Pantami: What does the law say on acts of terrorism? - Mike Ozekhome



By Mike Ozekhome

Dr Isa Pantami is the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. He is also known as Sheikh Pantami. He was born on October 20, 1972, in Pantami Ward, Gombe State.

Many Nigerians (including my humble self) have since called for Pantami’s resignation or his removal as a minister by the President, (Major General)  Muhammadu Buhari (retd), based on some of his incendiary religious statements made sometime between 2000 and 2006, as an Islamic scholar. In the highly inflammatory speeches, he expressed allegiance to and support for (including sympathy with) the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram terrorist groups. These are three of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups. Pantami on the other hand, has since acknowledged that he made those statements.

Do Pantami’s statements constitute terrorist acts? Terrorism is commonly understood to refer to acts of violence that target civilians in the pursuit of political or ideological aims. The crucial aspect of the offence of terrorism is the creation of intense fear and anxiety, both physical and psychological, in the minds of members of the public, which have the effect of coercing, forcing or intimidating them to do, or abstain from doing, any act, or to adopt or abandon a particular view, policy or position to act according to certain principles (Abdulmumini v FRN (2017) LPELR-43726(SC) 29.

In 2011, the Terrorism (Prevention) Act No.10, 2011, came into force to deal with offences relating to conducts carried out or purposes connected with terrorism. The Act was subsequently amended in 2013 by the Terrorism (Prevention Amendment) Act 2013. By virtue of Section 4(1) (b) of the Amendment Act, a person who knowingly, in any manner, solicits or renders support for a proscribed organisation or an internationally suspected terrorist group, an offence under this Act and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for a maximum term of 20 years. Though, Buhari has unsurprisingly refused to formally proscribe Boko Haram, the terrorist group has, with its sisters, Al-Qaeda and Taliban, been proscribed internationally.

Pantami, as stated above, is not denying making those statements. It is not in doubt that he made those dangerous statements when he was already an adult (about 33 years and 11 months old). He was not a minor. So, his mind was not impressionable. His lame defence is that he has since renounced those views and does not rule out the fact that he had committed a crime by supporting or sympathising with terrorist organisations. However, under what law should he be tried?

There are two Acts mentioned above. The first is the EFCC Act, 2004. The second is the Terrorism Act, 2013 (as amended). Section 46 of the EFCC Act made reference to the Penal Code and the Criminal Code. These Acts shall now be considered.

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The statements made by Pantami, pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Boko Haram, were made sometime in 2000-2006, while the Terrorism Act came into force on June 3, 2011. It is enshrined in Section 36(8) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), that: “No person shall be held to be guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for any criminal offence heavier than the penalty in force at the time the offence was committed.”

Pantami cannot therefore be prosecuted under the Terrorism Act, because his alleged terrorist acts occurred prior to the enactment of the Terrorism Act. The Terrorism Act does not have a retroactive or retrospective Act. The definition of terrorism under the EFCC Act, is however broad. It includes any act that is intended to intimidate, force, coerce, or induce any government, body, institution, the general public or any segment thereof, to do or abstain from doing any act or to adopt or abandon a particular standpoint, or to act according to certain principles, or disrupt any public service, the delivery of any essential service to the public or to create a public emergency, or create general insurrection in a state and any promotion, sponsorship of, contribution to, command, aid incitement, encouragement, attempt threat, conspiracy, organisation or procurement of any person.

The combustible and inflammable comments of Pantami no doubt were intended to cause fear or make any government or bodies abandon a standpoint, induce fear in the public or government, etc. He can be charged under the EFCC Act.

The Penal Code Act and the Criminal Code Act did not provide for the offence of terrorism. The Criminal Code provides for the offence of unlawful profession and unlawful society. There is no similar provision in the Penal Code. Since the alleged act took place in the northern part of Nigeria, Pantami cannot be charged with unlawful society or unlawful profession. But, he can be surely charged for terrorism under the EFCC Act.

As expected, the Presidency, through its “second-in-command,” Garba Shehu (as expected), has risen to the defence of Pantami. What did you expect? Exonerate him? That would have been the eighth wonder of the world following the Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Statue of Zues at Olympia, Mausoleum of Mausolus, Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The President appoints ministers by virtue of section 147(1) of the 1999 Constitution. It is his sole prerogative, constitutionally speaking. But, such ministers must first be confirmed by the Senate of the NASS, under section 147(2). The President can also sack a minister (see section 11 of the Interpretation Act). He who hires can also fire. I can, however vow, that Pantami will never be sacked. Shehu has said that much. But, Pantami occupies a sensitive ministerial portfolio (Minister of Communications and Digital Economy). He has unhindered access to all Nigerian’s data, NIN, BVN, and confidential information. Therein, lies Nigerians’ worries nay nightmares. It has nothing to do with alleged “cancel campaign”, purported faceless “enemies”, or alleged ICP companies’ collusion (because of their alleged financial losses “through lower prices and greater consumer protection”), allegedly introduced by Pantami, as Garba would want some gullible Nigerians or pro-Buhari party people to believe.

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Do I, for example, as a Nigerian patriot, fall into any of the above categories? Absolutely no. Pantami’s albatross has nothing to do with his alleged effectiveness or efficaciousness in his duties. But, it has everything to do with his dangerous religious antecedents which, on the surface, he says he has renounced, but is still effectively practising in reality. Otherwise, why will he invite only a little known Al-Afrikiy (a wholly Muslim Television station that broadcasts strictly religious matters) to solely cover a programme of a Federal Government’s activity – the virtual flag-off capacity development programme on VSAT Installation Skills and TVRO Systems for 600 youths? Why? This was only on March 22, 2021.

Pantami’s religious bigotry, earlier inflammatory speeches in support of and sympathy with terrorist groups,  such as Al Qaeda, Taliban and Boko Haram (the third group of whose shed blood he described as “our Muslim brothers’ blood”), are the real issues at stake.

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If we go by Garba’s pedestrian argument that woefully fails the acid test of logic and rigorous reasoning, why did Nigerians not pardon brilliant Mrs Kemi Adeosun who was accused of forging her NYSC certificate, rather than pressurise and force her to resign from her office? Why didn’t the Presidency trenchantly defend Adeosun. Who was more dangerous – a certificate forger, or a terrorist group sympathiser and supporter? Why do presidential spokespersons always scramble to outdo each other to beat Adolf Hitler’s Goebel to vile propaganda as exhibited during World War II? Why will the Presidency be defending a Minister? What is it hiding? Why weep more than the bereaved? I cannot understand or can you?

My humble call on Pantami is to honourably resign his ministerial appointment and save this clueless government of further infamy, calumny, obloquy and odium. Where he fails or refuses to do so (as I know he would), then the President, (Major Gen Muhammadu) Buhari (retd) should sack him. Where Buhari refuses (as I know he would), then, any and every Nigerian or NGO that feels sufficiently concerned and aggrieved can approach the courts and ask for an Order of Mandamus, to compel the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, to prosecute Pantami, by virtue of section 174 of the 199 Constitution. Every Nigerian has the right (locus standi) to do this. The Nigerian Supreme Court has laid this to rest as far back as 1981 in the causa celebre (celebrated case) of Senator Abraham Adesanya v. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981) JELR 54679 (SC).

Ozekhome is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria

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