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Isa Pantami: Nigerian minister haunted by his extremist views, by BBC

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Nigeria’s presidency says it “stands behind” an embattled minister facing calls for his resignation after extreme Islamist views he held in the past recently came to light.

Isa Pantami, minister of communications and digital economy, and also a renowned Muslim cleric, expressed views sympathetic to groups such as al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.

In one sermon from the 2000s, he said he considered al-Qaeda founder, Osama Bin Laden, a better Muslim than himself, and in another, he said he was happy when infidels were massacred.

Recordings of him expressing these views began circulating on social media last week, leading to calls for his resignation or sacking by President Muhammadu Buhari.

But in its first reaction since the saga began, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said the minister was being “subjected to a ‘cancel campaign'”.

“In the 2000s, the minister was a man in his twenties. Next year, he will be 50. Time has passed, and people and their opinions – often rightly – change”, the statement said.

The minister also attempted to renounce his past views at the weekend, telling a local newspaper that some of the comments were based on his “understanding of religious issues at the time” and that he has changed several positions “based on new evidence and maturity”.

But that has not stopped calls for his sacking or resignation with many using the #PantamiMustGo hashtag on Twitter to express concerns over his access to sensitive data as the minister of communications.

He has also been defended under the #PantamiMustStay hashtag as the issue exposed the religious and ethnic lines in this multi-ethnic country.

What exactly did Mr Pantami say?

There has been a steady stream of new evidence of the views he held in the past and the latest are documents that appeared online on Wednesday.

The documents are purportedly from a 2010 meeting he chaired at the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), a top Islamic body, where it was agreed that Christians should be prohibited from building churches in city centres across northern Nigeria, which has a majority Muslim population although millions of Christians also live there.

Audio and video recordings have also emerged of Mr Pantami’s fiery prayers and sermons at different stages of his career as an imam. In one sermon after there had been a deadly religious conflict and tensions were still high in Shendam, Plateau state, he volunteered to lead Muslims back to their homes, saying that he was willing to die in the process.

In a 2006 speech, Mr Pantami publicly offered his condolences after the death of al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In one audio clip, where he talks about the Nigerian army’s war against Boko Haram, he appears to be on the verge of tears as he passionately describes the militants as “our Muslim brothers” who did not deserve to be “killed like pigs”.

In another audio recording, he declares he is always happy when infidels are massacred.

He has not denied the authenticity of these texts, audio and video clips.

What did the government say?

Nigerians had been waiting for a reaction from the government and it came via a presidential spokesman on Thursday.

Garba Shehu, who speaks for President Buhari, said the administration “stands behind Minister Pantami.”

“The Minister has, rightly, apologized 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,” he said in a statement which he also shared on his Twitter account:

But critics have pointed out that the minister was already in his 30s when most of his controversial statements were made and so, was fully aware of the ramifications.

The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) tried to debate Mr Pantami’s views in the House of Representatives on Wednesday but it was blocked by the ruling party.

Why are these views just coming to light?

It began as a rumour last week when a local newspaper reported that Mr Pantami had been placed on a US watch list for his alleged links to terrorism.

There has been no confirmation from the US and Mr Pantami threatened to sue the newspaper and others that carried the reports, leading to a retraction and an apology.

But since then a series of audio and video clips of Mr Pantami making inflammatory comments have been posted on social media.

There has also been extensive reports by Nigerian online newspaper Peoples Gazette.

An old Wikileaks document citing a US diplomatic cable of Mr Pantami being thrown out of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi state, and from a mosque in Gombe for preaching inflammatory rhetoric, have also been re-circulated.

There was also social media posts about his time at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University where Mr Pantami, as cleric of a local mosque, was accused of instigating the gruesome murder of a Christian student leader who preached on the campus.

Mr Pantami has denied these accusations and also said that he was never dismissed from the university.

He told local newspaper, Premium Times, that people opposed to the introduction of a compulsory national identification number, which would be needed to get a mobile phone number, were the ones attacking him.

Who is Isa Pantami?

*The 48-year-old is currently Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy

*Was formerly head of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA)

*From Gombe State in north-eastern Nigeria where he began his education at the Quranic Tsangaya schools popularly known as almajiri

*Obtained a PhD from Robert Gordon University, Scotland but was also schooled in Saudi Arabia

*He is chief Imam at the popular Al Mannar mosque in Abuja where he still leads annual teachings during the Ramadan fast.

Why are some Nigerians so worried about Pantami?

As head of the communications ministry, he oversees agencies responsible for databases of Nigerians and expatriates in the country.

Some people have expressed concerns that a minister with past sympathy for Islamist militant groups has access to such critical data.

Mr Pantami also oversees the web infrastructure for most government ministries and agencies, armed forces, intelligence agencies, and Nigeria’s satellite infrastructure that provides communications and navigation support for the air force.

The backlash he is facing seems to be largely on social media.

Offline, ordinary Nigerians are less concerned about the minister’s past views and he has received support from Muslim groups in the North, many of whom do not share his past extreme views but say his apology is proof he is a changed man.

-BBC

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Chief of Defence Staff threatens action as petrol prices hit N400/litre

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Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Lucky Irabor

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor, yesterday threatened that the Federal Government would not fail to activate alternative actions should the marketers of petroleum product fail to end the prolonged fuel scarcity.

The CDS and Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) held a meeting with Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN); the Depot Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN), and Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) in Abuja.
The Group Chief Executive Officer of NNPCL, Malam Mele Kyari, said pricing was an issue and not petrol supply as NNPCL has over 800 million litres of petrol in marine and over 700 million litres on land across retail outlets, sufficient for 30 days.

“We do have 24-day sufficiency for AGO (diesel) and the aviation we have 45 days of stuffiness for ATK aviation fuel,” he said.

He added that there is fuel in every depot and evacuation  was ongoing.

The NNPC boss noted that petrol smuggling was on the rise as over 67million litres of petrol has been evacuated daily but the crisis has prevailed.

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“We have evidence now and we’re following this through that some of our customers are actually taking products to other countries. And we’ll get to the root of this. And the appropriate government security agencies will deal with this,”  Kyari said.

The NNPC head also blamed the marketers, saying they did not follow the official petrol price rate at the depots and increased prices arbitrarily as some depots sell from N172 to N260/l above the agreed price, saying the marketers could not buy at that rate and sell at official rate.

“We have challenged IPMAN to bring documents on depots selling at N260 to them, but no one will bring a record,’’ he added.

The Chief Executive, Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), Farouk Ahmed, confirmed there were several pacts with the marketers and transporters but such deals had not been followed through.

“But again, the more we agree, the more you lift the lever. We cannot continue like that,” he said.

He said recently NMDPRA sanctioned seven depots as deterrents but that did not work.

He urged marketers to help provide names of depots selling above ex-depot price but they refused.

CDS Irabor said: “It’s a crisis of internal nature which security and Police should lead but if it gets above that, there is an alternative.

“If there is no solution, let me reiterate that the government is not handicapped and there is an alternative and we pray that we don’t get to the level where the alternative will be activated,” Irabor said.

The Inspector General of Police Usman Alkali Baba, said the problem is in distribution, and urged operators for increased monitoring of the process.

“I think it is our role to assist the NNPC in monitoring the process of distribution if that will help us leverage the problem.”

Chairman of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MoMAN) Adetunji Oyebanji, said there are other costs that operators incur outside the ex-depot price. As he urged members to work to ensure products are supplied at the official rate.

Chairman of the Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN), Mrs Winifred Akpani, said the depot owners met last week on how to solve the price problem and distribution too.

She urged NNPC to only deliver products to depots (members) that will supply the right way, alleging that DAPPMAN does not regulate depot owners who are non-members.

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“We have all determined to ensure that we can help where we can help,” adding that profiteering is causing many problems to the country.

NARTO president, Yusuf Othman, lamented the increase in freight rate due to market reality saying officially it is N42 per kilometre but in reality it’s over N50 and so truckers give preference to marketers that pay cash and the market rate.

He decried the rising cost of buying trucks which he now said is over N60m as well as rising diesel cost of N880/l.

He noted that only major marketers pay twice for freight and that only OVH/NNPC give diesel at rebate, others do not.

According to Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), President, Comrade Williams Akporeha, said marketers have no right to increase the price because petrol is subsidized.

“Our position at NUPENG is that any depot or filling station that sells above the price must have the wrath of Nigerians to face,” he said.

The price of petrol across the country averaged between N380 and N400 per litre yesterday as the scarcity of the product assumed a disturbing dimension, nearly grinding economic activities.

Our correspondent who monitored some petrol stations in Aba, the commercial nerve of Abia state reports that most major marketers were out of stock of the product.

A visit to MRS filing by Asa road and among others revealed that they dispensed their PMS to customers at N400 per liter.

Commercial bus and tricycle operators operating within Umuahia capital city and Aba have since increased their fares with N50, N100 or more depending on the distance.

In Osun State, petrol was sold for N400, N370 and N365 per liter.

Although there is no long queues at the petrol stations selling at these prices, there are still are still long queues in other stations where it is sold for cheaper rates.

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Long queues still surfaces at Bovas, NNPC, Matrix, NIPCO among others in the city.

Residents of Makurdi, Benue State capital and its environs are passing through hell to buy petrol too.

Yesterday, petrol was sold at #355 per litre in all the Independent marketers filing stations in Makurdi.

Getting the products was difficult as motorist remained on long queue for hours lamenting in frustration

The situation remained same in Adamawa State.

Car owners and commercial vehicle operators queued up in the few filling stations dispensing fuel where prices ranged at between N370 and N390 per litre within the state capital, Yola, and as much as N500 per litre in rural communities in the southern and northern tips of the state.

The whole of Yola had just one NNPC mega station selling fuel at the ‘sane’ price of N199 per litre yesterday, but the queue is usually so long that only people with the luxury of servants or unattached staff could send such persons, usually to buy large volumes of the commodity.

In Kaduna State, scarcity of petrol persisted in Kaduna, as price of the product reached N625 in the black market.

Also, our correspondents observed that, few major and independent petrol stations dispensing petrol for N210 per litre, had unprecedented queue, while filing stations on the outskirts of the metropolis, especially on Kaduna-Zaria highway, Kaduna-Abuja and Kaduna-Kachia roads, were selling for between N350 to N380 per litre.

The Nigeria Midstream and Down Stream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) said it has intensified routine patrol and monitoring of servicing stations to enhance steady fuel supply in Adamawa.

While going round some of the filling stations in Yola , it was observed that a team of officials led by the State Coordinator  of the   Regulatory Agency directed all filling stations which had products to begin selling to consumers or risked being sanctioned.

In Edo State, Godwin Obaseki led administration promised quick end to the scarcity and hike in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), thereby receiving 780,000 litres of petrol.

It also set up of a task force to monitor the distribution and sale of petrol in filling stations across the 18 local government areas of the Southsouth state.

Edo Commissioner for Mining and Energy, Ethan Uzamere, an engineer, who was accompanied by his counterpart in the Ministry of Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, and the Special Adviser to Obaseki on Media Projects, Crusoe Osagie, made the disclosure yesterday afternoon in Benin at a news conference.

The news conference took place after the meeting between the representatives of Edo government and leaders of the protesting Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the state.

Uzamere revealed that the supplied product (780,000 litres) would be distributed among the major and independent marketers of petroleum products in Edo’s three senatorial districts.

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He stated that Edo government would monitor the sale of petrol in the state, in order to ensure that members of the public were not exploited by the owners of the various filling stations.

The commissioner for mining and energy in Edo disclosed that members of the petroleum monitoring task force would be unveiled later yesterday evening, while assuring that all efforts would be put in place to ensure that no product supplied to the state was diverted.

He said: “Edo government has heard the cries of the residents of the state on the issue of fuel scarcity in Edo. The state government is working to ensure the availability of the product.

“As part of the measures, Edo government has set up a task force to monitor the situation, and ensure that no resident of the state is exploited. We also wish to announce that already, the state has received 780,000 litres of petrol, which will be distributed to major and independent marketers.

“The task force, whose members will be announced before the close of work today (Tuesday), will monitor the distribution and sale of petroleum products in Edo State.”

Nehikhare, in his remarks, gave an assurance that the welfare of the residents of Edo was very crucial, and being taken seriously by the state government.

Edo commissioner for communication and orientation also hailed leaders of CSOs for the maturity displayed in handling the protest that erupted on Monday, over petrol scarcity and price hike, while assuring that Obaseki’s administration would continue to engage all the major stakeholders, in order to find a lasting solution to the fuel challenge.

Osagie, while also speaking, noted that part of the duties of the task force’s members would be to monitor prices of petroleum products in Edo, while warn the marketers against arbitrary increase in the prices of the products,.declaring that anyone caught would be severely punished according to the dictates of the law.

The Nation

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Lagos announces 10-week traffic diversion on Lagos-Ibadan expressway

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Lagos State Government has announced traffic diversion for 10 weeks on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway from the Old Tollgate to Berger section of the road.

The traffic diversion from Monday, January 30, 2023 to Friday, April 15, 2023, is in continuation of the ongoing rehabilitation work on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing.

This is contained in a statement issued on Friday by the Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederic Oladeinde.

He however said going by the notification received, the construction would be carried out in short segments to minimise inconveniences for motorists while traffic on the Ibadan-bound carriageway would be narrowed to two lanes to allow for the reconstruction of half of the Ibadan-bound carriageway.

The commissioner explained that the U-turn in front of the Lagos State Emergency Centre will be temporarily closed to traffic, adding that motorists on the expressway will be diverted to the next U-turn at the Old Toll Gate by the traffic control point. In the same vein, Traffic from CMD Road intending to connect 7UP and Motorways on the Lagos bound carriageway will make use of the Old Tollgate/Traffic Point U–turn as well.

While emphasizing that trucks and heavy-duty vehicles will be diverted to Ojota Interchange, Oladeinde informed that traffic on CMD Road inbound the Expressway will be diverted to the entry point besides the FMW weighbridge to access the expressway on a contraflow as the exit route to the expressway by Caleb International School will equally be temporarily closed, adding that CMD Road will be used as an alternative for the displaced Ibadan bound traffic.

He appealed to the citizenry to shun indiscriminate stopping, waiting, and parking along CMD Road to complement the efforts of the Traffic Management Team deployed to manage vehicular movement.

He also said that signs showing directions would be mounted along the road to guide motorists.

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Gunmen behead Imo council boss after N6m ransom

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Gunmen have killed the sole administrator of Ideato North Local Government Area in Imo State, Chris Ohizu, two days after he was abducted.

Ohizu was abducted on Friday along with two other residents in his country home at Imoko in the Arondizuogu area.

The attackers also set his residence and vehicles ablaze.

The family of the late LGA boss was said to have paid N6m ransom to the gunmen to secure his release.

They reportedly collected the money and still went ahead to kill him.

Videos showing the battered head of the LGA boss appeared on social media in the early hours of Monday.

In one of the videos, the gunmen threatened to also attack the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, and other residents of the state.

Imo has witnessed a spate of violent attacks by gunmen in recent times .

The incident is coming some days after an about-to-wed couple was killed in Arondizogu, Ideato  orth LGA.

Henry Okoye, Imo police spokesperson, said the police commenced investigation into the matter, adding that the command would soon release a statement on the incident.

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