Pantami: What the Editorial Miss on the Performing Communications Minister
By Mohammad Dahiru Lawal
TECH DIGEST – It was in July 2019 when the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) convened a maiden Social Media Influencers Summit in Kano, where media managers, experts, influencers, online publishers and entrepreneurs from across the country converged to deliberate on crucial issues surrounding the new media as it affects Nigeria.
The Chairman of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES, Professor Jibrin Ibrahim was at hand at the time to take a session on Media Propaganda, Misinformation, Disinformation and Fake News.
The professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, obviously worth his salt, held the audience spell bound with his elicidation upon the implicit and explicit consequences of information disorder, especially when used as a deliberate weapon of warfare meant for achieving malicious ends.
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, who is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, traced the historical genesis of the interconnected issues back to warlord, Adolf Hitler, who used dangerous propaganda as a lethal weapon to entrench his brutish rule, linking it up to the contemporary times when Donald Trump deployed the same tool to cause confusion and sway public opinion. He even referenced the book by Hannah Arendt, The Origin of Totalitarianism as a major source of understanding of how these things have worked, is working and will continue to work, unless critical thinking and logical deductions prevail over bias. The crux of the entire discussion gave credence to the fact that any of this leg of information disorder has the limitless power to erode critical thinking and throw a society down the drain of disorderliness, confusion and chaos, while eventually paving a way for an absolute descent into totalitarianism.
Having backed his presentation with fresh facts, referenced enduring analysis and case studies from the then just concluded 2019 general election, among other resources, it wasn’t out of place to understand that the Professor was not just standing for himself but also the institution which he represents, one of which is PREMIUM TIMES itself. It’s therefore not by coincidence that PREMIUM TIMES‘s coverage of issues has always been in-depth, informed, detailed and objective, while adhering to the ethical standards of fairness and objectivity to all parties involved in a matter.
This sense of responsibility again came into play in the recent media war against Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, where unlike some media outfit whose agenda against the honourable minister was coastal clear from the outset, PREMIUM TIMES refused to play to the gallery but stuck to its tradition of verifying facts and balancing both sides of the narrative. Typically, the medium went as far as interviewing the Minister himself to get his own side of the story, fact checking misleading accounts and even publishing counter-narratives from the Christian Association of Nigeria, Kaduna State Chapter and Jammatu Nasrul Islam on one of the fabricated allegations, which has the propensity to ignite a religious fire on the scale of what has never before been witnessed in this country. But suddenly, PREMIUM TIMES came up with an Editorial bearing a hardline stance against Pantami’s continued stay in office as Minister.
One cannot understand where PT’s bias against Pantami is emerging from, especially as it comes a little bit after the storm generated by the subject matter had subsided. Even though the editorial reflects the stance of the paper as collectively voted for by its Editorial Board, I wish the medium had considered the malicious origin of the campaign and understood that it is morally erroneous and reputably injurious for a responsible media organisation to build a verdict on such a fundamental flaw.
Doing so will not only set a precedence for progress and development to be easily stalled through the instrumentality of dangerous propaganda, but will also create a new vacuum of vulnerability for public office holders, who are poised to serve the country determinedly.
In such sensitive matters, it is instructive that by the time such a reputable media allows its weight to focus on certain viewpoints, using certain sources of information, they are explicitly or implicitly favouring certain topics, perspectives and sources of information over other potentially equally legitimate ones, which, in turn, implies that some major voices and perspectives are being marginalised.
It shouldn’t be just about the need for a rush to dish out editorials, the question is, what value does the take add to the debate in shaping national policies, strengthening institutions and protecting sustainable public interest in ensuring the continuity of reforms and target goals.
I am very much apprehensive about throwing a Pantami under the bus in a system that does not have the firm influence to guarantee sustainable public service sector reforms, especially one that is directly beneficial to throngs of massively unemployed youths and has come with a radical and accelerated point of divergence from a conventional, ailing economy to a more robust and decentralised system i.e. the gig economy, which is obviously the future of work.
PT had indeed admitted that there has been a number of misreporting and decontextualisation of some past sermons but Pantami’s “overall worldview, to the EXTENT that the tapes reviewed by this newspaper revealed, are troubling enough,” it said (emphasis added). This admission in my opinion indicates that in coming up with its editorial, PT might not have gone the extra length to review his recent sermons against terrorism which made him a target of attack by Boko Haram, neither did they take up the initiative to review the cause of those rhetoric, which was at the time, for most Muslims, informed by the Western military invasion of the Islamic world, an ideological outlook, which later changed for the same set of believers when it began to emerge that the incursions were nothing short of bloodthirsty and bloodletting sprees aimed at deploying violent intimidation to the pursuit of political ends. If PT had taken the pain on this one, as it always does, the measurability of the extent to which Pantami has reverted his mindset and core religious belief wouldn’t be something of a mystery to deduce for the paper, as it claimed in the said editorial. His recent sermons, political disposition and progressive inclination, all within public glare, are clear enough to aid measurement.
While PTs concern about the pluralistic nature of our society and its complex diversity is very much valid, however it should have reckoned that if not handled with the sensitivity it deserves, this case will expose Muslims in Nigeria to become victims of attrition and the young educated ones will not enjoy being proud of their heritage if they can be vulnerable to such malicious propaganda, which is an easy sell, so long as one professes the faith.
Curiously, there is an abundance of alternative indicators from which PT could have judged the Minister, interestingly things weren’t considered through those prisms. Specifically, I find it personally perplexing that Dr. Pantami’s sterling performance as Minister is not being mainstreamed on the same scale at which his renounced ideology of the past is being scrutinised.
Providing an enabling environment for creativity and innovation to thrive in an alternative economy from the oil-based to a digitally driven one is no mean feat and Pantami has achieved that in less than two years. No Nigerian Ministry has ever achieved such accelerated reform since Independence and I stand to be corrected! ICT is now the fastest growing non-oil sector as latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that its contribution to the Nigerian economy grew by 14.70 per cent in the last quarter of 2020.
Pantami has gone ahead to save the Federal Government over N22 billion through the clearance of information technology (IT) projects and the establishment of the National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR), to serve as a leading hub of innovation, research and development, knowledge transfer, and training in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and other emerging technologies.
Despite the attacks, Pantami has kept his eyes on the ball, as he recently launched the National Policy for the Promotion of Indigenous Content in the Nigerians Telecommunication Sector and the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration, a feat that earned him a presidential commendation and saddled him with additional coordinating responsibilities.
If all these issues have their merits and relative weight on the scale on which Pantami is being judged and yet they are not being considered while prosecuting him in the media court, then I have reasons to believe that the editorial in view was borne out of some sort of pressure.
Whether Pantami leaves or stays, history will remember him more as a scholar and architect of the modern Nigerian economy, more than one with some renounced religious viewpoints.
It is therefore undisputable that what is at stake far outweighs what will be gained if the minister is being forced out using the yardstick of a campaign that has malicious origins, rather than a patriotic one. Even though a lot eventually came bare, at times like this patriotism should be the criterion, discretion should supersede fury, and national interest should displace public rage.
While we should not relent in holding power to account, we should be wary of doing so through the instrumentalities of a foundation that is based on malicious propaganda, otherwise, it will never stand the test of time.
Mohammad Dahiru Lawal, is coordinator, Network of Advocates for Digital Reporting (NADIR), he writes in from Kano via [email protected]