President Muhammadu Buhari has risen in strong defence of his Minister of Communication and Digital Economy Dr. Isa Pantami, who is a subject of an unending huge media backlash over some disturbing hardline comments he made sometime in the past.
The media campaign among others seeks to force the Minister to resign and face prosecution for his avowed love for terrorist groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda or, failing which, he should be sacked by the President and handed over to law enforcement.
However, public expectation was shattered on Thursday, when President Buhari decided against the grain of majority public opinion to stand by his minister, whom he described as a changed man.
President Buhari, who spoke through a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Garba Shehu described the ongoing media backlash as part of an orchestrated “cancel campaign” to remove the minister from office.
“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 Ali Ibrahim 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.
“The Minister has, rightly, apologised for what he said in the early 2000s. The views were absolutely unacceptable then, and would be equally unacceptable today, were he to repeat them. But he will not repeat them – for he has publicly and permanently condemned his earlier utterances as wrong.
“In the 2000s, the Minister was a man in his twenties; next year he will be 50. Time has passed, and people and their opinions – often rightly – change. But all discerning Nigerians know this manufactured dispute is nothing to do with the Minister’s prior words, but solely concern his actions in the present.
“This administration is committed to improving the lives of all Nigerians – and that includes ensuring they are not over-charged or under-protected for those services on which modern life depends.
He praised the ministers pioneerimg efforts in piloting the affairs of the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy.
“The Minister has been leading the charge against illegal data deductions and pricing; he has revolutionised the government’s virtual public engagement to respond to COVID-19 and save taxpayers’ money; he has established ICT start-up centres to boost youth entrepreneurship and create jobs; he has changed policy to ensure locally produced ICT content is used by ministries, starting with his own; and he has deregistered some 9.2 million SIMs – ending the ability for criminals and terrorists to flagrantly use mobile networks undetected.
“In two short years, Minister Pantami has driven the contribution of the ICT sector to the GDP to more than 18 percent, making it one of the top two playing a critical role in the emergence of the economy from the COVID 19-induced recession.
“In putting people first, the Minister and this administration have made enemies. There are those in the opposition who see success and want it halted by any means.
“And there is now well-reported information that alleges newspaper editors rebuffed an attempt to financially induce them to run a smear campaign against the minister by some ICT companies, many of which do indeed stand to lose financially through lower prices and greater consumer protections.
“The government is now investigating the veracity behind these claims of attempted inducement, and – should they be found to hold credence – police and judicial action must be expected. The Administration stands behind Minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT service,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, a former minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, has kicked against the cote of confidence given to Minister Pantami by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Fani-Kayode, on his official twitter handle on Friday tweetes:
“There is NO place in any civilised nation for a terrorist who delights in killing his compatriots in the name of his faith. No matter who supports or defends him, the Nigerian people will NEVER accept or bow to the dictates and salafist philosophy of a violent and unrepentant jihadist.
“Nigeria is a secular state. We oppose those who say otherwise and we deplore those that believe that they can continue to ignore the sensitivities of millions of Nigerians by playing down the dangers and damage of having a man like Pantami in Government. It is deeply insulting.
“The most embarrassing thing is the Federal Government coming out to defend a terrorist minister. Garba Shehu said that what Pantami said in the past has gone, that Pantami is a repentant man now. This means that even if they caught Boko Haram leader Shekau they will also release him and give him appointment,” he said.