The 1974 reggae hit “You can’t be wrong and get it right, no matter how hard you may try”, by Jamaican musician Jimmy Cliff, enjoys an unmistakable throwback from some of the trending circumstances of Dr Isa Ali Pantami, Nigeria’s serving Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. For some time now, the gentleman – an erudite Islamic cleric, brilliant digital technology engineer and now minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, had been featured in the public space and in unedifying light as someone harbouring sympathies for terrorists, based on some legacy audio and video footages of his earlier sermons on extremist tendencies in Islam, which were recently launched unto social media platforms, and now trend as tendentious in the public domain.
Specifically, the legacy footages linked him with endorsing the activities of terror groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, and generated the insinuation that he could also be sympathetic to Nigeria’s current nightmare – the Boko Haram sect. In the face of the storm which the development has generated, Pantami admitted making the preachments referred to, only averring that he delivered same during his days of innocence as a youthful preacher, and has since seen things clearer, following which he had also spent considerable time and resources to debunk such convictions. By implication, in his new found missionary orientation, he tacitly pleads for pardon for apparently not being in full grasp of the implications of aspects of his earlier sermons.
In the circumstance, there is a division in public reactions with calls for his resignation or removal from office by President Muhamadu Buhari in one vein, and on the grounds that he had proved his culpability beyond reasonable doubt. In the other vein, the opposition and his supporters hold that his admission of guilt and public apology was enough to exonerate him from further punishment. Hence in technical terms, he pleads guilty of the offence but with reasons, as reported. To place the matter in context, the Presidency lunged out in support of Pantami through a statement by Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu which tended to reduce the allegation against the embattled minister to attempts by his traducers who want to derail his commendable service to the country, in his present station, as the driver of the country’s communications sector. In essence, Garba Shehu, sees the entire drama of #pantamimustgo, and #pantamiresignnow as comprising a grand effort at calling a dog a bad name just to defang it.
Incidentally, the Holy Bible (John 8: 1-11) offers a scenario which shares a close similarity with Pantami’s case, in the story of the unnamed Jewish lady, who was accused of adultery and brought to the Lord Jesus Christ to endorse her stoning to death, in accordance with the law of Moses. According to the Bible narrative, Jesus saw through the hypocrisy of the mob, and asked whoever was sinless among them to cast the first stone. As the story goes, they all dropped their stones and vanished one by one from the scene, only for the accused lady to be left alone with Jesus, who in turn asked her to go and sin no more. It was more like the kettle calling the pot, black.
Against the deluge of hypocrisies, criminality, chicanery and other negatives in high places which cumulatively drive the syndrome of heightened freedom of guile and impunity in the country’s public life, it is a wonder if any Nigerian public officer qualifies to cast the first stone at Pantami. Granted that he accepted his mistakes of the past in honesty, the Nigerian culture of covering one old sin with a fresh one without remorse, even makes Pantami stand on a higher notch on the pedestal of moral integrity than many of his traducers.
Considering the miry state of the country’s public space, it is even unfortunate and sad that Pantami’s past sermons, are coming to dominate public discourse in the face of grave, existential challenges to the corporate existence of the country. Nigeria is sinking down a vortex of perdition not just because of Pantami, but the widespread deficit of moral integrity in the public space, including the proclivity of many Nigerians in positions of authority to even sell the country for peanuts as long as their nests are feathered through such enterprise. Mention one area of public life in the comity of nations, and Nigeria will be ranked not among the shining lights, but somewhere else.
The foregoing notwithstanding, it must be a dip in sensitivity to the times that at a time when the government seems to have reversed from its course of complacency to some burning issues of the day, and is now reportedly cracking down on sponsors of terrorism, including arresting hundreds of suspects, it is the stale and pale tale a repented fiery preacher that is dominating media reports. However just in case the exploits of individual actors may be trending, there are also instances of apostolic commitment to rectitude like that of the Clerk of the Senate in the National Assembly, Dauda Ibrahim El Ladan. According to media reports the gentleman, not only refused to endorse a cache of illegal contracts running into billions of naira which were awarded surreptitiously and unilaterally by the Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA) Amos Olatunde Ojo, and presented for endorsement at a recent Management Tenders Board meeting. El Ladan demonstrated moral integrity by also walking out of the meeting in protest. The next stage of the drama featuring the National Assembly management is what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under the new Chairman Abdulrasheed Bawa, will make of it.
Considering that Pantami’s present dilemma was a consequence of the questionable discretion of the Ninth Senate in approving him as a minister, in spite of the brief on him by the DSSS which did not miss out on his preaching past, Nigerians await further action from Bawa’s EFCC, on the financial malfeasances in Ojo’s National Assembly.
Can Bawa then take on Ojo? Time alone, will tell.