A former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, has disclosed that freedom of speech and thought is integral to the American system, hence it could not have denied its Visa to the minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali-Pantami.
Recall that a report by Daily Independent had claimed that the United States had placed the minister on their terror watchlist over alleged ties with terrorist groups.
Although the newspaper later withdrew the report, the allegation had triggered social media campaign against the minister, with some calling for his resignation.
But while responding to an email chat with The Punch on the allegation Thursday, the former Ambassador said Mr Pantami’s sermons and other public statements could not be the only yardstick for putting him on its terror watchlist.
Mr Campbell, who served as ambassador to Nigeria between 2004 and 2007, said: “As for Dr. Pantami’s sermons and other public statements, a consular officer would want to know when he made them–years ago or yesterday.
“There is also the question of whether he advocated violence and whether his apology is a repudiation of what he said.
“Is he now part of an international terrorist network? Or, are some of his views merely parallel to those of, say, Osama Bin Laden? As you know, freedom of speech and of thought is integral to the American system.
“So, actions (including inflammatory rhetoric) weigh more heavily than the mere expression of ideas or beliefs. Each visa decision is made on a case-by-case basis.”
The former envoy, who authored the book, ‘Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink’, said it is rare for the US to comment on visas of individuals because of its policy on privacy.
Meanwhile, the Presidency had thrown its weight behind the embattled minister over his past remarks supporting Al-Qaeda and Taliban.
A statement on Thursday by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said: “Today, there is an unfortunate fashion in public discourse that makes leaders in politics, religion, and civil society liable in the present for every statement they have ever made in the past – no matter how long ago, and even after they have later rejected them,” “This insidious phenomenon seeks to cancel the careers of others on the basis of a thing they have said, regardless of when they said it.
“The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami is, currently, subject to a “cancel campaign” instigated by those who seek his removal. They do not really care what he may or may not have said some 20 years ago: that is merely the instrument they are using to attempt to “cancel” him. But they will profit should he be stopped from making decisions that improve the lives of everyday Nigerians.
“The Minister has, rightly, apologized for what he said in the early 2000s. The views were absolutely unacceptable then, and would be equally unacceptable today, were he to repeat them. But he will not repeat them – for he has publicly and permanently condemned his earlier utterances as wrong.
“In the 2000s, the Minister was a man in his twenties; next year he will be 50. Time has passed, and people and their opinions – often rightly – change.
“But all discerning Nigerians know this manufactured dispute is nothing to do with the Minister’s prior words, but solely concern his actions in the present.
“This administration is committed to improving the lives of all Nigerians – and that includes ensuring they are not over-charged or under-protected for those services on which modern life depends.
“The Minister has been leading the charge against illegal data deductions and pricing; he has revolutionized the government’s virtual public engagement to respond to COVID-19 and save taxpayers’ money; he has established ICT start-up centres to boost youth entrepreneurship and create jobs; he has changed policy to ensure locally produced ICT content is used by ministries, starting with his own; and he has deregistered some 9.2 million SIMs – ending the ability for criminals and terrorists to flagrantly use mobile networks undetected.
“In two short years, Minister Pantami has driven the contribution of the ICT sector to the GDP to more than 18 percent, making it one of the top two playing a critical role in the emergence of the economy from the COVID 19-induced recession.
“In putting people first, the Minister and this administration have made enemies. There are those in the opposition who see success and want it halted by any means.
“And there is now well-reported information that alleges newspaper editors rebuffed an attempt to financially induce them to run a smear campaign against the minister by some ICT companies, many of which do indeed stand to lose financially through lower prices and greater consumer protections.
“The government is now investigating the veracity behind these claims of attempted inducement, and – should they be found to hold credence – police and judicial action must be expected.
“The administration stands behind Minister Pantami and all Nigerian citizens to ensure they receive fair treatment, fair prices, and fair protection in ICT services.”