Pantami: In the eye of the storm

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Political power controls everything in a nation’s life. It is ideally attained by means of politics which involves a struggle for political power; a sport rightly described as dirty and played in murky waters that spares no player of the blemishes. Nevertheless, man as a political animal cannot totally avoid politics or insulate himself from political development in a democratic society. This reality has a profound influence on most seekers of political power or influence and accounts for the desperation, inconsistency, and treachery regularly exhibited by politicians. It is a self serving mindset that has reduced our politics to a game of tactics and transaction in which no principle is beyond sacrifice. Certainly, there are only a few politicians in positions of authority today like Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno state who could be regarded as an exception.

It is important to note that vying for an elective office at any level isn’t the only avenue to politics. Another way to go into politics is accepting a political appointment and serving in that respective capacity. In this context, those occupying both elective and non elective public offices are bound by the same rules and morales that govern the conduct of public office holders without any differentiation. Consequently, any Islamic cleric who chooses to abandoned the austere surroundings of the Munbar (pulpit) for the lucrativeness and flamboyance of ministerial post, should not expect a different standard of accountability and probity in the court of public opinion. It is a fact well known that the past deeds and words of public office holders really matters to the present for good. In fact, it is a combination of words and deeds in the past and present that form the core of one’s reputation and serves as valid point of reference in a relevant public discourse.

We are witnessing how a statement by Senator Ahmed Tinubu more than two decades ago is undermining his 2023 presidential ambition. He has been regularly quoted on media platforms saying “I don’t believe in one Nigeria”. What a scathing response to his political ambition. Decades earlier, the late Umaru Dikko had made a career damaging statement that created a huge image problem for him in the second republic. “Nigerians aren’t poor since they are not eating from the dustbin”. The quoted statement credited to him had understandably dominated the print media headlines during Shagari’s era. His insistence that he was quoted out of context did not resonates with the public and could not salvage his reputation as a political leader. Similarly, the immediate past minister of finance had to resigned from her plum post following her involvement in the NYSC certificate scandal exposed by the media. Evidently, the act of forgery was perpetrated by her agents without her knowledge or direction. Nonetheless, as a beneficiary of an act of impropriety she was undeserving of exculpation and had to accordingly quit.

In advanced democracies like the United States of America and United Kingdom, statements and indiscretions of seekers and holders of political offices have been subjected to scrutiny on regular basis. President Obama’s 2008 winning trajectory was almost derailed by an incendiary statement made by Reverend Jeremiah Wright. It didn’t matter that the statement that projected USA in bad light was made over a decade ago before Obama contested the US presidency. His opponents understandably pounced on the statement and caused him a lot of grief. Consequently, he had to severe his long standing relationship with the pastor who officiated his wedding and baptized his children. A British parliamentarian was compelled to quit his post after a picture that captured the moment he drove through a red light district made headlines and damaged his reputation. These are pointers to the fact that it is universally common and appropriate to make reference to statements or indiscretions made by public office holders even in the distant past.

At this juncture, there is need to highlight the basic distinction between politics and religion. Certainly, politics isn’t religion and religion isn’t politics. As we all know politics is governed by laws of the land made by man while religious practices are founded on scriptural doctrines. However, the two distinct concepts could be made to mingle but not blend for political gains during campaigns as exploited by President Jonathan and President Buhari. It was what made religious leaders to overtly engage in partisan politics during the 2011, 2015 and 2019 presidential and governorship elections. The emergence of an erudite Islamic scholar as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria marks the culmination of a misnomer that’s currently heating the polity.

However, it has to be noted that there are vital points those on both sides of the raging debate on the issue are missing. All political appointees irrespective of their background are partisan entities and should be bound by the same norms that bound other politicians. Consequently, it is valid to make reference to any inappropriate statement or deed made in the past by any political appointee to substantiate a claim or support a viewpoint. Accordingly, those calling for the resignation of Dr Pantami on account of the inappropriate statements duly credited to him could not be rightly faulted. It makes no difference that he had contritely discountenanced or dismissed such statements as mere exhibition of youthful exuberance. In a broader sense, it requires more than words to control the damage done to his reputation. There is no gainsaying that had he not chosen to get into the murky waters of politics for personal gains, no reference would have made to the statements. More so, his deafening silence on the state of the nation is clearly inconsistent with his previous statements that reflected unwillingness to hold any public office, a deep concern and outrage over the bloodshed in the north during Jonathan’s era.

On the other hand, the antagonists don’t have the liberty to blatantly disregard, ignore or be in denial of the undeniable truth about a man whose perspectives and viewpoints on the state of the nation have been radically altered by Buhari’s ascension to the presidency. What shapes his ministerial status and current perceptions on national issues have no any bearing with the statements he made in the past. It is utterly ridiculous to ascribe terroristic link to a man who has a death sentence hanging over his head for spearheading the effort that disrupts communication between terrorists groups. The death sentence was passed on Dr Pantami by the Boko Haram leader Shekau last year. It was following a presentation the minister made during a conference in which he highlighted the role of Information Technology in the nation’s counter terrorism effort. I have to reiterate that the sentence is no less consequential than the one that has made Salman Rushdie, the infamous author of ‘The Satanic Verses’ to live in hiding and perpetual fear for decades. Certainly, a man who has incurred wrath of terrorists and attracted a death sentence cannot sensibly be labeled an enabler, sympathizer or supporter of any terrorist group.

It is on record that the minister has spoken to two different audiences in response to the charges. He mentioned among other things the commendable effort he made within and outside the university community to create awareness on the dangerous doctrines of religious extremism on which terrorism thrives. On the second occasion, he needlessly averred that as a minister he has employed more Christians than Muslims and even mentioned the names of his personal staff who are Christians. This was evidently done to banish any lingering worry about religious bias on his part. However, the statement did not only failed to do that but it also created a feeling of betrayal among his discerning followers. It clearly shows that it is all about oneself and self Interest not people’s interest that hardly matters to public office holders who are averse to walking the talk in the Interest of the people.

Fallibility is an integral part of human nature and no man is immune to it irrespective of the quantum of knowledge and wisdom in a man. It is therefore normal for even men blessed with immense knowledge like Dr. Pantami to make wrong choice of words and deeds at crucial moments as manifested in his controversial statements and foray into politics at difficult times. It vividly calls to mind the political misadventures of Reverend Jolly Nyame that arrested development in Taraba state and eventually landed him in jail. It was even on a greater scale that a dubious blend of religion and politics in Zamfara state bequeathed a disastrous legacy of retrogression that reverberates through the north west with devastating consequences. This raging controversy has underscored the imperative for religious leaders to stick to their calling in the interest of the society. According to sociologists, religious and political institutions indispensably play distinctive not interwoven roles in social engineering. A cross over clearly constitutes an aberration with far reaching consequences on the individual and the society. Life’s best lessons are wrapped in our shortcomings and mistakes that can only be unwrapped by wisdom and the wisest of men is generally one who thinks himself the least wise.

Wada Esq. writes from Bauchi

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