The Federal Government of Nigeria has accused some Information and communications technology (ICT) companies of running a smear campaign against the under fire Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami.
Pantami has been under public pressure over the past week to resign from his position following the revelation of troubling extremist comments he made in the past, including support for terror groups, and infamous terror leader, Osama Bin Ladin.
After staying mute for many days about the controversy, the Presidency announced its strong backing for the 48-year-old in a statement on Thursday, April 22, 2021.
President Muhammadu Buhari‘s media aide, Garba Shehu, said he made the comments when he was young and in his 20s (he was at least 34), and has apologised.
He said the minister has been doing a great job improving the nation’s ICT sector, and that has made him enemies that would benefit from his removal.
Implying that the campaign for the minister to resign or be sacked was a deliberate plot, the Presidency alleged that some ICT companies approached newspaper editors to induce them to crank up pressure on the minister with a smear campaign.
Shehu said the attempt failed because the editors rejected the money, but that the government would thoroughly investigate and take action against the companies.
“The government is now investigating the veracity behind these claims of attempted inducement, and – should they be found to hold credence – police and judicial action mut be expected,” he said.
The government’s stand has outraged many who have criticised Thursday’s backing of Pantami as a tacit support for terrorism.
The minister, in public sermons he made as an Islamic cleric, endorsed the atrocities of global terrorist groups, and suggested that Nigerian Muslims should wage a jihad.
He also got into trouble at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi for inflammatory preaching, according to a United States diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks in 2009.
The minister has also been alleged to have instigated Muslims against Christians in some of the deadly religious clashes that have taken place in the northern region.
Pantami offered a feeble apology last week saying that he was too young at the time, even though some of the comments were made when he was already in his 30s and occupied influential positions.
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“I have changed several positions taken in the past based on new evidence and maturity,” he said.
This apology is what the Presidency posed on Thursday as a strong position for why the minister will keep his job.
The administration said it stands behind the minister and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services