A civil society organisation with an anti-corruption agenda, the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately sack the embattled Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami.
The group, in an open letter to the President on Monday, signed by its Chairman, Debo Adeniran, said the statements credited to the minister were dangerous as they were sympathetic to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Taliban.
Pantami has faced public criticism for the comments he made about a decade ago, in one of which he said, “Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda,” and, “This jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria.”
In another, he reportedly endorsed the killing of “unbelievers.”
In a 2006 speech, Mr Pantami publicly offered his condolences after the death of al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi while in another video clip, he appeared to be on the verge of tears as he passionately described the militants as "our Muslim brothers" who did not deserve to be "killed like pigs".
Pantami has responded by saying he was young when he made the statements, some of which he said had changed because of his “maturity”.
The presidency has also supported the minister, saying Nigerians should be willing to forgive him.
However, the group said Islamic extremism is based on ideologies that are difficult for extremists to shake off.
“Mr. President, we wish to state unequivocally that the fact that Pantami has developed the level of orientation that made him uttered those grievous words and statements as stated above, cannot be wished away by mere recanting which some people in your cabinet are claiming he has done.
“Ideological issues are ingrained in the mind of those who pursue it. Even when they denounce it, they are not to be trusted because they can always go back to that conviction that led them into accepting that extremism and for somebody who has said that people should be killed and that he is happy when he sees that and who has supported terrorists in the past, we want to believe that it cannot get out of his mind so easily.
“Moreover, due to the sensitiveness of the ministry that he is supervising, he can provide information about anybody to the terrorists, because terrorists don’t work with their foot soldiers alone, they also work with those who pretend to be part and parcel of the decent society and Pantami can be some of those conduit pipe through which information are streamed to them.
“Furthermore, in the area of the security system, the ministry also could have a link with the way security communications are being organised and deployed and Pantami could sabotage the process by facilitating access to the terrorists to kind of jam the communication system of the military and other security agencies in the country.
“Your Excellency, we are of the opinion that Pantami is a dangerous person that ought not to be a minister of the Federal Republic if all the agencies of government that screened ministerial nominees, including the Senate and the State Security Service carried out their due diligence before he was sworn in as a minister.
“A situation whereby the Senate would ask a ministerial nominee to take a bow showed the level of mediocrity among those in government considering the fact that governance is a serious administrative endeavour guided by international best practices. He is indeed one of the tares sown by the enemies of the country in your cabinet when Your Excellency was asleep.
“His continued presence in your cabinet is like leaving a venomous snake under the bed and someone goes to sleep or leaving a spark of fire on the roof and someone goes to sleep. He is dangerous to the peace and security of Nigeria; he is a security risk to the nation. Even if he has denounced his extremist orientation, our mind would only be at rest if he is removed.
“Therefore, we are aligning with calls on your office to immediately swing into action by removing and sacking Isa Pantami as Minister of Communications and Digital Economy now and also ask the Department of State Services to investigate him,” the group said.