President Muhammadu Buhari’s communications minister Isa 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,” Mr Pantami lamented in a sermon issued a few years ago when former President Goodluck Jonathan ramped up military operations against the rampaging terror sect.
Peoples Gazette obtained the audio through an anonymous contact on Thursday night. The location of Mr Pantami’s sermon and those who attended could not be immediately obtained, but the words, nonetheless, contradicted his recent claims that he had long maintained a hardline posture against Boko Haram.
Mr Pantami’s media allies have also been on an image laundering blitz to cast him as a moderate preacher who has been widely celebrated for his longstanding contempt for Boko Haram. Mr Pantami also joined his supporters to amplify a threat issued against him by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, evoking it to dismiss insinuations of his sympathy towards terrorists as counter-intuitive.
But in the February 2020 video, Mr Shekau appeared more frustrated by what he saw as Mr Pantami’s betrayal in becoming a top government official after spending years preaching Salafi doctrine than he was about the minister’s purported condemnation of Boko Haram’s deadly exploits.
Mr Pantami has long been famous across northern parts of Nigeria as a respected Islamic cleric. He used most of his preachings to rail against the government’s high-handedness, and Peoples Gazette published a video on Thursday that showed him promising never to go into public service. The sermon was delivered in the mid-2000s, years before Mr Buhari appointed him in 2016 as the head of NITDA and later in 2019 as a cabinet minister in charge of communications.
“We are praying to God to answer all our prayers. It’s our right and obligation before all Muslim leaders, politicians, government appointees, academics,” Mr 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.”
Mr 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?” Mr Pantami said.
The minister also said the previous administration should have pampered Boko Haram insurgents in the same manner as the Niger-Delta militants. Unlike Boko Haram that has been on senseless bloodshed against Nigerians of every faith and creed, the militants were fighting for a better share of oil wealth explored and extracted from their parts of the country.
After about three years of their violent campaign, which largely involved frequent abduction of expatriate oil workers and exchange of fire with security forces, the militants acquiesced to economic solutions and relinquished their arms in a deal brokered by former President Umar Yar’Adua.
But Mr Pantami disregarded the context of both groups and instead took a parallel position on how the government should respond to them.
“The Niger Delta people did something similar to this. They massacre people, steal weapons, killed expatriates and kidnap some of them,” Mr Pantami said. “Yet, you still accept them back, open a ministry for them, gave them a minister and put them on a monthly salary pay without work.”
“The militants did more harm compared to what Boko Haram boys did,” the minister said. “But why will they do something like this? Why selective justice?”
The audio was part of a series of controversial sermons which Mr Pantami delivered at several worship centres and learning institutions across the northern parts of the country between the mid and late 2000s. The Gazette obtained the audio this week, most of which had already been transcribed and contextualised by an academic journal published online since March 2019.
Calls have now intensified for Mr Pantami to either publicly renounce his statements or step down from office, with some activists arguing that his position as a federal minister in charge of citizens’ data and the country’s telecoms infrastructure had become untenable.
As part of our series, The Gazette reached out to Mr Pantami repeatedly to learn whether or not he had renounced his controversial views but he declined all requests.