The Presidency has backed the minister of communication and digital economy Isa Pantami despite growing calls for his resignation over extremist views expressed in his youth.
The president’s position on the matter is the first in weeks since Nigerians began pushing for the minister to resign after clips of him appraising terrorist groups and their operations surfaced.
Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu in a statement on Thursday said Pantami’s ordeal in the hands of those calling for his removal was not about his past utterances but about his current job as a minister.
The Presidency aligned itself with the submission of the embattled minister that he was young when he made those statements and that his position had since changed.
“The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami is, currently, subject to a ‘cancel campaign’ instigated by those who seek his removal,” the statement read.
“They do not really care what he may or may not have said some 20 years ago: that is merely the instrument they are using to attempt to ‘cancel’ him. But they will profit should he be stopped from making decisions that improve the lives of everyday Nigerians.
“The Minister has, rightly, apologised for what he said in the early 2000s. 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.”
“The administration stands behind Minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services,” it added.
The Presidency also said Pantami had become an enemy to many due to his commitment to improving the lives of Nigerians.
According to the statement, the minister has been leading the charge against illegal data deductions and pricing; he has revolutionised the government’s virtual public engagement to respond to COVID-19 and save taxpayers’ money; he has established ICT start-up centres to boost youth entrepreneurship and create jobs; he has changed policy to ensure locally produced ICT content is used by ministries, starting with his own; and he has deregistered some 9.2 million SIMs – ending the ability for criminals and terrorists to flagrantly use mobile networks undetected.
The statement further said the government was investigating allegations that tech companies tried to sway newspaper editors into running a smear campaign against the minister.
Many of the companies, the Presidency said, “do indeed stand to lose financially through lower prices and greater consumer protections.”