The Presidency has insisted that some Nigerians who are unwilling to forgive Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, for his previous extremist comments are problematic for society.
Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, stated the Presidency’s stance in an interview on Friday.
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.
The Presidency released a statement on Thursday, maintaining that it is in support of Pantami as he has apologised and recanted his past comments, and accused Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies of hatching a ‘cancel culture’ campaign against the minister.
Defending the government’s position, Shehu said the failure by critics of the minister to forgive him for the comments he made in support of extremist groups in the past is worse than the offence he committed.
“I am saying to you that people who stand in criticism of this position of the man who said he had wronged himself, he had wronged the society, and has apologised that he has changed, and they are not willing to forgive to move on; they are the ones who are the problem,” Shehu said on Channels Television’s Politics Today.
The presidential spokesperson stated that it was wrong for any individual to deny their fellow beings a chance to be a better person.
He said: “In all our lives, we change and transform … we don’t remain in the same position. The people just assume that he cannot change; if the One who created you gives it to you that from being bad, you can become good, what tells you to deny some other persons this right?
“They are the ones who are deeply intolerant, and who are telling the world that in this country, we have the set of people who don’t forgive, who don’t want to move on; they are the problem of the society.”
Shehu also insisted that contrary to the current public opinion, the certificate forgery by Kemi Adeosun, the former minister of finance, cannot be compared with the situation of Pantami.
Adeosun resigned as minister in September 2018 after it was reported that her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate was forged to bypass Nigerian laws that mandate public officials to undergo the one-year service.
When pressed on why Adeosun resigned but was quick to defend Pantami, Shehu said the latter’s case only involved people probing his thoughts during the said lectures.
He said: “In the second case which is that of Pantami, you are probing the thoughts, what is called ‘McCarthyism’; you search the inner recesses of the minds of individuals, bring out things they have said, or they are about to say, or you think they would say, and use that against them.
“If Pantami had forged certificate before coming into office, the attitude (of the presidency) would have been different.
“We don’t remain in the same position. Don’t assume that things cannot change. If the one who created you gives it to you that from being bad, you can become good, what says you should deny some other persons this right?”