Perhaps, the Nigerian presidency under President Muhammadu Buhari enjoys courting controversies.
Towards the end of last week, the presidency, through the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, issued a statement in defence of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, over his now viral utterances as an Imam, many years ago.
Shehu, who claimed to be speaking for the president, stoically defended Pantami over his past comments in support of terrorist groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In the statement, Shehu said that the presidency aligned itself with the submission of the minister that he was young when he made those statements and his position had since changed.
The presidency’s position came following calls from all over the country for Buhari to sack the minister, whose utterances were considered by many as insidious, inflammatory and against the spirit of the secular state, which Nigeria claims to be.
The statement read in part: “Today, there is an unfortunate fashion in public discourse that makes leaders in politics, religion, and civil society liable in the present for every statement they have ever made in the past – no matter how long ago, and even after they have later rejected them.
“This insidious phenomenon seeks to cancel the careers of others on the basis of a thing they have said, regardless of when they said it. “The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami is currently, subject to a ‘cancel campaign’ instigated by those who seek his removal.
“They do not really care what he may or may not have said some 20 years ago: that is merely the instrument they are using to attempt to ‘cancel’ him. But they will profit should he be stopped from making decisions that improve the lives of everyday Nigerians.” Curiously, the presidency went further to insist that Pantami had apologised for what he said many years ago.
That was before the statement finally said that the presidency stands with the minister, who it claimed was being vilified for improving the lives of Nigerians. By the presidency’s line of thought, it was clear that Pantami was being killed by either the opposition or the telecom companies, whom he has defied to better the lives of Nigerians.
Shehu was to follow up his statement a day later with a live television programme, where against the feelings of Nigerians, he advanced arguments in support of the minister, insisting that those, who wanted the minister out were those who did not have the interest of the masses of Nigerians at heart.
He even went as far as drawing parallels on the Pantami case and that of a former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, who had to quit the cabinet following issues of forged certificate of the National Youths Service Corps