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Calls Grow Louder For Nigeria’s Communications Minister To Step Down

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Nigeria’s Communication and Digital Economy Minister, Isa Pantami is facing growing calls to step down following comments that have surfaced in an old video that saw the now Federal Minister coming out in support of Jihad-like movements.

The video posted on various social media platforms including YouTube calls for taking over cities and states in Nigeria especially in the North where Christian populations are seen to be growing or are dominant in politics. Isa Pantami has come out to renounce the statements and said he no longer represents those views. The video has since prompted the #PantamiResign on Twitter. 

But activists are saying it has been said and that he made the statement in his thirties and cannot be said to be a minor of any kind. It is believed by many that he may still represent those views but is only restricted by the office for the time being. They argue that there is an inherent danger in leaving someone with such views in a sensitive position.

The Problem

So here is the argument; The Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy is a big one that oversees all telecom and technology companies. Because of the huge data of Nigerians they oversee, the sometimes interface with the financial sector including with top regulators like the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Nigerian Identity Management Commission (NiMC) was moved from being an autonomous agency of government to Pantami’s ministry. The NiMC is responsible for the collection and management of the data of Nigerians and is the agency responsible for issuing National identity cards. The agency recently under Pantami asked all Nigerians and Nigerian residents to register compulsorily for a National Identity Number (NIN) that will be linked to SIM cards and failure to do this by May 2021 will result in termination of a user’s telephone line. Nigeria with a population of about 200 million is expected to see more than hundred million people gets their NIN by May 2021. The NIN is also linked with Bank Verification Numbers (BVN). The data included in both the NIN and BVN include biometrics, hometown, date of birth and Maiden names among other private information. Nigeria’s telecom sector is the biggest by subscribers and I dare say by revenue in Africa considering the still high cost of data and voice services in the country.

So, you can understand why many are calling on him to step down from such a sensitive position. If such information and that’s a big IF was to make their way to the hands of terrorist organisations, imagine the magnitude of such a disaster.

His Ministry also oversees the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT), an agency that takes care of all Nigerian satellite launches and communications. Telecom companies and the Nigerian military work with the agency in different capacities. Nigerian telecom companies have access to big data on hundreds of millions of Nigerians and the agency that directly regulates them is the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). The NCC is overseen directly by Isa Pantami being the Minister.

His position in the Nigerian government is truly a highly placed one and even though the Minister has come out renouncing the words in the video, it may not be enough. Many have gone to lengths to submit copies of the video to the European and American governments so the Minister can be placed on a watch list. It’s not clear at this time if that would happen.

The Federal government has come out in support of him – they say he has apologised and does not represent those views again and as such should retain his job.

Dr. Isa Pantami’s Biography

Born 48 years ago in Gombe, Dr Pantami, according to his short biography, started his education by attending traditional school for memorizing the Holy Qur’an, called the Tsangaya School. He spent more than four years in the school. He later joined primary school in Pantami. He attended Government Science Secondary School in Gombe.

After his secondary education, he spent additional two years seeking for more religious knowledge before moving to university. He studied Computer Science at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, Nigeria, gaining a BTech in 2003 and an MSc in 2008, before obtaining a PhD from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland.

He is also trained on Digital transformation in Harvard University, USA then Management Strategy in both, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Institute of Management Development in Loussaune, Switzerland. He was also in Cambridge University for Management Programme, among others.

Pantami lectured at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Information Technology before joining the Islamic University of Madinah as Head of Technical Writing in 2014.

In 2016, he was appointed as the Director General/CEO of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) before his appointment as the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.

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