COLUMN: Of Pantami, NIN and Media Frenzy
This column would busy itself by exploring through some of the striking issues in our today’s news headlines. These issues are, of course, so unentralling that they call for deep reflection, to this columnist. The rapid advancement in technology is itself the essence of an evolving world as no sane person would ever desire to live in those years of dark age— in such an unadvanced world. Even though, this advancement in technology has overtime, become a factor that leads to many falls in the world; it still remains an indisputable fact that humans without technology can no longer survive. On this note, it is observed that advancement in technology, however important it is, has its own limitations, or rather say, its own adversaries. This columnist, also has a special taste in a world that has made almost everything so sophisticated and easily accessible – which has formed a very crucial aspect of good and peaceful life. Hence, its absence would be a major problem to the lives of this fast rising world, Nigerian population as an example. The cause of these much-read-about issues could not but be traceable to one word which hide itself in the context of digitalization, this word, has attracted so many interests and efforts in the interface of world and of the technological development.
Analyzing the allegation on his engagement with the Boko Haram terrorist group and his show of sympathy to some terrorist groups, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim popularly known as “Dr. Pantami” has caught the attention of this columnist to read the richly documented biography about this embattled Nigerian Minister for Communication and Digital Economy, wherein the Honorable Minister, according to some, has written his name boldly in gold, while other camp argued otherwise.
Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami), a Muslim Cleric, is by tribe a Fulani, who was born on the 20th of October 1972 in Pantami Ward, Gombe State, Nigeria. His parents are Alhaji Ali Ibrahim Pantami and Hajiya Amina Umar Aliyu. Young Isa started his education by attending a traditional School for the memorization of the holy Qur’an, where he spent some years in the school. He later joined primary school in his hometown, Pantami. After the completion of his elementary studies, he attended Government Science Secondary School in Gombe. For his post secondary school studies, he attended Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, where he studied Computer Science and graduated in 2003, after he had gained a B. Tech. He also bagged an MSc in 2008, he then furthered his quest for education by obtaining a PhD from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland. He was also trained on Digital transformation at Harvard University, USA, then Management Strategy at both, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Institute of Management Development in Loussaune, Switzerland. He was also in Cambridge University for Management Programme. These are among his many accolades that later qualified him to become a lecturer at ATBU, Bauchi State and the University of Medina respectively. Prior to his appointment as the Honorable Minister, he has held the position of Chief Information Officer and Director General at the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). This period of his educational pursuit and his choice in the delivery of Islamic sermons were however, according to some quarters, perceived to be his youthful exuberance which in years later would haunt him and make him a sympathizer of some terrorist groups. This is to mean that: during your formative years, you have to be very careful of what you utter, and do it explicitly if at all you must utter them. It is not for that moment but for the unknown vultures that await you in future and are ready to devour you no matter what.
The linking of National Identification Number (NIN) to the National Data base
Crimes, whether organized or real are perpetrated by some perceived set of people and this has turned a regular occurrence in Nigeria, where you will hardly see a day pass by without a reported case of kidnapping, robbery and insurgency, whether in the north or the south. Reports of ceaseless carnage have also been a regular feature on the headlines of both international and local newspapers. This is so terribly worrisome that one cannot sleep with the two eyes closed. These and many other awful incidents are what the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy with other sister establishments aimed to tackle by introducing a national identification policy. The policy takes a form of bio-data of every citizen on the national data base – which subsequently will be linked to other information obtained from other bases such as finance, telecommunication and other bodies.
An effective national identity management system, hence, is critical to the development of any economy. This provides a universal identification infrastructure for a country that enables access and means to confirming the identity of individuals residing in a country. Thus, proper economic planning, adequate intelligence gathering and a functioning internal and external security architecture will be difficult to sustain in the absence of a robust national identification system (which is usually comprised in a central identity repository or database).
In recognition of the foregoing, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was established in 2007 pursuant to the NIMC Act to create, manage, maintain and operate a unified National Identity Database for Nigeria. To this end, the NIMC, which replaced the defunct Department of National Civic Registration, is required to carry out the registration of all registrable persons in Nigeria and thereafter issue a General Multipurpose Identity Card (National Identity Card) to each registered person. The National Identity Card issued upon completion of the registration process bears a unique National Identification Number (NIN), which is assigned by the NIMC to each registered person in the National Identity Database. The unique NIN is required to be incorporated into or made compatible with other existing identity-related databases/registers containing information/data relating to the registered person.
In order to ensure efficiency in the task of covering the whole country, the NIMC operates administrative and monitoring offices in all the States, Local Government Areas and Area Councils of the Federation. While in relation to the objectives of the NIMC Act and the NIN Mandatory Use Regulations, the NIMC has commenced collection of the data and biometric information of registrable persons into the National Identity Database. Upon completion of registration, a transaction slip known as the National Identification Number Slip (NIN Slip) is first issued to a registered person pending release of the National Identity Card. The NIN Slip serves as evidence of registration and bears the unique NIN of the registered person. In this regard, the NIMC issued a public notice specifying January 1, 2019, as the government approved commencement date for the enforcement of the NIN Mandatory Use Regulations and the consequent application of appropriate sanctions and penalties for non-compliance. Consequently, all registrable persons are required to provide their NIN to be able to carry out the above-listed transactions (and any other transactions that the NIMC may determine by regulation) as from the stated date. In a show of compliance and solidarity, all federal agencies such as JAMB, IMMIGRATION AUTHORITIES, ROAD SAFETY among others have declared NIN a condition prerequisite for registration, validation and other activities within their agencies.
Alleged links to Boko Haram and the show of sympathy to other terrorist groups
It was in relation to the foregoing when recently and precisely in April 2021, the social media world was thrown agog upon discovery of a link which leaked the Minister’s spiritual romance with the leader of an Islamic terror group known as Boko Haram. The link also revealed that Dr. Pantami has been unceremoniously placed by the American government under its terrorist watch list. These allegations were contained in an online publication made available to the public by one of the leading media companies in Nigeria, though the allegation was later refuted by NewsWireNgr – a third party newspaper that claimed to have copied the publication from the Independent Newspapers Nigeria, which till present, no retraction has been published on the website of the latter to claim otherwise. The only thing obtainable till date is that the media house only expunged it from their website.
It was based on this aforementioned information that social media users and practitioners took to their various pages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to verify the veracity of such claims, while others used these platforms to intensify the call for the resignation of the embattled Minister and subsequently, to handover himself to the authorities for prosecution. Among the investigations conducted was that of the Premium Times where some claims were found to be untrue. Part of it was the claim that Pantami was “friendly” in a 2006 debate with Yusuf where actually it was discovered that Pantami in fact argued with Yusuf in support of Western education and serving under a non-Islamic state. Apart from this , the news outlet was unable to confirm if Pantami was actually placed on the watchlist by the US government as same was not disclosed by either the US government or the Nigerian government.
As useless as nothing, my fellow countrymen, especially the youths, are very active in rushing to conclusion even without any concrete evidence to lay hand on. They maliciously refuse to make efforts in verifying the veracity of the multiple allegations….. no wonder, the President has once called us lazy youths. Are we truly not lazy? Another effort led to the discovery of an audio published by Peoples Gazette, where Pantami was alleged to be sympathetic to the Boko Haram members when delivering sermons at several worship centers in the mid to late 2000s.This revelation led to the unraveling of Pantami’s old speeches, including a 2004 speech where he expressed support for the Taliban and al-Qaedah; where he was quoted to have said: “Oh God, give victory to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda.” And in another revelation, he was reported to have claimed that “jihad is an obligation for every single believer, especially in Nigeria.” These speeches along with other speeches like one from 2006 where Pantami mourned the death of the leader of al-qaedah in Iraq, Abu Mushab Zakowi were among many traces of Pantami alleged engagements with some terrorist groups.
In defending himself, Pantami denied condoning terrorism or holding any bigoted beliefs, claiming that all the quoted evidences are to their extent of inconsistencies void and are only an imagination of the people circulating them. He however, further buttressed his stance by maintaining that he has more non muslims as his workers and has always maintained a cordial relationship with many of his non muslims friends within and outside Nigeria.
The Insanity in the Media and the rest of us
It is no longer alien within the media world that the moment a rumor sprouts out, there are people already stationed and always glued to their phones and computer systems expecting any kind of recent events. These unapologetic media users and practitioners would not think twice before spreading such rumor, as much as investigative journalism costs not a huge sacrifice in getting a verified information which is not capable of misleading the general public, our people are always in hurry to make a cheap popularity out of media, hence, making a bad name for journalism and the good people who still believe in investigative journalism as a catalyst to leading peaceful life.
The media has so become a platform where sanity could not be easily seen or found, the good qualities of information, education and entertainment that were once attributed to social media and other media outlets are fast disintegrating—- all due to the misuse and continuous abuse of this subject matter. Take for instance, the case of Dr. Pantami, which until recently, was across the globe, an internationally-acclaimed scholar who had passed through some of the world’s best universities including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge University and Robert Gordon University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he obtained a doctoral degree in computer information systems, all of which are very sensitive to terrorism and all its elements but was cleared to study conveniently without any traces of him with terrorist groups or had once been a sympathizer to these groups. But out of dark moon, such reputation would be dragged into the mud, all in the name of ‘NIN’.
My stance, like other sane writers, remain that such frivolous allegation would have held water had it been that the instigators were able to bring same up during the period of his stewardship at NITDA and during his nomination as a Minister designate. However, by springing such up at this material time obviously suggests it was ill-conceived and lacks any reasonable merits and it is to the extent of it unreasonability null and void. It is best fitted to be thrown into the dustbin. We therefore, pull out our heavy weight behind the pantamimuststay hashtag.
Muhammad Fatiu Ayomi, a popular Ilorin born writer, an alumnus of Unilorin, Political Analyst, a Legal Minded Advocate, a Historian and a Columnist.