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Nigerians in Diaspora, others, urge U.S. visa ban, sanctions on Pantami, for alleged extremism, Al Qaeda and Taliban support

A coalition of Nigerians in Diaspora and 2019 Participants in Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom on Monday submitted a letter to the United States (U.S.) Secretary of State, Mr Antony J. Blinken, demanding for a visa ban and other sanctions on Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Technology, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, over his past supports for terrorists groups, Al Qaeda and Taliban and extremists pronouncements.

The coalition told the US Secretary of State that “your prompt action on this would secure the lives of Nigerians and Americans.”

The letter to Secretary Blinken, released on behalf of the coalition by Emmanuel Ogebe, Special Counsel, Justice for Jos Project and US-Nigeria Law Group, said “it is unconscionable and repulsive that 20 years after 911, anyone still subscribes to Al Qaeda’s evil ideology, least of all a top official of a US partner like Nigeria.

“There’s speculation in Nigeria that Minister Pantami is on a US terror list. If he is not, he should be. Pantami is over qualified for a spot on the US visa ban list for inciters of egregious religious violence and persecution. We ask that he and others of his ilk be immediately sanctioned.

“Under the International Religious Freedom Act and INA 212(a)(2)(G), the State Department can visa ban individuals who were “responsible for or directly carried out . . . particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”  (see sections (13) and (16)).

“It is to be noted that Nigeria’s President Buhari has taken no action against the extremist minister whose actions contravene Nigeria’s own terrorism prevention laws. Incidentally, exactly 10 years ago this week, Buhari himself was behind post-election violence along religious lines that killed over 1000 Nigerians in April 2011.”

Fighting to keep his job as Minister of Communication and Digital Economy and stave off appearing on United States (U.S.) watch list, Dr 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.

He stated: “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.”

But the coalition, in its letter titled: SOS Letter to Sanction Nigeria’s Extremist Jihadi Minister Pantami, regretted that “as the US seeks to close the chapter on the Afghani war incited by jihadi terrorism on 911 20 years ago, it has recently come to light that a Nigerian official continues to support extremism.

“According to Nigerian American Vanderbilt Professor of African Studies, Moses Ochonu, “Preacher of jihadi violence and extremism, and Nigeria’s Minister of Communications, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami has given an interview to Premium Times in which, instead of apologizing for his pro-Al-Qaeda and Taliban and pro-violent jihad positions, he makes two startling claims…that his violent preachings in support of global jihadist groups and his declarations that the killing of unbelievers makes him happy were understood out of context (and) that his violent preachings are not his personal opinions but are drawn from the Qur’an.

“Is he saying that the Muslim clerics and regular Muslims, local and global, who do not preach violent jihad or violence, do not support murderous Al-Qaeda and Taliban jihadists, and do not advocate for violence against non-Muslims are not drawing from the Qur’an and derive their creed from some other source? Are they, by his claim, less Muslim than he is?…

“A violent jihadi who once volunteered to lead a jihad in Yelwan Shendam and who is a booster for global jihadists presides over our telecom databases and our sensitive national identity and biometric data.”

“Other reports say as Chief Imam of the University Mosque in 2004 when a group of Christian students embarked on evangelism, he declared it was blasphemous against the Holy Prophet, causing rampage and issued a FATWA on the five students. “Muslim students acting under Sheik Pantami’s instruction dragged Mr Sunday Achi from his room and stoned him to death.“

“Similarly, “In a speech, delivered in 2006, Pantami offered his public condolences for the death of the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Zarqawi.

“May God have mercy on Aḥmad alFāḍil al-Khalayleh, raḥmatullāh’ alayhi. May God forgive his mistakes. He is a human being. He has certainly some mistakes in front of God, so may God forgive his mistakes. Who am I talking about? He is Abū Muṣ‘ab al-Zarqāwī.

“He was born in 1966 of the Christian era, that is forty years ago. […] After some time, he was given responsibility for a camp in Herat. It was the Commander of the Faithful (Amīr almu’minīn) Mollah Omar ‒ may God preserve him ‒ who personally gave him the authority to run this camp.”

The document noted Pantami as further saying, “To this date, in the community of the Prophet we have some awesome people, people of awesome faith, who follow the creed of the Sunna and thanks to whom the enemies of God are unable to find rest in this world.

“They have killed the Shaykh, the martyr Abdallah Yusuf Azzam ‒ may God have mercy on him ‒ but did the struggle end? They went on to strike Chechnya, and they killed many of them: did it end? […] Whenever one goes, another one comes, and he is even more awesome than the first,” Pantami added.”

The coalition quoted “Nigerian-American Professor, Farooq Kperogi, a Muslim and acquaintance of Patami, “in a series of reports, complete with audio-graphic accompaniments, the Peoples Gazette has unearthed sermons by Pantami that amounted to unvarnished homiletic endorsements of terrorism and intolerance of non-Muslims. 

“For instance, in response to a question about Osama bin Laden’s “killing of innocent unbelievers,” Pantami said although he conceded that Bin Laden was liable to err because he was human, “I still consider him as a better Muslim than myself” and pointed out that “We are all happy whenever unbelievers are being killed, but the Sharia does not allow us to kill them without a reason.” You can’t defend that.

“People’s Gazette also unearthed an audiotape in which he engaged in a weepy defense of Boko Haram terrorists against extra-judicial killings and asked for an amnesty for them just like Niger Delta militants. “See what our fellow Muslim brothers’ blood has turned to? Even pig blood has more value than that of a fellow Muslim brother,” he said.

“This jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria (hādhā jihād farḍ ‘ayn ‘ala kull muslim wa-khuṣūṣan fī Nījīriyā),” he said.

“In his March 2019 paper titled “The ‘Popular Discourses of Salafi Counter-Radicalism in Nigeria’ Revisited: A Response to Abdullahi Lamido’s Review of Alexander Thurston, Boko Haram,” Professor Andrea Brigaglia of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, writes: 

“Subsequently, Pantami offers himself as a volunteer to mobilise the Hisba police of the Muslim-majority states and to be appointed as the ‘commander’ (Hausa: kwamanda) of a militia ready to travel to Yelwa Shendam to join the fight in defence of the Muslims. The speech, which is about twenty minutes long, concludes with the prayer: ‘Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda’ (Allahumma ’nṣur Ṭālibān wa-tanẓīm al-Qā‘ida).”

“There are many more indefensible rhetorical endorsements of extremism that can be found in Pantami’s past preaching.”

He added “an April 15, 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable (exposed by WikiLeaks in 2011) about the religious crisis in Bauchi during that year said “Imam Fantami Isa, who preached at the mosque, had been previously thrown out of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University and of a Gombe mosque for preaching inflammatory rhetoric,”.”

In December 2020 however, Prof Kperogi concludes “Sheikh Aminu Daurawa who, like Pantami, countenanced Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the early to mid-2000s, released an audiotape renouncing his past.”

The coalition concluded: “Last year, the US banned immigration from Nigeria, citing terror risks stemming from identity management incompetences. Although the new administration reversed the ban this year, the big concern is that Sheikh Pantami is a risk factor as a key actor in Nigeria’s security data management.”

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