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Pantami absent as FEC fails to discuss Minister’s alleged terrorism links

Reps seek probe of alleged tie, say NASS, DSS not culpable
His public apology enough atonement –Tanko Yakassai

An interesting scenario played out at the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting yesterday, when the embattled Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, was absent from the meeting, which also failed to discuss his alleged links with some terrorist groups. His absence at FEC, however, did not stop the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta, during plenary from asking the leadership of the Lower Chamber to initiate investigation into the minister’s alleged terrorism links.

However, sympathy came Pantami’s way, when his fellow northerner and elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai, rose in his defence by insisting that the minister’s public apology and expression of regret over his past religious utterances was enough atonement. Recall that in a series of reports, complete with audio-graphic accomplishments, Peoples Gazzette had unearthed a number of Islamic sermons delivered years ago by Pantami, which indicated his sympathy for Osama bin Laden and where he defended the Boko Haram sect.

In the wake of this, however, some Nigerians had insisted on Pantami’s resignation over his past sermons on Boko Haram and late Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. Based on this, he had announced that he had renounced the views, stressing that he now knew better about some of the comments he made in the past, while also maintaining that the campaign against him was politically motivated. But speaking on the FEC meeting, chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, said the council did not discuss the allegation against Pantami on his previous link with Al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Asked whether the Pantami issue came up at the meeting and whether the government was comfortable with the development, Muhammed said: “I’m not going to go into the issue of whether the government is comfortable or not. I will answer your questions directly. It was not discussed at the council meeting.” His clarification, followed several calls on the minister to either voluntarily resign or get sacked by the President. While calling for probe into Pantami’s terrorism allegations, at the commence-ment of plenary, Elumelu, coming through an order of privilege, told the House that his privilege had been breached as a legislature by the allegations against the minister.

He said since the allegation started trending in both social and conventional media, he has been inundated with calls by his constituents, seeking what the House intended to do. He said: “A serving minister in this government was alleged to have links and personally subscribed to the beliefs of some terrorist groups.

Recently, during his Ramadan message, he owned up, but said he only did so out of ignorance. “My worry is that I am a serving member of this House. Few days ago, I was inundated with calls from my constituents, who said this House has been talking so much on insecurity, yet not saying anything over such a weighty allegation against a serving minister. He should either resign, or be removed.” According to him, his privilege as a member has been affected, and that he was not comfortable that the House would not say anything. Responding, however, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, reminded him that he came under the wrong order, but that even at that; “your observations have been noted.”

In the same vein, Chairman of the House committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi (APC, Plateau), has absolved the National Assembly, and the Department of State Services (DSS) of blame for not digging deep into the minister during his screening. Addressing journalists yesterday, the lawmaker said: “I would not say that DSS and the National Assembly acted in error.

“The National Assembly and DSS are not God. You will never get every information about every individual during confirmation, because the DSS is not God. “You don’t have the capacity to know everything about me. So it is when the DSS know, that they recommended. And it is equally what the National Assembly saw that they recommended.” Continuing, Gadgi said: “If you want to hold the DSS and National Assembly responsible, what of you as an individual? Over 180 million Nigerians were unable to know. “The announcement was made; the man was presented to the floor of the Senate.

He was screened and no individual, out of over 180 million Nigerians, was able to remember that comment made by him, to write a petition to the National Assembly. “So, if the National Assembly should be held responsible, or the DSS, the people of this country should equally be held responsible, because they were unable to do their job by bringing the information to the National Assembly. Until and unless you bring the petition that this man has done that in the past, because of the incapacity of both DSS and the National Assembly to know everything about everybody.” Speaking further, the lawmaker said: “If there was an issue prior to the screening and the National Assembly did not act on that information, then you will hold them responsible. But because there was nothing, you assume the man is innocent. Now the issue has come to public glare.

“Is it the responsibility of the National Assembly to act based on the information that is given about the minister? It is not the responsibility of the parliament to say remove the minister or not to remove the minister.” On the calls for his resignation, Gadgi said: “The prerogative of appointment and removal is vested solely on Mr. President. “So, it is left for the executive arm of government. The information has come. I learnt also that the man has apologised. If it is true that the information is there and the man apologised, it is not within my own power as a parliament to say go or not go. “The president has the red biro or green biro to tell him stop, stay there; this is the end of your time as far as my cabinet is concerned.

He equally has the prerogative of mercy to say, ‘since you have shown remorse, everybody could make mistakes in the past, continue, but make sure you don’t do that again’. I think these are the things I can say about the issue of the minister.” Meanwhile, Yakassai, who was a Second Republic politician, while speaking with journalists in Kano, said those pushing for the Pantami’s resignation were not coming out clean to Nigerians. He said: “I think that his public apology should be enough. The people who are bent on pursuing him up to this moment, even after he had apologised for these remarks, are certainly engaged in the pursuit of something else …..Maybe a witch-hunt. “When someone admits to his mistake and in addition to that, apologises for that mistake, I think that that should be enough… What is expected of him, that is to own up to his mistake and to apologize, has been done publicly. “If he resigns, does it change anything? Would his resignation change what he said and uttered in the past? Every religion accepts apology and repentance.

Every one of us must have made a mistake while we were growing up.” Yakassai argued that if everyone was to be held responsible for their past mistakes, then none was guiltless, saying as people grow up, they gain new insights about life, refine their life-ways and discard some of their old beliefs and positions. Yakassai said he was convinced that Pantami had truly repented from his past sympathies while adding that those who were still doubtful of his transfiguration would have to wait to see if he still held those positions or would go back to them before they could charge at him. He encouraged Nigerians, especially young persons, to be mindful of their public utterances so as not to be haunted by these remarks in the future.

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