Saturday, April 24, 2021

On My Friendship with Pantami

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Supporters of Communications and Digital Economy Minister Dr. Isa Ali Pantami bewailed that my April 17 column titled “Pantami is My Friend, But He Can’t Be Defended” threw him under the bus and that I’m a “fake friend” and a snitch who isn’t even a “real Muslim.” But his critics said I wasn’t hard enough on him and that I gave him a wiggle room to extricate himself from his past toxic utterances because he is my friend.

At the core of these mutually opposed reactions to my column is a deeply transactional conception of friendship. Nigerians have been primed to understand “friendship,” particularly with powerful politicians, as a relationship that is lubricated by the dispensation of favors. 

So, people who said I “betrayed” Pantami probably think I failed to defend him in spite of the patronage I got from him, and people who said I was mild in my rebuke of his rhetorical embrace and promotion of wildly exclusivist rhetoric and terroristic incitements probably think I did so because I had a need to justify the patronage I got from him.

But let me make this clear: I have never physically met Pantami in my entire life and have never asked for nor received a single favor from him since he has been in government. My relationship with him started on May 29, 2011 when he sent me a friend request on Facebook.

When I accepted his friendship, I had not the faintest clue who he was. His first message to me on June 25, 2011 was an expression of admiration for my writing. “I really appreciate your pen in most cases,” he wrote. “I hope you will try and maintain the tempo of your objectivity. May Allah continue to albarkate your life. Ameen.”

As a linguistics aficionado and a connoisseur of lexical inventiveness, I loved the word “albarkate” because it made an English word out of “albarka,” the Hausa word for blessing, which is itself derived from the Arabic “barika” (ultimately from the Semitic root berakhah).

Even when our interactions morphed to the phone, I still had no idea who he was—to my shame, I admit, because he was a consequential cleric in the Hausaphone Muslim North at the time. Sometime in 2013, I got a little curious and decided to search his name on Google and came across a Facebook page dedicated to him. It had at least 150,000 likes at the time and featured his Hausa-language homilies.

I was struck by the number of likes the page had because social media hadn’t quite taken off in Nigeria as it has in the past few years. I later asked him if the page was his and he said it was set up and maintained by his students. His students? I was even more piqued.

So, I called a few friends I knew from the Gombe/Bauchi axis and asked what they knew about a Sheikh Isa Ali Pantami. I learned from them that he was an infant prodigy who memorized the Qur’an before he was 13 and who was also a math whiz kid.  

A Hafiz (as Qur’an memorizers are called) who is also a mathematical wizard? That was interesting. But why did he not tell me who he was? Was he being modest? Or did he think I should have known?

Interestingly, he hardly discussed religion with me. Our conversations often centered on family and occasionally on my writing, and he was almost always the initiator. I saw him as someone who genuinely admired my work.

In 2014, he received his PhD in Computer Information Systems from UK’s Robert Gordon University and moved to Saudi Arabia as an assistant professor of Computer Science and Information Technology at the Islamic University of Madinah. When he would call me from Madinah, he would give the phone to his son, Abdulrahman, and his wife to say hello to me.

When Muhammadu Buhari offered him a job as Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in 2016, he sought my opinion. And before his name was formally announced as minister, he called to tell me I was one of 10 people whose approval he wanted before accepting the position. Of course, I was flattered, but I knew my opinion wouldn’t change anything. 

In spite of being close to Buhari, he had never requested that I stopped criticizing the government in which he served. He only appealed to me to use a milder tone in my criticisms if I could. I promised I would try but never delivered on my promise. 

One day he called and said he had just come to terms with the fact that I was like Caliph Umar Bin Khattab (who was nicknamed “Farooq,” meaning one who distinguishes truth from falsehood—after whom my dad named me). He had a reputation for brutal, unsparing fierceness in his truth telling. Pantami promised he would never again ask me to be whom I am not. 

People who are familiar with my relationship with him have asked why I’ve never derived any material benefit from it. Well, I don’t think friendship should always be transactional. He initiated friendship with me out of his appreciation for my writing, and I admired what struck me at the time as his humility in spite of his fame. Not much else connects us.

In 2016, during a conversation while he was still in Saudi Arabia, I told him of a half-brother of mine who wanted to get married but had no job, and he offered to reach out to his friends to help. He did make two attempts, and carbon-copied me in his email communications, but none worked out.

When he became DG of NITDA, my brother pressed him but didn’t have any success. And when his name was announced as minister in 2019, my brother pleaded with me to talk to Pantami on his behalf, believing that he didn’t help because I didn’t request it. I didn’t. 

As a rule, when people I know get into government, I give them a wide berth both to avoid compromise and to not be one extra burden they have to deal with. This principle has alienated me from family and friends. But I’d rather have it that way.

I am bringing all this to light to let people know the nature of my relationship with Pantami so they can understand the context of my relationship with him. I was never aware of his previous extremist views that became public knowledge in the last few days. I am not indebted to him for any favor of any kind. I am only privileged to know a side of him that most people who heard and watched his incendiary homilies don’t.

As I told an interlocutor a few days ago, every human being embodies a multiplicity of personas. For example, Black America’s Malcolm X was a fierce, fiery, electrifying, and uncompromising orator who gave white folks the jitters, but he was timid, almost diffident, even-tempered, and overly polite in private, according to his biographers. Who was the real Malcolm X? The hothead in public or the quiet man in private?

People who know me only through my public commentaries also think I'm a grouchy, fire-eating hulk with an intemperate rage, but people who know me in private know me as a slight, compulsively smiling, mild-mannered introvert, and can't reconcile my public persona with my private one.

Of course, I didn’t bring up Pantami's other side to obscure his clearly condemnable past utterances in support of terrorism (because nothing at all can attenuate that), but to show why I could be on friendly terms with him in the times that I've known him.

An otherwise acerbic critic who took issue with my last column for not being hard enough on Pantami expressed his disagreements with me in the mildest and pleasantest tone I’ve seen him deploy on Facebook when he disagrees. I asked why he didn’t curse me like others were doing, and he said, “it’s because you’re not just a friend, but a brother.”

I have never met this person in real life and he actually deployed “brother” as an affectionately fictive kinship term (because we don’t even share the same ethnicity). So, I asked why he expected me to be different to Pantami in my criticism of his past. He got the point.

As Oscar Wilde said, “I write because it gives me the greatest possible artistic pleasure to write. If my work pleases the few, I am gratified. If it does not, it causes me no pain. As for the mob, I have no desire to be a popular [writer]. It is far too easy.”

Related Articles:

Pantami is My Friend, But He Can’t Be Defended

When You Piss Off Two Extremist Groups on Opposite Ends

30 comments:

Salihu Mukarram Ruma said...

People like you inspire me to stick to the truth even if the whole world would go against you. More and more albarkated life sir!

Salihu Mukarram Ruma said...

People like you inspire me to stick to the truth even if the whole world would go against you. More and more albarkated life sir!

Salihu Mukarram Ruma said...

Your writing always inspire me to stick to the truth even if the whole world would go against me and to always do everything with my chest. More and more albarkated life prof sir!

Unknown said...

After all said... The honourable thing is for him to resign, that's where the change starts from...

Unknown said...

After all said... The honourable thing is for him to resign and justify his new ideaology...

Anonymous said...

Interesting to know how the relationship started and your write up, of course, will not terminate it. Though that is the wish of evil peddlers. However, one thing is missing in your disclosure, what advice did you give your friend on acceptance of the ministerial appointment?

Muhammad Jiya said...

I appreciate this write up more than that of last week. Only something is missing. You should have mentioned your view when Shaikh Pantami sought for your advice in the two instances mentioned.

Ejike Iloduba said...

Sec. 5, Terrorism Prevention Act, says: ‘Any person who knowingly, directly or indirectly solicits or renders SUPPORT to a TERRORIST group, commits an offence & is liable to imprisonment of not less than 20yrs’

@DrisaPantami is GUILTY as charged. https://t.co/yt9Iv3hw1u https://t.co/kqM6qVV9kj

Ifeanyichukwu Muo said...

What an objective piece!

Tunde said...

U are not only a great writer and thinker but you are a remarkable person. I totally agree with what opinion last week but this one makes me understand better. I am a Muslim but I do not believe people like pantani can be fully deradicalized and should definitely not hold the kind of position he does. D president like many people in the north think like pantani

Unknown said...

Prof, this piece touched me in a way you could never imagine, it really appealed to my fragile side.

Unknown said...

I admire your storytelling prowess, Prof.

Muhammad Abare said...

But on a serious note, he heeded the advice you gave him last week in your previous column. I was even surprised of the way he addressed the issue, it really showed that this man is a changed person. I pray that Allah bless your friendship with more understanding, Ameen.

Kh4l33l said...

Very articulate and clears the air on the few obscure views I had on your relationship with Malam. People forget that we see and meet people in different ways. I might meet Math whiz Pantami while someone else meets Hafiz Pantami and so on.

I believe you meant to write "conversations" not "conservations" on paragraph 11.

Muscomide said...

Farooq, the mixed reaction to your penultimate article on Pantami evidently stems from your loose description of him as 'a friend'. With this new clarification, however, you and Pantami can be better describes as acquaintances, no?

Unknown said...

I am overwhelmed with your point of view as a prolific writer, l must say that the Minister owned up to his past because of many vulnerable vultures who are waiting to see him come out of office office uncelebrated.
However this is not to say that l celebrates idiosyncratic attitude far from it,l loved the Minister for having the courage to despised what's not right.

Moukhtar Kofa said...

The brutal and unsparing fierceness in truth telling of people named Umar (Farooq) is very true. I've seen that in my father on several occasions.

As for pleasing few with your write ups, I am one of the people very pleased with your write ups. I have following your write ups since when I was in my early twenties. When you started 'Notes From Louisiana'

I can attest to the fact that you are humble too, like Pantami. I was only 25 years old when I had my first direct interaction with you. You just started your studies at Georgia State University then. An email communication that took more than thirty minutes. I still remember some flattering things you said to me that day. And the encouragement to further my studies. Thank you for that memory.

I interacted with you after that, on facebook's messenger. And on phone, sometime in 2012 I think.

I used to buy a copy of WeeklyTrust every week just to read your column. I had no smart phone. I love your write ups, especially the ones about ethnic identity, languages and psychology.

Ahmed Abdulrahman said...

You have said it all, for those against and in support. Let the magic pen take a bow on Pantami's saga. But one side of your writing which many are not aware of, is the positive impact it has brought to our lives unknowingly to you too Prof. Your writing inspired me and began to learn by reading your columns and understanding the context. Within this period, am proud to put on record here that i have written short published articles on Daily Trust Letter section and sealed many deals writing for organizations. Those of us who are young and passionate about our dear country, we say thank you Sir.

Unknown said...

I think this clears it up. I believed you were tactically helping a friend

Fa'iz Adam said...

Thank you Prof.
I don't believe that Sheikh Pantami can engage himself in any terror activity.

Fa'iz Adam said...

Thank you Prof.
I don't believe that Sheikh Pantami can engage himself in any terror activity.

Gen. Radaq Freeman said...

The difference between the President and sheikh Pantami is that the former is an introvert, a living manequin and a known WAEC forger while the latter is a vocal Islamic orator in both hausa & arabic homilies. But both of them are birds of like-minds. As it stand now, even if due to the protracted criticisms and calls for his sack, Pantami decides to quit, the Buhari I know will never accept his resignation.

Gen. Radaq Freeman said...

The difference between the President and sheikh Pantami is that the former is an introvert, a living manequin and a known WAEC forger while the latter is a vocal Islamic orator in both hausa & arabic homilies. But both of them are birds of like-minds. As it stand now, even if due to the protracted criticisms and calls for his sack, Pantami decides to quit, the Buhari I know will never accept his resignation.:(:o:(

Hassan Ubali said...

Learning and sticking to tell the truth at all times is a privilege gotten by few,am one of those few who admired your writings as it benefited me.

Keep on Prof.

Farooq A. Kperogi said...

I advised him to accept the positions because I thought he would serve as a model for our people who think Islamic education precludes one from partaking in secular governance.

Unknown said...

You're My role model. May Almighty Allah albarkate your pen.

Unknown said...

I agree with your submission. Pantami should resign and publicly commence preaching against terrorism.

Unknown said...

God's blessings upon you and yours sire, keep on keeping on sir! You inspire me greatly.

Unknown said...

God's blessings upon you and yours sire, keep on keeping on sir! You inspire me greatly.

Owoicho ukangini said...

Prof always makes my days on Saturdays with his write-ups.
Thank you, prof.