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Fact Check: Is Communications Minister Pantami on a US terrorism watchlist?

By Jude Egbas

There have been news reports suggesting that Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, is on a United States terrorism watchlist.

According to the reports, Pantami who is a former student of Salafist ideologies, was trained in Saudi Arabia and the Mid­dle East with other top Is­lamic jihadists.

The reports also say before his appointment as a minister by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, Pantami was a known Islamic preacher who held dangerous views against the American govern­ment.

The platforms have also substantiated their stories by establishing a nexus between Pantami’s alleged ties with terrorists and an old video of the minister debating Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf.
Was Pantami an Islamic cleric?

Yes, Pantami was an Islamic cleric who had a contest of ideas and doctrines with Yusuf and other scholars. Pantami has also been an Islamic cleric for many years.

In the Youtube videos cited and currently making the rounds on social media, Pantami can be heard interrogating Yusuf’s fundamentalist and extremist views and showing them up as deeply flawed.
Far from being a friendly chit-chat with the Boko Haram founder, Pantami in the videos referenced, tells Yusuf that his views on western education are problematic and erroneous.

The Islamic scholarly community in Nigeria is a very small, closely-knit one. It is not uncommon for scholars and clerics with opposing ideologies and differing views in this setting to publicly engage on doctrines and interpretation of the Koran.

Ahmad Salkida, a journalist who has covered the Boko Haram crisis from the trenches for many years tweets that: “Pantami put the Boko Haram doctrine to task more than any other Muslim cleric in northern Nigeria.

“Pantami, as a university Don at the time, had public debates with Yusuf about western education, democracy and some of the issues that the group was preaching against. He’s been threatened repeatedly by the same group that you say he has links to.

“The problem is not Pantami, the problem here is our unwillingness to understand this crisis, and yet we want to end it. 10 years down the road we still miss the fuse that drives the #BokoHaram doctrine. The group has zero tolerance for the likes of Pantami.”

What are the US and Nigerian intelligence agencies saying?

Pulse has reached out to the US Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States Embassy in Nigeria, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) through calls, emails and text messages on the allegations against Pantami in the local media.

A lady on the other end of the line at the US embassy in Nigeria said the allegation was untrue, before handing Pulse an email address for the press department and referring us to the FBI.

Text messages and calls to the NIA and DSS in Nigeria have also not been responded to.
At the CIA and FBI, voices on the other ends of the lines first described the reports as untrue or hasty, before directing us to the publicly available terrorism list on the FBI website which Pulse has painstakingly gone through.

There is no ‘Pantami’ on the FBI’s publicly available terrorism or most wanted watchlist.
We will update this story with responses to the emails we sent to the US State Department, the CIA and the US Embassy in Abuja as soon as we have them.

It is also instructive that no US news outlet or credible news platform in Nigeria has reported this bit of trending, ‘weighty’ news.
Conclusion

There is at this time, no shred of evidence that Nigeria’s Communications Minister Isa Pantami is on any local or international terror watchlist.

The reports appear to have conveniently woven a link between Pantami’s days as an Islamic cleric, his public interaction with a terrorist sect founder and his Salafist ideology.

In our reckoning, all of these are not enough to tag him a terrorist who belongs in a most wanted list kept by US intelligence agencies.

For while the Sunni Islamic Salafi movement is conservative in outlook and doctrine, Boko Haram’s brand of Islam is brutal and lies on the extreme end of the spectrum.

Insinuations that Pantami’s name is on a US terror watchlist are therefore baseless, speculative, frivolous and untrue at this point.

The reports in themselves have deployed the word “allege”–suggesting that there is not enough evidence in them to convict Pantami at the time of writing.

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