The Senate has said Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, cannot be disqualified from contesting any election in Nigeria currently as he has not committed any crime or breached any law to warrant such restriction.
Senator Ajibola Basiru, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, said this in an interview published on Sunday against the backdrop of the controversy that the minister has been embroiled in recently.
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.
Basiru, however, said that no individual or group presented any petition against Pantami to the Senate during his screening, adding that the security agencies did not indict the Gombe State-born cleric and tech administrator during the same period.
According to him, the upper legislative chamber cannot work with social media insinuations or reports.
He also noted that with Pantami screened and sworn in as a member of the Federal Executive council, the Senate lacks the power to remove any minister from office.
The Senate spokesperson insisted that the current controversy around Pantami does not constitute any grounds for his sacking, insisting that critics have failed to single out the section of the law breached by the minister.
“To start with, there is nothing that disqualified him from contesting an election based on the constitution of Nigeria,” Basiru told the Punch.
“Those who are talking have not pointed to a particular law upon which he ought to be removed as a minister.
“Even if the information about him now, assuming it was available then (during screening), does it constitute a disqualifying factor of being a Minister under the Nigerian law?”
Basiru also dismissed the call on Buhari to sack Pantami based on moral grounds saying that controversy was a normal thing in politics.