The Nigerian government Thursday said it was standing by the minister of communication and digital economy Isa Ali Pantami, who is under pressure to resign after his past extremist comments were unearthed.
“The administration stands by Minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services,” Garba Shehu, a spokesman to President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement.
“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.”
Pantami, for the first time, on Saturday acknowledged his past views but said he has since renounced those radical comments, Daily Trust reported.
The minister blamed his past radical leanings on age, immaturity and limited knowledge.
“Some of the comments I made some years ago that are generating controversies now were based on my understanding of religious issues at the time, and I have changed several positions taken in the past based on new evidence and maturity,” Daily Trust quoted Pantami as saying during his daily Ramadan lecture at Annor Mosque in Abuja.
“I was young when I made some of the comments; I was in university, some of the comments were made when I was a teenager. I started preaching when I was 13, many scholars and individuals did not understand some of international events and therefore took some positions based on their understanding, some have come to change their positions later.”
His renunciation notwithstanding, more people on social media joined the call for him to resign. His critics said the views he expressed as a university student cannot be blamed on age.
The beginning of trouble
Trouble began for the minister after Peoples Gazette unearthed his past views which were sympathetic to terrorist organisations.
“We are all happy whenever unbelievers are being killed,” Peoples Gazette quoted Pantami as saying in an audio recording. “But the Sharia does not allow us to kill them without a reason.”
“Our zeal (hamasa) should not take precedence over our obedience to the sacred law.”
Pantami reportedly made the incendiary comments while answering questions on the late Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, who masterminded the destruction of the World Trade Centre. At least 3000 people died when planes crashed into the twin towers of WTC on September 11, 2001.
Pantami initially denied holding any extremists views and chalked down the reports to defamation of character by people miffed by his policies as the minister of communication and digital economy.
But he said on Saturday that he has since been preaching against those extremist views he held more than a decade before he became a minister.
“For 15 years, I have moved around the country while educating people about the dangers of terrorism,” Pantami reportedly said on Saturday.
“I have travelled to Katsina, Gombe, Borno, Kano states and Difa in Niger Republic to preach against terrorism.
“I have engaged those with Boko Haram ideologies in different places. I have been writing pamphlets in Hausa, English and Arabic. I have managed to bring back several young persons who have derailed from the right path.”
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