Dennis Amachree, a former Assistant Director with the Department of State Services (DSS), has said the intelligence agency briefed the Presidency about past activities of Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.
He, however, claimed that Pantami was still appointed as a minister despite his controversial past for “political balancing”.
Amachree said this in an interview on Wednesday.
Pantami has been subject to intense criticism in recent days after his previous videos and audios of his sermons surfaced on social media, suggesting that he tacitly supported the activities of terrorist groups, including Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
He has been in the spotlight after the Daily Independent published a report claiming that the minister, a known Islamic preacher before his appointment, is said to be a very close confidant of the late Mohammed Yusuf, the killed leader of Boko Haram with whom he allegedly shared jihadist doctrines.
The newspaper, in its now-retracted report, also reported that Pantami has been placed on the watch list of America’s Intelligence Service.
He, however, renounced his previous comments last Saturday, saying that he made some of the statements when he started his preaching at a young age based on his understanding of religious issues and that his views have now changed having got more enlightened over the years.
But the renunciation did not spare the minister from a deluge of criticisms, with some Nigerians calling on him to either resign or be sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Explaining how Pantami was appointed to head a sensitive ministry, Amachree said the DSS has information on all individuals of interest, adding that the minister’s past extremist views were communicated to the Federal Government and the legislature.
The Ex-DSS official added that the minister must have sailed through the DSS and Senate screenings due to a lot of factors, including federal character balancing.
“There is no information that escapes the DSS, we have all of it, all. When I was working there, we keep a catalogue of anybody of interest that comes up to limelight in this country,” Amachree told the Punch.
“During the vetting process for anybody to be appointed a minister or commissioner or anything, your name is sent to the SSS for vetting. They check your background up to the extent of your grandmother. They check your schools up to the extent of your primary school. And of course, they keep a tab on you online and offline. We get a lot from open source intelligence and I can tell you that in Pantami’s case, we have it.
“But there is a political angle to it. When somebody is being appointed, if the security agencies see that there is something wrong with his name, they will send it to the appointing agency. The appointing agency will now decide amongst other variables either religious variable, federal character balancing variable, or political variable and say that, ‘Oh, yes, we know that this guy has this and that but let’s appoint him.
“So, the political decision is not taken by the SSS. Even when you go to the Senate for confirmation, there is party by party and you can see that there are some political candidates that the opposition party will say that this one will not be appointed but because he belongs to that party, they will appoint him. So, these are political and federal balancing where they will say that there is nobody from this place that has been appointed, so let’s appoint him.”
The ex-DSS director further said the United States was gathering information on the communications minister.
Amachree said: “He (Pantami) has just submitted his name into US database. The cataloguing of people is not automatic, it comes in drips and drops. Now, people are talking about him and that has come to the attention of the United States Embassy in Nigeria already. Now, they will do a deeper dive into his background. They will catalogue him and now they will start watching him and if it comes to a very critical level, they will place him on a no-fly zone.”