The Muhammadu Buhari government’s support for under-fire minister of communication and digital economy, Isa Ali Pantami has drawn sharp criticisms from many Nigerians.
Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu Thursday said the government was contented with Pantami’s apologies over his past support for Taliban and Al-Qaeda and described the calls for him to resign as a “manufactured dispute”.
“The Minister has, rightly, apologised for what he said in the early 2000s,” Shehu said in a statement.
“The views were absolutely unacceptable then and would be equally unacceptable today, were he to repeat them. But he will not repeat them – for he has publicly and permanently condemned his earlier utterances as wrong.
“Shehu’s statement has met with criticisms, especially by many young Nigerians who feel they had been hard done by the government for things far less grievous than expressing support for terror groups that have killed thousands of people all over the world.
Many on Twitter pointed to the way the Buhari government clamped down on the frontline #EndSARS protesters in the aftermath of the protests against police brutality that grounded major Nigerian cities last October.
The protests forced the government to disband the notorious police – Special Anti-Robbery Squad – accused of crimes including kidnapping, extortion and even murder.
The protests were largely peaceful until the government troops opened fire on unarmed protesters singing the national anthem at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on the evening of October 20.
Amnesty International insisted that at least 12 persons were killed in Lagos that day. But the Nigerian government said the claim was not true.
At least 20 #EndSARS protesters had their bank accounts frozen, with the government accusing them of financing terrorism after the violence that trailed the Lekki incident cleared.
Critics of the Buhari government’s support for Pantanmi said the government could not have treated those who campaigned against police brutality only for it to endorse a minister who in the past supported terrorism, especially when Nigeria is battling Boko Haram insurgency.
The minister had blamed his past extremist leaning on age and immaturity. That excuse was rubbished on the account of the fact that one of the leading #EndSARS promoters Bolatito Oduala who was targeted by the government’s clampdown was far younger when she protested against police brutality, which is not a crime than Pantami was when he praised late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“The man who at 33 years old pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and praised the Taliban is not a threat to national security and can in fact sit on the federal cabinet. But 23 year-old Rinu, student protester, had 4 of her bank accounts PND’d with DSS looking for her,” David Hundeyin, a journalist and a vocal government critic said on Twitter on Friday morning.
A civil rights movement Concerned Nigerians said on Twitter that the minister is”unfit to occupy a public office,” ending its tweet with #PantamiMustGo.
As of 9:15 #PantamiMustGo was one of the trending hashtags in Nigeria with more than 37, 000 tweets.