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Buhari should ask Pantami to step aside

Over the last couple of weeks, Nigeria’s minister for Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, has been in the news not for a major breakthrough in his ministry, but for the wrong reason that has strong links with his past.

Pantami has a documented history of views, activities and associations that make him a fit candidate for both domestic and international close watch on matters relating to terrorist support and sympathies.

This disposition has made him an unfit person to hold high public office in a nation that is part of the global campaign against terrorism and extremism. The attention, which the minister has drawn lately, is simply because his past actions and alignments do not fit the profile of someone who should be entrusted with a strategic public office.

For these reasons, there have been strident calls by Nigerians for the minister to vacate the office, which he occupies. We are in agreement with that call. But it is disquieting that, in spite of all the anomalies in the Pantami affair, the Presidency, through Garba Shenu, Buhari’s media aide, has stepped in to defend and protect Pantami from public demands that he be held accountable for his past.

It is surprising, to us, that a government that is fighting insecurity should take this position and retain such a personality as a cabinet member instead of sacking him and apologizing to Nigerians. Government shouldn’t be fighting insecurity and terrorism and at the same time having in its fold someone who professes adoration for fundamentalists and terrorist organizations.

Government, by its stand on Pantami, is inadvertently encouraging other people, especially the young ones in the midst of unemployment and poverty, to toe that path since it is no longer a crime. It is telling the young ones that they can do or say whatever they like, turn round and tell the world that they have repented and that is all.

This, in our view, should not be condoned, unless the government is telling Nigerians and the rest of the world that anybody could be a criminal except those who are in the corridors of power or have connections in government.

The danger in all of this, however, is that this is a government that is seeking assistance from Europe and America in its fight against insecurity and terrorism, yet it has the dossier of people like Pantami in its fold but not doing anything about it. With this, the foreign nations would be asking questions if Nigeria is truly serious in its fight against insecurity.

Even if the president does not ask the minister to resign, we demand that the minister should take the honourable path and quit office. That is a global best practice and we have seen it happen here in Nigeria when Kemi Adeosun, former finance minister, resigned when accused of certificate forgery.

Besides his integrity, President Buhari should let the minister go because continuing to retain him in office amounts to making his administration unpopular both locally and internationally.

Sacking the minister has the advantage of serving as a deterrent, especially to young Nigerians, not to engage or support cultism, terrorism, militancy or banditry because such acts will haunt them and deny them good opportunities later in life.

The Pantami case is not a helpless one if the government should reason with Nigerians. There are two simple and easy ways out it. The first, which is the easier, is for Pantami to resign his appointment and tender an unreserved apology to all Nigerians.

The second one is for Buhari to exercise his prerogative of ultimate presidential responsibility by relieving Pantami of his appointment in order to save himself, his administration and the nation the lingering embarrassment of the minister’s continued stay in office.

Chidi Amuta, a public affairs commentator argues that if the president keeps Pantami in office, he will have embraced terrorists, and could lead the public to unsavoury conclusions that can only load up his already bulging baggage of political liabilities. We cannot agree more.

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