INDIGENOUS People of Biafra (Ipob) leader Nnamdi Kanu has called on Nigerians to reject the explanation that communications minister Sheikh Isa Pantami is now a reformed character and has abandoned his extremist Islamic positions of the past.
Over the last week, it has emerged that Sheikh Pantami is on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) watch list of religious extremists. After videos of him emerged making very volatile and strident speeches, he has defended himself saying that were made a long time ago when he was young and he is now a reformed character.
Sheikh Pantami, who is also the deputy secretary-general of the Supreme Sharia Council in Nigeria and a former student of Salafist ideology, was trained in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East with other top Islamic jihadists. He is a chief imam who has been leading the Jumu’ah prayer for over 20 years in both Nigeria and the UK and currently serves as a member of the sharia board of Jaiz Bank.
A PhD holder from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland, before his appointment as a minister, Sheikh Pantami was a known Islamic preacher and held what was termed dangerous views against the US government. According to one report, the minister was said to be a very close confidant of the late Mohammed Yusuf, the former leader of Boko Haram with whom he allegedly shared jihadist doctrines.
Rejecting Sheikh Pantami’s claims to being a reformed man who is now moderate, Mr Kanu said: “In case you forgot, terrorism is a form of Islamic ideology, as well as a religious duty for every Muslim that believes in jihad. Therefore, there can never be anything like a repentant terrorist, not even some minister named Isa Pantami.”
In a shocking twist to the saga, the former assistant director of Nigeria’s Department of State Services (DSS), Dennis Amachree, has said the secret police informed the federal government and the National Assembly about Sheikh Pantami when he was nominated for a ministerial position in 2019. Nigeria’s ministerial approval process dictates that candidates have to be vetted by the DSS and then screened by senators before they are confirmed as ministers.
Yesterday, Hon Ndudi Elumelu, the minority leader of the House of Representatives, moved a motion calling for the for the immediate resignation or sacking of Sheikh Pantami for showing sympathy for the deadly activities of insurgents. He said the minister should resign as it was difficult to de-radicalise someone of his kind.
Hon Elumelu added: “During the vetting process, for anybody to be appointed a minister or commissioner or anything, your name is sent to the DSS for vetting. They check your background up to the extent of your grandmother and they check your schools up to the extent of your primary school.
“And of course, they keep a tab on you online and offline. We get a lot from open source intelligence and I can tell you that in Pantami’s case, we have it but there is a political angle to it a when somebody is being appointed, if the security agencies see that there is something wrong with his name, they will send it to the appointing agency and the appointing agency will now decide amongst other variables either religious variable, federal character balancing variable, or political variables.”