Watchlist: Does Pantami Really Want To Open That Box?
Opinion Security by globalsentinelnews1 – April 13, 2021
By Prof. Moses Ochonu
The Daily Independent was sloppy in its story on Minister of Communications and Digital Technology, Shiekh Dr. Isa Ali Pantami’s alleged inclusion on a US terror watchlist. Sloppy because the video of the interaction between Pantami and Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusuf that the publication refers to actually shows a debate between the two clerics. It was not a video in which Pantami was endorsing Yusuf’s jihadism but rather one in which the minister was disagreeing with some (not all) aspects of the Boko Haram leader’s creed.
If the newspaper had a Hausa translator on staff or as a freelance consultant, they would have saved themselves the embarrassment and made the job of the minister’s handlers a lot more difficult.
That said, it is equally appalling to see the minister and his paid and unpaid minions and supporters waxing bellicose and threatening a lawsuit against the newspaper.
Do they really want to go that route? Do they really want to look under that rock? I don’t think so. The minister is either bluffing or is being misadvised.
If he thinks that the Daily Independent story has defamed him and is vehemently denying being on a terror watch list (despite the fact that if he was he would not know about it), the revelations that would come out of a defamation suit against the newspaper would not only further sully his reputation but might in fact get him terror-watchlisted.
I mean, here is a man who has given religious lectures in Hausa eulogizing the late al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and saying complementary things about al-Qaeda, its global jihad, and the group’s terror campaign against the West.
Here is a man who gave a lecture in Hausa in which he defended the jihad of the Taliban against the “kafirai” (infidels) of the “Western World.”
Here is a man who delivered another lecture in the wake of the ethno-religious crisis in Yelwan Shendam in which he said “this jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria.”
There is a lot more evidence that this man is/was at best a terrorism and violent jihad sympathizer and at worst a closeted promoter and supporter of jihadism.
There were public or quasi-public lectures for which the tapes and in some cases videos exist on social media platforms or archives.
It should be noted that these lectures were given over a decade ago at a time when many if not most Muslims in Northern Nigeria and most Salafi and even some Sufi clerics expressed similarly sympathetic sentiments towards global jihad and animus towards the US.
Such sentiments were often motivated by feelings of Muslim victimhood and persecution in the hands of what is perceived as Western, Judeo-Christian imperialist forces. Many Muslims not just in Nigeria but all over the world were swept up in the geopolitical emotions of the moment and publicly or privately praised Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda for striking aback against Western attacks against Muslims.
This is all to say that Pantami was not an outlier and was merely verbalizing and giving clerical imprimatur to the prevailing Muslim sentiments of the time, one evidence for which was the popularity of Osama/Usama as a male baby name in Northwestern Nigeria and the popularity of Osama bin Laden’s posters in places like Kano where they were prominently displaced on houses and cars in the 2000s.
Even among clerics, Pantami was not an outlier. Salafi clerics, such as Sheikh Rijiyar Lemo, Shiekh Daurawa, and others made similarly complementary comments about Al-Qaeda and their jihad against the West and Christians. One of them even infamously declared that God was a suicide bomber.
Like Pantami, Nigerian Salafi clerics with the exception of a few such as Sheikh Gumbi supported the core of Boko Haram’s ideology denouncing secular government, democracy, and endorsing violence against Christians and other non-Muslims. The clerics subscribed to other puritan aspects of Boko Haram’s creed.
They only disagreed with Muhammad Yusuf on minor doctrinal points, and on the timing and location of jihad, with most of them, while they supported violent jihad both as revenge and for the purpose of creating a dawla (Muslim society governed by Sharia) they did not believe that Nigeria was ripe for jihad or was a legitimate site for it.
I will link in the comment section below to a scholarly article written by Dr. Andrea Brigaglia on the pro-jihad views of several Nigerian Salafi preachers in the 2000s.
Today, many of them probably regret making such comments because not only has Boko Haram shown how nihilistically self-consuming and utterly destructive such a religious war can be for both Muslims and non-Muslims, the world has moved on from the post-911 us versus them mode of thought as surprisingly nuanced and cross-religious alliances have emerged to shatter the neat geo-religious dichotomies of old.
Pantami is guilty of the foundational and consequential charge of having espoused pro-al-Qaeda and pro-jihad sentiments at various times, even though he did so as part of a wave.
The difference is that none of the other clerics who espoused such views are holding a high profile ministerial position in the government of Nigeria.
The holding and espousal of such positions would disqualify anyone from holding public office in most Muslim countries, let alone a multi-religious and culturally plural country like Nigeria.
Pantami’s associations with such advocacy of sectarian violence and extremist nihilist ideology should have kept him from “smelling” any public office, let alone a ministerial one.
However, people evolve and when they do, they should be given a chance to demonstrate that indeed they have abandoned the odious views they once espoused. But the burden is on them to publicly announce that they no longer hold those views and that they have turned a new ideological leaf. Pantami has not done so.
Until Pantami goes public to tell Nigerians that he regrets making those pro-alQaeda and pro-jihad statements, his past will continue to haunt him as long as he continues to hold public office or aspires to other public offices. He cannot simply expect Nigerians to simply forget that he was once a leading voice of violent jihad advocacy in the country.
Forget the US and their terror watchlist. Pantami owes Nigerians an apology and an explanation for where he stands today in relation to violent jihad and extremism. If he still holds those views or would not denounce them publicly to Nigerians then he should resign immediately.
Finally, those Pantami social media warriors who are telling Daily Independent to show the watchlist are being disingenuous because they should know that terror watchlists and no-fly lists are by their nature secret and classified. You only get to know you’re on them when you try to conduct certain activities or try to fly to a certain destination.