Fighting to keep his job as Minister of Communication and Digital Economy and stave off appearing on United States (U.S.) watch list for terrorism links and religious extremism, Dr Ali Isa Pantami, on Saturday renounced his controversial comments in support of the terrorists groups, Al Qaeda and Taliban.
Pantami, who has launched and orchestrated media campaign to redeem his image of extremism and portray himself as a moderate Muslim, said while answering questions during his daily Ramadan lecture at Al-Noor Mosque in Abuja on Saturday, said that his views on Al Qaeda and the Taliban has evolved to what it used to be in the past, but regretted that the campaign against him to resign from office is politically motivated.
According to Pantami, “For 15 years, I have moved round the country while educating people about the dangers of terrorism. I have traveled 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.
“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.
“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.”
Dr Pantami’s had in three audio recordings of his teachings in the 2000s, took extreme positions in support of the brutal exploits of Al Qaeda and Taliban elements on a campaign to obliterate the West and conquer other parts of the world.
“This jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria,’’ Pantami was quoted to have said in one of his vicious preaching in the 2000s. “Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” he had prayed.
Pantami once condemned Nigerian Army’s incursion into Boko Haram strongholds, describing the insurgents as “our Muslim” brothers who did not deserve to be killed like pigs.
“See what our fellow Muslim brothers’ blood has turned to? Even pig blood has more value than that of a fellow Muslim brother,” Dr Pantami lamented in a sermon issued a few years ago when former President Goodluck Jonathan ramped up military operations against the rampaging terror sect.
“We are praying to God to answer all our prayers. It’s our right and obligation before all Muslim leaders, politicians, government appointees, academics,” Dr Pantami said in his prayers. “All of us should not fold their arms and watch helplessly how they shed our Muslim brothers’ blood and cheat them in vain.”
Dr Pantami said Boko Haram elements should have been treated with dignity as against the deadly military campaign, saying extermination of insurgents amounted to extrajudicial killing.
“Even if the Boko Haram fighters commit a crime, but can we justify the way and manner they are being killed?”
“Just look at how they are killing people as if they are shooting pigs even though they commit a crime, why the extrajudicial killing? Take them before the law for a fair trial.
“You caught someone sleeping and you killed him. If it’s not Muslims that undergo such treatments who else?” Dr Pantami said.
But the pile up of Nigerians and groups asking him to resign as Minister continues to climb with social media users and some critics asking President Muhammadu Buhari to fire him if he fails to step down.
Their reason is that Pantami’s comments were too weighty to be discarded.
National President of Criminology and Security Practitioners Association of Nigeria, Williams Ekposon, said though Pantami claimed to have renounced his support for terrorist groups, the Minister was not worthy of being entrusted with information as sensitive as Nigerians’ data. He urged Pantami to apologise to Nigerians and resign from his appointment.
Ekposon said, “We have to be very careful of our speech and how we go about doing things. Professionally, that kind of person should not be in charge of the data of Nigerians. No statesman will admire being identified with Al-Qaeda or Taliban or any other terrorist group.
“In the light of the position he is holding, Nigerians are not secure; our data are not secure with somebody who had wept sentiments with terrorists. A terrorist is a psychedelic being. If a sensitive public office holder has made a statement that is in connection to terrorists, there is something fishy about it. He should apologise to Nigerians and humbly resign. Let it be that the appointment was made in error.”
Also, Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo, said “the Minister has no role to play in the Federal Executive Council anymore. Ordinarily, he should have resigned from the cabinet due to his comments.”
The leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said it would be wrong to continue keeping the embattled Minister as a member of the Federal Executive Council, noting that going by the public outrage, the best “is for him to resign and even tender his unreserved apology to Nigerians for his utterances in the past.”
PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, asked President Buhari to relieve the Minister of his job if he fails to resign.
“The best thing is for the Minister to resign, apologise to Nigerians and start preaching against terrorism in the open and to the knowledge of everyone. For now, it is not in the interest of Nigerians and national security to continue to keep him in office,” he said.
Secondus added that persons in public office should cultivate the habit of leaving office when they were perceived to have done something wrong, insisting that “people should stop imposing themselves on the citizens especially when they have moral burden.”