How did a man who was vociferous in his support for terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Taliban and who considered Osama bin Laden “a better Muslim than myself” scale the screenings of Nigerian lawmakers and the country’s State Security Service (SSS) to become a public officer?
First as the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency and later the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy?
Ali Isa Pantami, 48, has been in the eye of the storm since last week after videos of his preachings about 20 years ago surfaced online.
The trigger was a publication by a local newspaper that Mr Pantami had been placed on the U.S. watch list for terrorism. The article was later retracted but the damage had been done.
First, a recording of him volunteering to command a militia to fight against Christians in a Plateau community went viral online; then reports that he offered public condolences to the notorious Al-Qaeda leader, Abu Musa’b al-Zarqawi; and yet another claim that Mr Pantami was the Chief Imam of a Nigerian university when a fatwa was issued on some Christian students on campus, leading to the eventual killing of one of them. Mr Pantami said his sermons were taken out of context.
However, he said he has amended some of his past views, but calls for his resignation have continued to gain traction.
During Mr Pantami’s screening in the Senate on July 26, 2019, seven senators ‘grilled’ him after his introductory speech: none of them queried his Islamist antecedents.
And, if those concerns were raised by the SSS (who are mandated to vet appointees to top government positions), there was nothing in the screening to show it on the floor of the senate. After nearly an hour of speeches, questionings, and banters, he was asked to “take a bow and go.”
The Senate/SSS screenings are compulsory checks before a nominated public officer assumes office.
For years, Nigerians have argued that they are a waste of taxpayers’ funds. Below are some of the public officers who, though with questionable pasts, successfully scaled the Senate and SSS screenings:
Peter Afunanya, the SSS spokesperson, did not respond to requests for comments.
1) Kemi Adeosun: Mrs Adeosun had served as a commissioner for four years and a federal minister for three years before her cover was blown.
A PREMIUM TIMES’ exclusive report in July 2018 uncovered how she did not participate in the mandatory one-year national service. Instead, she forged an exemption certificate several years after she had graduated.
Like Pantami, former Minister of Finance, Kemi
For nearly two months, Mrs Adeosun ignored calls for her resignation. Without lifting his finger to address the issue, President Buhari embarked on his annual vacation more than three weeks after the lid was blown open on the minister.
In the president’s defence, information minister Lai Mohammed said appropriate agencies were still investigating the matter.
But on September 15, 2018, Mrs Adeosun resigned from office. In her letter of resignation, she said she had no reason to suspect that her certificate was forged.
“Indeed, I presented that certificate at the 2011 Ogun State House of Assembly and in 2015 for Directorate of State Services (DSS) clearance as well as to the National Assembly for screening.”
2) Stella Oduah: Barely three months after Stella Oduah, who was serving as Aviation Minister, was found to have been enmeshed in a N255 million armoured cars scandal, it was found, in January 2014, that she forged the certificates she presented to the Senate during her screening.
Mrs Oduah had claimed, in a seven-page resume that she distributed to the senators, that she was awarded a doctorate degree by the Pacific Christian University, Glendale, in the United States.
PREMIUM TIMES found that the university does not exist.
Mrs Oduah also falsely claimed on the website of the Ministry of Aviation that she bagged a Masters degree from St Paul College, Lawrenceville, Virginia, U.S. It was discovered that the institution never awarded her the degree as it does not run graduate programmes.
On February 12, 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan fired Mrs Oduah from his cabinet.
3) Adebayo Shittu: Days after finance minister Kemi Adeosun resigned her position over the NYSC certificate forgery scandal, Adebayo Shittu, the Minister of Communications, was found to have skipped the mandatory one year scheme.
Mr Shittu, 68, did not participate in the scheme despite graduating at age 25. He studied Law at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, graduating in 1978, and qualifying as a lawyer one year later having finished from the Nigerian Law School.
He immediately went into politics, serving as a lawmaker in the Oyo State House of Assembly.
Asked about his failure to participate in the NYSC scheme, he said he thought his first political post could suffice as national service.
Mr Shittu finished his term as a federal minister in 2019, but his gubernatorial ambition was truncated by his party, the All Progressives Congress because he does not have the NYSC certificate.
4) Bashir Magashi: Before he scaled through the Senate and SSS screening to become the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, a retired army general, stole at least $550,000while in active service.
Mr Magashi, 75, was a former military governor of Sokoto State (1990-1992) and later appointed the commander of the Brigade of Guards in September 1993, two months before Sani Abacha came into power in a bloodless coup.
In 1998, he was appointed the commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy. Mr Magashi was among the top military officers affected when Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration implemented a daring policy that compulsorily retired all officers who had served in government for six months or more.
Mr Magashi’s pilfering with public funds was discovered by a Swiss lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, tapped by the Obasanjo government to help track and repatriate funds stolen and stashed abroad by Mr Abacha and his associates.
Mr Magashi was found to have stashed in an account, at the Jessey, U.K., branch of Bank PNP Paribus, the sum of $550,000.
The retired military officer, however, admitted wrongdoing and after pleading for a concession, Mr Obasanjo left $150,000 for him, according to a memo by the then National Security Adviser, Abdullahi Mukhtar.
5) Usani Usani: Usani Usani served as the Commissioner for Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development in Cross River State between February 1997 and May 1999, during the military administration of Umar Ahmed, a colonel.
It was during this period that he allegedly defrauded the government by refusing to apply government-approved scales when he paid out some money as fees to Gersh Henshaw & Company, a firm that handled the contract for the valuation of vehicles, workshops and equipment belonging to the Cross River Water Board.
An investigative committee set up by Governor Donald Duke in 1999 found that the state lost N16.3 million due to Mr Usani’s action. His indictment was made official by a government gazette and Governor Duke directed that the money be recovered and he be prosecuted.
Mr Usani never challenged his indictment in court.
After filing complaints against Mr Usani at the Code of Conduct Bureau, the state government, curiously, asked for the discontinuation of the case. No reason was given.
Mr Usani, 59, a pastor, was the chairman of the APC in Cross River State when President Buhari appointed him the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs in November 2015.