Communications and Digital Economy Minister Dr. Ali Isa Pantami is insisting on suing the Daily Independent newspaper, despite a retraction and an apology, which his lawyers considered inadequate. The paper had published an unverified viral report that Pantami has been placed on a watch-list by the United States (U.S.).
Pantami’s position comes as an online newspaper, Peoples Gazzette, rolled out a series of past comments that portray him him in less than decent light. He is yet to threaten the newspaper directly.
Again, the American Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in Abuja has pushed enquiries on whether Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, is on its watchlist to its headquarters in Washington.
A desk officer who answered a call routed to the FBI Desk in the US Embassy in Abuja directed our reporter to the headquarters.
Reminded that the headquarters announced on its website that it did not have a national email address, he said it was not true.
Recall that another online newspaper had also made a similar enquiry and was also directed to Washington.
According to PRNigeria, its request for clarification over a media report linking the Minister to terrorism to the Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy was referred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States and its principal federal law enforcement agency.
In a short message to the online publication the embassy said, “Thank you for your inquiry, however, we defer all press inquiries on Minister Pantami to the FBI”
Pantami made the threat to sue the newspaper in a statement by his lawyer, Michael Jonathan Numa, Senior Partner of the Karina Tunyan (SAN) and Company, in Abuja.
He said even though the news outlet has retracted the report via its Twitter handle, “such grave and unverified allegations cannot be wished away by a bland and emotionless tweet which does not show remorse for the immeasurable and malignant damage done to our Client’s pristine reputation.”
He said he has no option than to “pursue every legal means to guard his hard earned reputation as indicated in his letter of 12th April, 2021.
The lawyer said: “We continue to act as Counsel to Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, the Honourable Minister of Communication and Digital Economy hereinafter referred to as our client and on whose express instruction we issue this press release.
“Our client’s attention has been drawn to a purported ‘Retraction’ of the unfounded front-page headline publication on the Sunday Edition of the Daily Independent Newspaper dated 11th day of April, 2021, with the title ‘Disquiet as America Places Nigerian Minister on Watch List.’
“The newspaper article had contained grave defamatory statements impugning the hard-earned reputation of our client.
“The Daily Independent Newspaper has now purportedly retracted the grossly libelous statements and allegations via its twitter handle (@IndependentNGR) on the 14th day of April, 2021, claiming that they have realized that the publication ‘has not been verified to be true’.
“This is an affirmation of the high level of irresponsibility exhibited by the media house which prides itself as ‘the most read newspaper among the political and business elites.
“A defamatory publication containing such grave and unverified allegations cannot be wished away by a bland and emotionless tweet which does not show contriteness for the immeasurable and malignant damage done to our Client’s pristine reputation.
“The said retraction having not met our client’s demand leave us with no option than to pursue every legal means to guard the hard earned reputation of our client as earlier indicated in our letter of 12th April, 2021.”
The publication on Pantami, being on the US government watchlist for allegedly having terrorist affiliations, has been vehemently denied by the minister and his supporters on various social media platforms.
However, in an opinion piece, a Nigerian professor of African History at Vanderbilt in the United States, Moses Ochonu, in a piece that went viral on Tuesday, raised pertinent issues on some of the Minister’s comments in the past.
He also pointed out that anyone on a watchlist or no fly-list would only know if he attempted to enter the US.
In a video he released a month ago, Boko Haram leader, Abu Shekau had said concerning Sheik Gumi and the minister; “To you (Gumi) and others like Pantami, who is even a minister, huh? And still a cleric? Ask yourself! Oh clerics who savour the taste of power seasonings, ask yourselves!
“You all know democracy is the ideology of Jews and Christians, why didn’t you leave government?
“Despite knowing the truth, you are using the Qur’an to preach democracy. Why this?”
Recall that Pantami denied the allegation of terrorist links. In a tweet, he also claimed that he has been preaching against the Boko Haram for fifteen years.
He stated, “My lectures against the doctrines and all other evil people have been available for over 15 years, including debates that endangered my life against many criminals in Nigeria. If you can’t understand Hausa, get an objective Hausa speaker to translate for you objectively.”
Meanwhile, a friend of Pantami and another America-based professor, Farooq Kperogi, in his Notes from Atlanta pointed out that Pantami had to renounce his past comments if he wanted to be taken seriously, over sympathies for terrorists.