Abuja-based constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), has faulted and dismissed as pedestrian, all the arguments put forward by the federal government in defence of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami.
In a statement he issued Friday night, Ozekhome argued that even though Pantami committed the alleged terrorist acts before the enactment of the Terrorism (Prevention Amendment) Act 2013, he could be prosecuted under Section 46 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act, 2004 (EFCC Act).
This is as the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday accused the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its leaders of a conspiratorial silence in the face of the worrisome revelation in which Pantami, has been accused of affiliation with terrorist groups.
Again, in defence of Pantami, the Caretaker Chairman of the APC in Gombe State, Mr. Nitte K. Amangal has condemned in strong terms, the sustained campaign of calumny Pantami by people he described as disgruntled and unpatriotic.
However, standing with those against Pantami, a former deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and a presidential candidate in the last general election, Kingsley Moghalu, has joined the call for the sacking of the minister over his past radical Islamic views and support for the Boko Haram terrorist group.
The calls for President Muhammadu Buhari to relieve Pantami of his appointment as a minister after he admitted making incendiary religious statements sometime between 2000 and 2006, as an Islamic scholar, has continued to gather momentum.
In the inflammatory speeches, he had expressed allegiance to and support for (including sympathy with) the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram terrorist groups.
But the minister claimed he had since changed his views. “Some of the comments I made some years ago that are generating controversies now were based on my understanding of religious issues at the time, and I have changed several positions taken in the past based on new evidence and maturity.”
The Presidency had days ago issued statements supporting and defending the minister.
Quoting copiously from the EFCC Act, which he said was much wider in scope and the definition of terrorism, Ozekhome said: “The combustible and inflammable comments of Pantami no doubt were intended to cause fear or make any government or bodies abandon a standpoint, induce fear in the public or government, etc. He can be charged under the EFCC Act.”
But because he made the statements long before the Terrorism Prevention Act was enacted, the senior lawyer submitted that, “Pantami cannot therefore be prosecuted under the Terrorism Act, because his alleged terrorist acts occurred prior to the enactment of the Terrorism Act. The Terrorism Act does not have a retroactive or retrospective Act.”
Section 36(8) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which provides that, “No person shall be held to be guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for any criminal offence heavier than the penalty in force at the time the offence was committed”, appears to support Ozekhome’s position.
This, nonetheless, the lawyer said the Presidency missed the point when it rose in defence of Pantami.
“Pantami’s albatross has nothing to do with his alleged effectiveness or efficaciousness in his duties. But, it has everything to do with his dangerous religious antecedents, which on the surface, he says he has renounced, but is still effectively practising in reality.
“Otherwise, why will he invite only a very little known Al-Afrikiy (a wholly Muslim Television station, that broadcasts strictly religious matters) to solely cover a programme of a whole federal government’s activity – the virtual Flag-off capacity development programme on VSAT Installation Skills and TVRO Systems for 600 youths? Why?
“This was only on March 22, 2021. Where were AIT, Channels, NTA, NAN, TVC, ITV, Arise News, SilverBird, Oak TV, or the several Radio Stations across Nigeria? This is Nigerians’ great worry, Mallam Shehu. Do not run away from the substance and pursue the shadow. Please, face the real issues at stake,” je posited.
According to him, Pantami’s religious bigotry, earlier inflammatory speeches in support of and sympathy with terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, Taliban and Boko Haram (the third group of whose shed blood he described as “our Muslim brothers’ blood”), are the real issues at stake.
He said: “If we go by Garba’s pedestrian argument that woefully fails the acid test of logic and rigorous reasoning, why did Nigerians not pardon brilliant Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, who was accused of forging her NYSC Certificate, rather than pressurise and force her to resign her office?
“Why didn’t the Presidency trenchantly defend Mrs Adeosun, a Yoruba woman? Who was more dangerous – a certificate forger, or a terrorist group sympathiser and supporter?
“Why support only Northern-Muslim Pantami? What about the death of one young lad, Sunday Achi, who was said to have been killed due to his incendiary preachment? What about the consequential killings of Christians in Kaduna, Kano, Jos, Maiduguri, Katsina and other parts of the North, occasioned by his bigoted religious teachings?
“What did former CJN, Onnoghen do that made the Presidency rubbish, hound and hunt him out of office in a most premature, disgraceful and unconscionable manner?
“What was the offence of the #EndSars innocent protesters, that were mindlessly and callously mauled down at the Lekki tollgate, even as they were harmlessly waving the Green-White-Green Nigerian flag in a peaceful protest? Why does the Presidency perennially have a “siege mentality”? he asked.
Furthermore, Ozekhome queried: “Why does the Presidency forever play victimhood, when it is always the aggressor? Why do presidential spokespersons always scramble to outdo each other to beat Adolf Hitler’s Goebel to vile propaganda as exhibited during World War II? Why will the Presidency be defending a Minister? What is it hiding? Why weep more than the bereaved? I cannot understand, or can you?”
However, for continuing to support terrorist groups, Ozekhome said Pantami should be charged under section 5(2) of the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act.
His words: “Pantami can be charged for terrorist activities, because terrorism includes ‘support’ for; and ‘support’ includes (in the words of the Act) ‘incitement to commit a terrorist act through the internet or any electronic means or through the use of printed materials or through the dissemination of terrorist information’”.
He, consequently, called on Pantami to honourably resign his ministerial appointment and ‘save this clueless government of further infamy, calumny, obloquy and odium’
He said: “Where he fails or refuses to do so (as I know he would), then President Buhari should sack him. Where Buhari refuses (as I know he would), then, any and every Nigerian or NGO that feels sufficiently concerned and aggrieved can approach the courts and ask for an Order of Mandamus, to compel the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, to prosecute Pantami, by virtue of section 174 of the 199 Constitution.
“Every Nigerian has the right (locus standi) to do this. The Nigerian Supreme Court has laid this to rest as far back as 1981 in the causa celebre (celebrated case) of Senator Abraham Adesanya v. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981) JELR 54679 (SC).”