami himself could not deny many of the extremist views attributed to him. When he gave a lecture at An-Nur Mosque some days ago, his allocutus was that with age and his acquisition of more knowledge and exposure, his views have evolved: “I have changed my stance on some issues based on additional facts…”
Those who have followed the Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, from her days as a reporter at the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA know she is not a frivolous person. So when on May 23, 2020 she cried out that Minister Pantami threw the commission out of the office given to it by the Nigeria Communications Commission, people listened. Rather than state his side of the story, Pantami in a dismissive manner said: “This is a fat lie from her.” To this Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa retorted: “An Islamic scholar should not lie, Hon Minister (Phd), you did that to me because I am a woman. Your disrespect for women is legendary…” The import of her statement that Pantami is a misogynist, was not lost on the discerning public.
In sane climes, carrying such baggage and having become such a divisive personality, Pantami will resign; but not all men and women are imbued with principles. On the other hand, government ought to remove him from office. But that would be unlike the Buhari Presidency which has no ears for common reasoning.
In any case, has Pantami completed the pantomime he was hired to perform? I am convinced he is being groomed for future roles. May the heavens bless the Federal Republic of All Possibilities.
- Owei Lakemfa is a journalist, activist, and socio-political critic.