Isa Aliyu Pantami, President Muhammadu Buhari’s communications minister, once declared that he was always a happy man towards the massacre of those he considered infidels.
“We are all happy whenever unbelievers are being killed,” Mr Pantami said. “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,” he added.
Mr Pantami’s comments were contained in three audio recordings of his teachings in the 2000s, when he took extreme positions in support of the brutal exploits of Al Qaeda and Taliban elements who were on a campaign to obliterate the West and conquer other parts of the world.
He made the remarks while responding to audience questions about his views on Osama Bin Laden during a lecture about the Taliban. Mr Pantami said of Mr Bin Laden, the late Al Qaeda leader responsible for bringing down the World Trade Centre in an attack that claimed over 3,000 lives in 2001: “I still consider him as a better Muslim than myself.”
Mr Pantami’s comments were translated by Professor Andrea Brigaglia, an African expert at Naples University in Italy. Nigerian scholar Musa Ibrahim of University of Florida in the United States contributed to the paper that explored the onset of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Top journal publisher academia.edu published the research in March 2019, several months before Mr Buhari tapped Mr Pantami as a minister. Mr Pantami’s violent preachings, which he rendered in Hausa and Arabic throughout the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s, had gone largely unreported in the Nigerian mainstream media.
Mr Pantami did not return a request seeking comments from Peoples Gazette about whether or not he has eschewed his violent Salafist views.
How many people have been radicalised by Mr Pantami remained unclear. Messrs Brigaglia and Ibahim said Mr Pantami’s views were rare amongst Islamic preachers across Africa at the time they were made, even though they were common amongst Nigerian Muslims at the time.
“It was ordinary for Nigeria’s mainstream Salafis to endorse Al-Qaeda publicly in their speeches and lectures,” the scholars said. “In this respect, Nigeria was probably a unique case in the Muslim world.”
Mr Pantami, 48, was widely known as a hate preacher across universities and other public institutions in northern parts of Nigeria before Mr Buhari brought him into mainstream Nigerian politics by appointing him as the head of the public information technology department NITDA in 2016.
Mr Buhari further elevated Mr Pantami following his reelection as president in 2019, tapping him to lead the communications and digital economy ministry of the federal government. Mr Pantami has been accused of using his position to further his agenda as a fundamentalist.
His decision to shut down the registration of new telephone lines in Nigeria has been perhaps his most controversial policy pronouncement to date. The move has blocked millions of Nigerians from being able to register new lines on the purported grounds that everyone has to obtain a government-issued national identity number.
Mr Pantami’s vicious comments surfaced following reports that he was placed travel restrictions by the United States for purported ties to Boko Haram. The minister quickly moved to debunk the salacious and grossly uncorroborated claim first published by Daily Independent, a Lagos-based daily.
While debunking the report, however, Mr Pantami took to Twitter to claim he has always preached against Boko Haram. He also retweeted several handles that described him as a peaceful Islamic scholar, an attempt at image laundering that has now been punctured by Italian and African scholars.
“It is unbelievable that President Buhari will appoint a man like Isa Pantami to be a minister in a secular country like Nigeria,” political analyst Mohammed Tukura told The Gazette. “A president that believes in national cohesion will not appoint a fundamentalist who shares the same views as leaders of Boko Haram and Taliban.”
Mr Tukura said Mr Pantami’s nomination should have been rejected on the basis of his appearance in the WikiLeaks file in which he said to have been pushed out of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University for constantly espousing dangerous views.
“We saw on the Internet that the U.S. government accused him of making dangerous comments for which he was expelled from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University,” Mr Tukura said. “His appointment as a minister has now further exposed Buhari’s sectional and divisive way of life.”