The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has demanded the dismissal of Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, over statements he made in the past in support of Islamic extremist groups.
Audio recordings of Mr Pantami’s past teachings where he declared support for Al-Qaeda and Taliban resurfaced last week, generating debates on social media platforms with many Nigerians calling for his removal and others defending him.
Mr Pantami, an Islamic cleric, denied any links with the groups. He, however, admitted making the controversial statements supporting the groups but said on Saturday that his views on such extremist groups have changed.
“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 newspaper quoted him as saying during an Islamic lecture at an Abuja mosque.
Many Nigerians have, however, called on Mr Pantami to resign or be sacked as minister after more Nigerians became aware of his past statements.
On Sunday, Nigeria’s main opposition party, PDP, joined the call for the minister’s resignation.
“Our party’s position is predicated on the heightening concerns in the public space and in the international arena of possible compromises by the communication minister, who has access to sensitive government documents and information, in addition to data of all individuals including high profile personalities in the public and private sectors as well as the traditional and faith-based circles,” the PDP said in the statement signed by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan.
The party also charged the State Security Service (SSS) to probe Mr Pantami for allegedly compromising “the NIN registration exercise by giving room for the registration of aliens and invaders from other countries as our citizens.”
Mr Pantami had in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, alleged that the calls for his removal were being sponsored by those opposed to the government’s policy of mandatory registration of the National Identity Number (NIN) and linking it to all SIM cards. The policy was proposed and is being driven by Mr Malami’s ministry.
“I have no doubt about this. It has to do with the National Identification Number,” he said of the mass criticisms he has faced online in the past week.
“Now they have started coming with the news that people are coming from neighbouring countries to register. What they fail to understand is that the National Identification Number is not only for Nigerians; anybody in Nigeria can obtain it. Section 16 and 17 of the Act mention the registrable people in the country – citizens, legal residents, legal permanent residents, and legal residents for a minimum of two years. So, it is not only for citizens. And it is also important to know that this is not just an indication that they are citizens of Nigeria. It is rather an indication that you presented your biometric data, so government has control over your data. And that data of NIMC (National Identity Management Commission), nobody has an access to it in any way he likes. Getting access to it illegally is 10 years in prison. It is there in the law. But people will like to discredit it because they don’t like it.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, who recently returned to Nigeria from the UK where he spent a fortnight to undergo a ‘medical check-up’, is yet to comment on the controversy over Mr Malami.
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