Nigeria: Pantami - Islamic Sheikh, Academic and Politician

22 May 2024

Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, former Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, an Islamic sheikh, and a UK-trained Ph.D. holder, has found himself in a triangular situation: an Islamic sheikh, a politician, and an academic. This revered status means any issue that affects his personality will always be a hot topic and attract public scrutiny.

Pantami's full transformation into a politician who is eyeing the 'ballot box' was noticed during this year's Ramadan Tafsir; his style of delivery and the content of his messages were noticeably altered. Traditionally known for his sticking religious contents during tafsirs, this time, the sheikh took every opportunity to showcase his extensive knowledge of the economy, geography, and global politics. This shift did not go unnoticed by the audience and observers. His discussions were peppered with references to economic policies, geographic strategies, and the intricacies of international relations, signalling a significant change in his focus and priorities. Pantami continues to align himself more closely with political aspirations, and his body language has also evolved to reflect this new ambition.

Recently, controversies, debates, and discussions have emerged about Pantami's books, *Skills, Rather than Just a Degree* and *A Scholar's Journey: Navigating the Academia*. These books trended for a while and reignited old controversies about how he obtained his professorship. This situation has also awakened Pantami's political adversaries, who view his behind-the-scenes early efforts to enter the Gombe State governorship race as an encroachment on their territory.

Many politicians, especially in his home state of Gombe, are upset with Pantami because they view him as an outsider who seized opportunities to occupy their 'slots,' first as the Director-General of NITDA and later as a federal minister representing Gombe State. However, after eight years of working independently, he now seeks their support to establish himself in their domain.

Conversely, the majority of Pantami's critics regarding his appointment as a professor are academics. In contrast, most of those who backed the critics were Pantami's political opponents and their supporters.

One of Pantami's critics was reported to have penned this:

"Mr. Pantami was only for the most part a Lecturer 1 or 2 where he first served and didn't spend a whole working career in the university system or in a university's employment;" he was "made" a Professor by a university where he never worked, taught, sat in its Senate, worked in its committees, never examined or marked UG or PG exam scripts, and his whole promotion papers were never processed at the departmental and faculty levels, and, indeed, he never had a payroll number... Mr. Pantami was thus never a scholar in the classical or academic sense of that word. I wonder whether he's now teaching or giving classes or seminar papers at any university after his leaving office in May 2023."

On the other hand, supporters of Pantami's professorship encompass academics with a fondness for him, members of religious groups, his students, and his political associates.

In fairness to Pantami, having held a ministerial position, he is already entrenched in politics. Moreover, the criticisms in his books predominantly consist of one-off comments rather than comprehensive analyses or academic discourse. Furthermore, Pantami's challenge for a debate on his book is yet to take place.

The debate about Isa Pantami's books, professorship, and foray into politics has three divides: his adherents, his opponents, and those sitting on the fence. The views of his followers and critics are well known and are often based on perspectives. However, those sitting on the fence have, on many occasions, provided valid points both for and against Pantami.

Isa Ali Pantami's transition from an Islamic scholar to a politician and professor has sparked both controversy and applause. His political opponents view his entry into politics as an intrusion into their territory, while his academic critics regard his professorship as 'unearned.' On the other hand, his supporters perceive his multifaceted identity--as a sheikh, a politician, and a professor--as exceptional among his peers.

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