Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, has denied links to global jihadist movements as being alleged in some quarters.
The minister, who doubles as an Islamic scholar, said his sermons, which some people now consider as extremist views, were never his personal opinions but Islamic perspective.
In an interview with Premium Times, Pantami also dismissed insinuations making rounds in social media that he is afraid of visiting the United States (US) over the purported inclusion of his name on terrorism watchlist.
He said : “There is no single country that has denied me visa. In Europe, I travelled to many countries. In these few years. I was in Spain, not more than once; I was France, more than once; I was in Germany, more than once; I was in Hungary, at least once; I was in the United Kingdom, many times.
“In Asia, I travelled to countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and many more. In Africa, I travelled to many countries. In America, I travelled to the U.S. From 2016 to date, I travelled to America more than 10 times.
” Maybe some of these issues were concocted from certain lectures we presented. Some of the lectures were even more than 15 to 20 years old. All of these countries that I have visited know more than all that the people are mentioning.
“And I am sorry to tell you, all that they have been spreading is probably because they do not understand the context in which the lectures were presented. Usually, all the lectures they mentioned were presented around 1998, 1999, 2000. The most recent could be around 2006, which is also 15 years ago. Most of them were firstly, academic lectures from Islamic perspective, and we were presenting the lectures in order to calm our youth that were being recruited to join extremism.
“So, in the course of doing that, I came up with an approach. That approach was to be presenting lectures about international movements, explain the concept to them, and show them that our situation is not even the same with their own.
“If some people in Afghanistan with Taliban were fighting because they were booted out of their country, who booted you out of Nigeria – whether you a Muslim, a Christian or you don’t have a religion? Each and everyone is going to live in his country, nobody is sending you away in your country. You need to understand the context in which the presentations were made.
“As I said, it was an academic exercise in Islamic perspective. When you are making a presentation from Islamic perspective, it is not your personal opinion. Sometimes, while preaching at times, when I mention something in the Koran, I will smile and people will ask me what happened, and I will say, ‘because the verse hits me, because I do not comply with the teaching of the verse as a human being.’
“The position of religion is not, in any way, your personal opinion. When I sit down here to read the Koran, if you say what I mention in the Koran is my opinion, you are not fair to me. It is verdict of religion. If a Christian sits down in the church to preach reading the Bible, don’t say what he says is his opinion, he is reading the Holy Bible. Why? Because people gathered there are to listen to what he is saying.
“So, most of them do not understand the context in which the lectures were presented. For example, if the President of the U.S. was addressing military while sending them for a war in Libya or Iraq, if you don’t understand the context, you will say he is harsh. I hope you understand me. So you need to understand the context in which the statement was made. I presented over 150 lectures mobilising youths to stay away from extremism.
“Some will just go and edit and just compile five minutes, six minutes out of 150 lectures, each one, the minimum is one hour, and maximum is one hour, thirty minutes. If you compile all, you will discover that it is over 200 hours lectures. Where is the remaining? If you want to do anything, write everything from A to Z and, secondly, understand the context. Religious context is not personal opinion; it is a religious context.”
Asked on whether he has ever nursed any fear of being placed under watch by the US, Pantami said: “I could not see anything like that. I will give you evidence here with me, just for your eyes. At least I obtained the U.S. visa probably three to four times. One will expire, you apply for another. Even the one I applied for last, they asked for information which I provided.
” Look at their reply (he showed reporters an email evidence) . You can see the e-mail from the embassy saying ‘okay, you can go ahead to submit your passport for the visa’. So there is no any issue. I don’t have any issue. I have been travelling there.
“For example, in 2017, I was in the U.S. attending consumer electronic show. In 2018, I was there attending consumer electronic show. And I was in Seattle based on the invitation of Microsoft, and in 2019 I was also there attending consumer electronic show. And I was also in Harvard University where I attended a training as well. And I also travelled to Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a visit, where we have a partnership with them representing Nigeria and government, and many more.
“These were between 2017 and end of 2019. It’s not even far, and the lectures they are even making reference to, the academic lectures, most of them are more than 15 to 16 years, while the traveling I am making reference to is not more than one to two years. So, what is there?”
The minister, however said he has no valid US visa at the moment.
” I don’t have. It expired within this period (of the coronavirus pandemic). You know because of lockdown, most of my visas expired. But I never applied for any visa and I was not given.”