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Like Pantami, Like Buhari?

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I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment to the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria. God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country. ~ Buhari in 2001

Has Buhari renounced the above statement?

Let us assume without conceding that he has since he claims to be reformed.

 Has he realised the futility of such agitation?

Surely he must have because even as a president he has witnessed the fierce pushbacks against perceived religious, ethnic-leaning policies and actions of his government. Obasanjo once said that Nigeria has passed that stage where a group sits on a mat and determines the fate of 200 million people. Iro! Lori iro!!

The Pantami affair is messy, it is one scandal that this administration would have given anything to avoid. But then isn’t the Buhari administration synonymous with scandals and denials? The executive must be used to it now one would think. Yet no responsible government will remain silent in the face of the media pressure and possible international attention this particular imbroglio has generated. Thus we were given the president’s decision to back Pantami a few days ago.

The minister’s travails started with publications by The Daily Independent and NewswireNG that he was on the US Terror watch list given his alleged links to terrorist organizations. Stories that have now been retracted by the various news media but nevertheless triggered a deluge of condemnations and calls for Pantami to resign.

The minister himself who initially blew hot and threatened to sue those newspapers later soft-pedaled and offered some explanations.

Hear him: “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”.

In fairness to the ‘honourable’ minister, sometimes we say things in our teenage days that were just for the time of immaturity. Pantami’s recent comments suggest that he wants us to see him as a ‘reformed’ extremist.

But this is not about age. I was once a teenager too but I never supported killing people simply because they may be of different religions or beliefs. It is even more worrisome that this extremist ideology was formed in a man’s younger years because it shows how long such ideals have festered like an infected wound. Moreover we are equally reminded that Buhari too came as a ‘reformed’ dictator. I will leave you to judge how much that reformation has reflected in his 6-year rule.

Some have posited and quite rightly so, that as long as the protagonists of the US-led invasion of Iraq like Gen Collin Powell and Donald Rumsfield apologized for misleading the USA and her allies with concocted reports of Sadam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction thereby causing the deaths of thousands of Iraqis mostly civilians in the process, one cannot rightly hold anything against any Muslim who condemned the USA as at 2002/2003.

Much as I agree with this position we also have to put it in the proper perspective as it relates to the subject matter.

I initially defended Pantami because the hullabaloo around him being on the US terror watch list was premised on fake news as fact-checked by Premium Times. And by the way that is always the problem with perceived sponsored campaigns — as alleged by the presidency— the zeal to sound the death knell, to deliver the fatal blow often leads to overkill. Didn’t we see that with the now infamous #EndSARS protests?

However, notwithstanding the truth that one cannot rightly blame Muslims who may have similar beliefs with Pantami regarding the US atrocities in the Muslim world, rational citizens should be able to change their position in the face of new information.

The minister has renounced statements made based on the understanding of a ‘naive’ young man. Good and fine, yet, one can argue that it will be even more naive to believe that such beliefs have evaporated with a politically expedient response to wish this scandal away.

Did he not allegedly issue a fatwa that led to the brutal murder of Sunday Achi when he was the Chief Imam at ATBU Bauchi?

Furthermore, other tapes emerged to prove that the Pantami holds and may still hold dangerous extremist views.

So how can someone linked to terrorism be the same person charged with the responsibility of linking our NIN with our SIM cards? Who screened Pantami? How did the DSS overlook these vicious but conspicuous statements? Or did ‘orders from above’ overrule the state security agency’s report? I mean who in their right faculties will employ a self-confessed pedophile to tend their wards just because he claims to have repented?

The above questions and many more echoed by Nigerians on different platforms accentuate the gravity of the precarious position of our minister of communications and digital economy. That they remain unanswered by the #PantamiMustStay campaigners equally underscores the hypocrisy of the President’s decision to back the embattled minister.

I once wrote a piece about Buhari’s style in which I started with Robert Greene’s #20 in his best-selling 48 Laws Of Power: It is the fool who always rushes to take sides. Do not commit to any side or cause but yourself. By maintaining your independence, you become the master of others — playing people against one another, making them pursue you. In that treatise, I illuminated the president’s background as a military strategist.

So I was neither surprised at the long silence that greeted the Pantami scandal from the presidency nor was I shocked with the position publicly stated recently by Garba Shehu. This is a methodology typical of the Buhari presidency. A serving minister once revealed that Buhari acts unaware until his/Fulani interests are in jeopardy. That is why I have repeatedly stated that this is perhaps the most clannish president we may ever see.

Have you wondered why the president’s statement came soon after CAN and NSCIA dismissed the statement linking Pantami to Yakowa’s death as fake? It is no coincidence of course. I stated previously that CAN’s uncharacteristic diplomacy in the Pantami affair is worrisome. No reasonable Nigerian will expect CAN or NSCIA to endorse a fake document but then Pantami’s beliefs whether renounced or not should worry not just Nigerians of other faiths but the larger international community as a whole.

Again prominent stakeholders of the ruling party and the opposition like Bola Tinubu and Atiku respectively have been mute on the matter. It tells us all we need to know about the political elite. We matter little compared to their selfish political interests.

You see leadership must not be popular but it should be productive and if it’s both then that is excellent. Likewise, governance must not be flowery yet aesthetics remain important. Even if you are not doing something you should appear to be doing something. But not with the Buhari administration. The President has repeatedly shown that he couldn’t care less what Nigerians think or believe about his intentions and actions. He just believes that they are good for the development of the country.

I am of the opinion that the ministry of communications is too sensitive to be administered by a man with such extremist views. It is even more so given that the nation is currently fighting a deadly insurgency. Furthermore, for an administration heavily overburdened by the persistent rumour of a Jihadist agenda, this is one disrepute too many.

Pantami should have been sacked. Any parochial president can find a million more qualified liberal Muslims to replace him. But then how can Buhari sack his spiritual leader — a man who he bows to? I think he lacks the power to do that. The only way Pantami will go is if there is sustained media pressure that will force influential members of the cabinet to demand his resignation. Yet again that is far-fetched in our clime.

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