Professor Jerry Gana, a former Nigerian minister and prominent Christian leader from the Middle Belt, has been accused of sponsoring Boko Haram terrorists by a foremost Islamic body in Nigeria, a moved that appeared aimed at deflecting raging controversy over Isa Pantami’s inflammatory comments against Christians and other non-Muslims across Nigeria.
The Nigeria Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), led by Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Saad Abubakar, said in a Sunday evening press statement that Mr. Pantami was not a threat to Nigeria’s secular union and should not be held responsible for his comments longing for the blood of unbelievers, threatening to subjugate Christian-dominated parts of the country in the northern region and praising terrorist groups and figures like Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Osama Bin Laden.
“The Honourable Minister Pantami remains one of the vital vocal forces against terrorism and terrorist activities in the country,” the NSCIA said. “He was among the pioneer Islamic Scholars who publicly and openly condemned the activities and antics of Boko Haram Groups.”
Mr. Abubakar’s group was pushing back against the position of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) which had said over the weekend that Mr. Pantami’s recently-uncovered comments were dangerous and President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to take action over the matter showed the minister was serving a sinister interest of the president’s.
The NSCIA said rather than criticize Mr. Pantami for apparent support to terrorists, Nigerians should instead interrogate Mr. Gana, who served twice as information minister under Sani Abacha in the 1990s and former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the 2000s.
“It is pertinent here to ask the CAN National President that between Honourable Minister Pantami who engaged the leader of Boko Haram in debates against his wrong and misguided ideologies and that Christian Minister who bailed Muhammad Yusuf three times who is it the country should rightly accuse of being a friend, supporter or member of the extremist group -Boko Haram?” NSCIA said in its statement.
Mr. Gana was accused of bailing out the late Boko Haram leader following his arrest in 2008, reports at the time said. But police spokesperson at the time Emma Ojukwu said it was the court that granted Mr. Yusuf bail and not the police or the influence of an individual.
The claim has been repeated in several media publications ever since to suggest that Mr. Gana had ties to the dreaded sect. It was unclear how Mr. Gana responded to the allegations at the time, and he declined to comment when reached by Peoples Gazette about the NSCIA charges on Monday morning.
Mr. Pantami has made concerted efforts to disabuse public evidence of his support for terrorist groups and violent extremist rhetoric. Following the re-emergence of a document that exposed his involvement in a 2010 plot to assassinate the former Kaduna Governor Patrick Yakowa, Sultan and other Muslim leaders denied ties to Mr. Pantami, claiming his Salafism was incompatible with their moderate Islam.
But the latest statement from the Sultan that exonerated Mr Pantami of any wrongdoing despite publicly available evidence has now contradicted the earlier position of the Muslim leaders.
Read the full statement from the Sultan of Sokoto below:
The Nigeria Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) under the leadership of His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Saad Abubakar, CFR,mni has been following heedfully and meticulously how the country and indeed, the world at large, have been so much inundated with barrages and deluge of lies, fabrications and smear campaigns being churned out against the person of the Honourable Minister of Communication and a Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami.
Knowing fully, with an unshakeable conviction that the Honourable Minister is a man of impeccable character, a genuine Islamic scholar, a responsible and right honorable public servant, and a person globally recognized as a man of peace and integrity he would survive these campaigns of calumny and would come out clean and stronger when the storms of wicked lies wither away, as they definitely would. It would not take more than a layman’s intelligence to discern the lies contained in those stories and press releases.
Besides the fact that they are surely the handiwork of premeditated and well-calculated plots of witch-hunt, they are as well obviously an outburst of hate, mischief, and desperation all at the same time. As it were, the NSCIA does not normally involve itself in addressing issues that affect individual persons, especially those holding political offices whether Muslims or Christians. The NSCIA focuses on addressing issues rather than personalities. It has, however, been compelled to wade into this matter because of the dangerous dimensions it has taken.
First, those whose stock-in-trade is hate and prejudice against Islam have found reasons albeit unfounded ones, to disparage him, pull him down and his religion as a Muslim scholar with all sorts of awful and dreadful publications.
Similarly, people that do not mean well for this country have also used the situation as a launchpad for fanning the embers of discord and causing disaffection to provoke nationwide violence and hostilities. In situations like this, it becomes imperatives to make rightful, just, and honorable interventions. The Hon. Minister has been leading Friday Prayers, conducting Tafsir, study circles, preaching sessions, delivering lectures for more than 20 years. He has also excelled in his field of computer science/ICT.
NITDA was recommended for scrapping. His coming as its DG made it a vibrant agency the impact of which is felt all over the country. His appointment as Minister of Communication has brought transformation and vigorous and unprecedented pursuit of the mandate of the Ministry. His effort to put the telecom industry on the path of global best practices is appreciated by all patriotic Nigerians. His stance on deviant and violent groups is their stance on him is well-known. Then suddenly the mainstream and social media became loaded with all sorts of trash thrown at the Minister. Today they say he was a supporter of the Taliban. Tomorrow they say he plotted the killing of Yakowa.
Another day they say he is on the watch-list. The NSCIA as the apex body of Islamic affairs is in a good position to know Ulama and organizations that harbor deviant ideologies as well as moderate and nominal Muslims. The statements and actions of the Hon. Ministers speak for themselves. The Honourable Minister Pantami remains one of the vital vocal forces against terrorism and terrorist activities in the country. He was among the pioneer Islamic Scholars who publicly and openly condemned the activities and antics of Boko Haram Groups.
Pantami’s debates especially with the leader of Boko Haram, Muhammad Yusuf, despite possible repercussions, unequivocally, proved him to be frontline and audacious Nigerian scholar against terrorism. His recent interventions against terrorists especially the use of the internet, digital technology tools, and mobile communication apparatus stir him against the present leadership of Boko Haram. The terrorist video clips against Dr. Pantami warning that they would eliminate him are widely circulated by the Nigerian press.
No doubt, the present travails of the Minister proved the fact that terrorism is fighting back at those who fight it with Dr. Pantami as a clear example. With all these very clear achievements on contributing to the development of Nigeria and indeed to nation-building and peace-making, it becomes really appalling that the National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria would join the ignoble band-wagon of the architects of mischief who peddle lies and fabrications against the Honourable Minister.
Forgetting the cordial relationship and mutual understanding and trust that exist between Christian and Muslim leaders in the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) and the painstaking efforts we are making to engender peaceful and harmonious co-existence amongst our followers, the President of CAN, obviously driven by prejudice, jumped into the frontline of the unreasonable ones, asking the DSS to go after Pantami. The National President of CAN needs to be reminded that the NSCIA has always exercised restraints on issues involving individual political office holders except when it becomes ultimately necessary like in the present case.
If the NSCIA has been as prejudicious and as pathologically hateful, it would have asked the Nigerian Government in 2008 and 2009 to arrest and investigate a one time prominent, active and vocal Christian Minister who at three different instances bailed the late leader of Boko Haram when the latter was arrested by the Nigerian Security agents.
In fact, it is pertinent here to ask the CAN National President that between Honourable Minister Pantami who engaged the leader of Boko Haram in debates against his wrong and misguided ideologies, and that Christian Minister who bailed Muhammad Yusuf three times who is it the country should rightly accuse of being a friend, supporter or member of the extremist group -Boko Haram?
At this point, the NSCIA wishes to commend the courage, brevity, rightful intervention, and patriotism of the Kaduna State Branch of CAN for standing up for truth and saying it as it is through their statement which unequivocally distanced Dr. Pantami from the mischievous allegations peddled by purveyors of hatred with vilifying vituperation of venom as news causing confusion in the land. It certainly takes brevity to say the truth and stand by it and on its side. This shows that the CAN President did not consult widely and it also shows that there are well-meaning Nigerians across all the divides.
The NSCIA calls on Muslims and other well-meaning Nigerians to shun those trying to use any slightest opportunity to create disaffection among Nigerians.
Prof. Salisu Shehu,
Deputy Secretary-General, The Nigeria Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs (NSCIA).