Murder, Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda links: Why Isa Pantami is under fire

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Communications and digital economy minister Isa Pantami faces possibly the greatest nightmare of his life as his past deeds are ghosting back to haunt him and also question his moral right to stay in office.

For the past few days, the hashtag #Pantamimustgo has refused to disappear from Twittersphere as more revelations emerge, not just about his extremist views in the past, but also his being linked with Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram.

The latest were accusations that he had a hand in the deaths of former Kaduna governor, Yakowa and a christian student at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, when he was chief Imam of the mosque.

Professor Samuel Achi, a former lecturer at the Kaduna State University, Kaduna, told The Punch that his son Sunday Achi, a 400 level architectural student was killed for blaspheming Islam, by muslim students, following the Fatwa declared by Imam Pantami.

This was on 9 December 2004.

Professor Achi has not forgotten. He said his son was strangled at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University mosque.

Also read: Why Hon Chukwuma Umeoji Is The Right Man To Succeed Governor Obiano

He said the 24-year-old son, Sunday Achi was leader of the students’ fellowship of the Evangelical Church Winning All Ministry.

The student’s body was found dumped near the mosque, strangled.

The second accusation against Pantami was that he chaired a meeting on 13 July, 2010, of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), in Bauchi where muslim leaders expressed resentment against Patrick Isa Yakowa as Kaduna governor.

According to the unverified documents being circulated, JNI concluded Yakowa must be stopped and ‘eliminated”.

But Yakowa won the 2011 election as Kaduna governor, only to die a year later in a helicopter crash in Bayelsa state, alongside former national security adviser Owoeye Patrick Azazi.

Mr Yakowa was the first Christian governor of Kaduna, which is divided between Muslim and Christians, although with a mostly Muslim population.

Pantami is yet to respond to the allegations.

Before these new allegations surfaced, Pantami admitted making comments, according to videos circulating, in support of Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab and the Taliban.

He was contrite as he said he made the comments as a teenager. He has now renounced the views as an adult.

He however said he never supported Boko Haram.

The born-again Pantami made the clarifications during his daily Ramadan lecture at Al Nur Mosque in Abuja last weekend.

He said for 15 years, he had moved round the country while educating people about the dangers of Boko Haram terrorism.

He said he travelled to Katsina, Gombe, Borno, Kano States and Diffa 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.”

The minister added that some of the comments he made some years ago that were generating controversies now were based on his understanding of religious issues at the time, and that he had changed several positions taken in the past based on new evidence and maturity.

According to him, he was was young when he made some of the comments; as he was in university, and that some of the comments were made when he was a teenager.

The minister said he started preaching when he was 13 and that many scholars and individuals did not understand some of international events before taking positions.

He said some have come to change their positions later.

“On the claim that I am a Boko Haram sympathiser, I want to say that people who have been following my religious evangelism, as a scholar, dating back from 2005 and 2006, know me better. They know what I often preached about,” he said.

Pantami said that though some of the media attacks on him were motivated by political and economic reasons, he would not be perturbed.

He further noted that he has never been fixated on issues, but rather he changes his stance immediately he discovers that his viewpoints and verdicts on such issues are wrong.

“I have changed my stance on some issues based on additional facts even after expressing Fatwa, a non-binding religious opinion in response to a question posed to me.”

But up till Thursday the daggers were still drawn out against him as the campaign calling for his resignation gathered more intensity.

David Hundeyin, a freelance journalist who had written tons of words on Pantami’s extremism said Pantami’s contriteness should not be taken seriously.

“Pantami was not any kind of child, he knew exactly what he was saying, those kinds of opinions don’t just evolve over time,” Hundeyin said on Channels TV on Wednesday.

“Isa Pantami has a long history of taking actions that lead to death. He is an Islamic extremist”, Hundeyin insisted.

He said Pantami’s views and Boko Haram’s are the same. The difference lies in the method of achieving their Islamic utopian state.

On Thursday, Pantami was the number one issue trending on Twitter Nigeria, with over 120,000 tweets.

The question is whether President Buhari will allow a proven Islamic extremist with links to terrorist groups remain in office a day longer.

Pantami is one of the youngest ministers in Buhari’s cabinet. He is just 48 years old.

He was born in Pantami, Gombe state on 20 October 1972.

He started his education by attending traditional School for memorizing the Qur’an, called “Tsangaya School, according to a bio published by Wikipedia.

He had his early secular education in Gombe, before attending Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi to study computer science.

He obtained a BTech in 2003 and an MSc in 2008.

He later got a PhD from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland.

He was also trained on Digital transformation at Harvard University, USA, then Management Strategy at both, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Institute of Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Dr Pantami lectured at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Information Technology before joining the Islamic University of Madinah as Head of Technical Writing in 2014.

In 2016, he was appointed as the Director General/CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). And in 2019, he was appointed a minister.

A former director of the DSS said in an interview that government was warned about Pantami’s past. But he was confirmed as a minister, nevertheless.

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