My personal driver a Christian, I am not a terrorist: Minister Pantami
Nigeria’s communications minister Isa Pantami has denied any ties to terrorist groups and reporters of ethnic and religious bigotry, saying his personal driver, secretary and technical assistant are all Christians.
Mr Pantami, a Muslim cleric, said he has never had issues with his Christian aides, friends and associates of many years, telling Peoples Gazette in an interview Friday evening that the recent reports of his past controversial comments were misconstrued.
“My personal driver is Mai Keffi, a practising Christian,” Mr Pantami told The Gazette by telephone. “I also have a Christian, Ms Nwosu, as my secretary and Dr Femi, also a Christian, as my technical adviser.”
“If I did not like Christians or I did not see them as my brothers and sisters, I would not have been working with them for so long,” the minister said. “I employed more Christians than Muslims on my staff because I believe in merit and competence over ethnic or tribal sentiments.”
“I have never condoned terrorism and I reject any affiliation to terror groups,” the minister added. “I have long preached peaceful coexistence amongst people of every faith and ethnicity.”
Mr Pantami has come under public pressure to step down from office after Peoples Gazette published audio and video recordings of his controversial comments alongside excerpts of an academic paper that explored his preachings across northern parts of the country between the early and mid-2000s.
Mr Pantami made controversial remarks that included how he was always happy whenever unbelievers were killed, his praises for terrorist groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda and his condemnation of the Nigerian military for killing members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect.
The revelations jolted Mr Pantami’s political and media allies, many of whom said they had long considered him to be a moderate and astute preacher of Islamic faith across Northern Nigeria. Some academics had also written about Mr Pantami as a diligent and kind cleric whose teachings had set the tone for peace across the troubled region.
Mr Pantami told The Gazette as part of today’s exchange that his teachings over the years were rooted in peace and tolerance.
“I have always preached peace and tolerance,” the minister said. “In some cases, I was attacked by my fellow Muslims for supporting my Christian brothers and sisters.”
Mr Pantami said Italian authors of the academic paper that chronicled his Salafi teachings as a bulwark of radical views amongst university students in the North had misrepresented him by failing to reach out to him before concluding the papers.
“They did their research but failed to contact me and sit down with me for an interview before publishing their papers,” Mr Pantami said. “It is possible they used a translator that did not understand Hausa or just did not like me.”
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