NIGERIA’S man opposition the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has demanded the dismissal of communications minister Sheikh Isa Pantami over statements he made in the past in support of extremist Islamic groups.
Over recent weeks, Sheikh Pantami has come under fire after it emerged that he was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) watch list. He has since been discovered to have made volatile remarks in the past, many of which included praising extreme groups, which he has distanced himself from, saying he was young at the time.
Audio recordings of Sheikh Pantami’s past teachings where he declared support for Al-Qaeda and Taliban resurfaced last week, generating debates on social media platforms with many Nigerians calling for his removal and others defending him. He denied any links with the groups but admitted making the controversial statements supporting the groups, pointing out that his views on such extremist groups have changed.
Sheikh Pantami said: “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.”
Yesterday, the PDP, Nigeria’s main opposition party joined calls for the minister to resign or be sacked. In addition, the party also charged the State Security Service (SSS) to probe Sheikh Pantami for allegedly compromising National Insurance Number (NIN) registration exercise by giving room for the registration of foreigners and invaders from other countries as Nigerian citizens.
PDP spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “Our party’s position is predicated on the heightening concerns in the public space and in the international arena of possible compromises by the communication minister, who has access to sensitive government documents and information. In addition, he has access to data of all individuals including high profile personalities in the public and private sectors as well as the traditional and faith-based circles.”
Sheikh Pantami has denied registering foreigners from neighbouring countries under the NIN scheme as his political opponents claims. He added that it was not true that he was using the scheme to register Fulanis from across West Africa.
“Now they have started coming with the news that people are coming from neighbouring countries to register. What they fail to understand is that the National Identification Number is not only for Nigerians and anybody in Nigeria can obtain it.
“Section 16 and 17 of the Act mentions the registrable people in the country, which are citizens, legal residents, legal permanent residents and legal residents for a minimum of two years, so, it is not only for citizens. It is also important to know that this is not just an indication that they are citizens of Nigeria but an indication that you presented your biometric data, so the government has control over it.
With regards to that National Identity Management Commission data, nobody has an access to it in any way he likes. Getting access to it illegally is 10 years in prison but people will like to discredit it because they don’t like it,” Sheikh Pantami added.