Long before he was called to public service, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) had prepared for the task ahead. His life- long foray into the highly complex, intellectual world of digital scholarship, long before we even embraced technology in these climes, is testimony that nature had behooved on him the role he is so excellently playing today. It is neither accidental nor a mistake or even some inexplicable phenomena that at this very auspicious time in our nation’s history, a man of Pantami’s standing and repute is exactly where he is today. No great leader happens by accident and nature makes no mistakes. In fact, it is God’s grand design that a leader is born, shaped, prepared , tested, purified and molded for the task ahead. Like the true worth and weight of gold is tested by fire, so is the life of a great leader tested and strengthened by trials and the stormy weathers of life.
However one looks at it, whether from a microscopic or a telescopic perspective, Pantami is one of the greatest , most influential leaders of this generation, a living attestation that the wisdom of Solomon has nothing to do with Methuselah’s age. Pantami was born ready, armed with uncanny wisdom, knowledge, focus, determination, resilience, an awe inspiring fearlessness in the pursuit of justice and truth, a doggedness that defies distraction and the ability to set the pace in the most unpaved paths.
The renaming of the Ministry which he oversees to the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, which has become a thorn in the flesh of some myopic, misguided or out rightly unpatriotic elements, gives an insight into the depth of Pantami’s understanding of where we should be and how to get there. A man who is thoroughly meticulous in his actions and responsibilities, he initiated and pursued the name change to properly position the Ministry, expand its scope to include the requisite functions and give legal backing to it, in line with global best practice. He took his team back to the drawing board and laid a formidable foundation for the process of digitalising the economy. This is the same strategy deployed by technologically advanced societies globally, the same strategy that has put them ahead of us, the same strategy we have always yearned for but lacked the leadership to implement. Pantami has risen to the occasion and filled the vacuum, by demonstrating the will and courage to execute his mandate, as tasked by President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, and the very people who should lend their support are indeed the crusaders of stagnation and retrogression.
Judging from the numerous feeble and cowardly recent attempts, at distracting or even stopping the laudable strides of Dr Pantami in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sector, through cheap blackmail, it is only logical to conclude that quite a number of hitherto, “lords of lawlessness” have become quite uncomfortable with his mass oriented, people friendly policies which uphold the rule of law.
It is both ironic and shameful, that while fifth columnists are working against the very principles and ideas we should all project, our neighbours on the continent both near and far flung, are inspired by Dr Pantami’s strategies and have refocused their countries’ digitalisation agenda drawing from his policies back home. At the Cyber security Conference for ECOWAS ICT Ministers, held in Ghana in October, his Ghanaian counterpart, Honourable Ursula Owusu-Ekufu after Nigeria’s presentation, stated that they were inspired by Dr Pantami’s policy of deactivating all improperly registered SIM Cards and right there and then, she followed in his footsteps and issued the same directive to the sector in her country. And that is not enough for an African female leader who has publicly declared Dr Pantami as a source of inspiration, she has also demonstrated her government’s willingness to collaborate with Nigeria for knowledge transfer as she has requested that a team from Ghana, visits Nigeria for the sole purpose of understudying NITDA, so they can benefit from Dr Pantami’s legacies and implement them in their country. There is no history of such a feat based purely on exemplary leadership and merit in the sector.
On the 2nd of December 2019, South Africa’s Communications Commission ordered its Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to reduce the cost of data, a clear twenty six days behind the same directive by our own proactive, forward thinking Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy. If indeed there is any justification in the attack and totally baseless criticism of the policy, I expect that the same venom should have been directed at the South African Authority, for after all, the pursuit of what is right and just, should not be selective or discriminatory. Commissioner for communications Tembinkosi Bonakele, went even further to threaten legal action against MTN and Vodacom if they fail to comply within two months.
The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), in its latest report released on the 22nd October 2019, declared that Africans face the most expensive internet charges in the world! The A4AI’s report is based on its definition of affordability as, 1GB of mobile broadband data, costing no more than 2% of average monthly income. Studies conducted across the continent reveal an appalling 7.12% averaging almost a sixth of monthly income in some cases. The cost of data is a major determinant of access.
In Nigeria, a reported forty million citizens have no access to the internet and Dr Pantami finds this situation totally unacceptable. He has the mandate to change the narrative and has proceeded to act accordingly. I personally, and millions of other Nigerians find it totally incomprehensible as to why anybody would stand against it. This ilk of illegality, who feed fat on the deprivation and dry milking of the ordinary consumers, and have no sense of loyalty or duty to country, should know that Dr Pantami’s ultimate objective transcends local recognition not for himself, but for Nigeria. The A4AI, for the purposes of clarity, is a globally credible initiative of the Web Foundation founded by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, in partnership with Google and Facebook. This organisation has put in place a Good Practices Database which monitors improved access and affordability. Namibia and Kenya have already been cited on the platform for improved access and tax eliminations. Dr Pantami aims to effect such a phenomenal change in the sector as to put Nigeria on that pedestal. So unless the naysayers have more credibility than the A4AI, or nobler patriotic intentions than the Honourable Minister, I humbly advice they desist from their ignoble acts as no cabal will survive under the leadership of Dr Pantami in the ICT Sector.
The precedence he has set in NITDA, has become the solid bedrock on which sanity, the rule of law and professionalism now thrive. That same inherent leadership quality is what is manifesting in his capacity as Minister today. You cannot change or stop a man like Pantami from following his convictions, the law and his heart, when it comes to the discharge of his duties especially in upholding justice for the benefit of majority.
Here is a man who has staked everything to give his very best to the service of country, here is a man who is inspiring governments of other nations and galvanizing them into action, here is a man who has proven his mettle through his antecedents, one of our own, willing ready and committed and all some nitwits can do is attempt to discredit his efforts by ascribing petty politics to his office for their own selfish gains.
Dr Pantami is not a man to make loose or unguarded statements, so when he speaks, his words resonate substance. At a meeting with stakeholders in his office recently, he declared his stand. In his words, “They say, it is unwise to put all your eggs in one basket, I have deliberately put all my eggs in one basket, so my attention remains undivided. I have no choice but to commit all I have to ensure my eggs are protected and productive”. There is no Agency or Parastatal under his purview, that is left out of his transformation drive. He attends to issues with equal zeal as they exist and arise in every facet.
In the event of doubt or ignorance, let me make it categorically clear that if I have not learnt anything in the three years and three months I have been privileged to serve, under the impeccable leadership of this great Nigerian and extraordinary human being, it certainly is not his strength of character. This is a man whose determination and focus is further fuelled by criticism. The failure to support worthy leadership, and the oppression of it has been the bane of development in these climes. Both challenges however, do not apply to the intellectual par excellence, as he has the full backing of President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, to deliver his mandate, legal might, a formidable and competent team loyal to his cause and the support of millions of Nigerians. Every strategy, policy, reform, directive and action, is inextricably linked to the President’s three (3) point Agenda of National Security, Anti Corruption and A Digital Economy. He is effectively blocking the leakages deployed as conduit pipes to siphon national resources and shortchange the people, he is deploying technology to enhance security and address distress situations across the country, and of course doggedly pursuing the Digital Economy Agenda, with the strategy document in green mode already.
We are at a point in our nation’s history where business as usual cannot hold. The world is developing at the speed of light aided by technology and Dr Pantami is too busy, trying to make sure we are on board that train as a nation to reckon with, in the areas of innovation, capacity and infrastructure. He is too busy delivering his mandate to the millions of Nigerians who benefit daily from his mass-oriented leadership style. Those who cannot add value to the system should not sabotage the laudable efforts and achievements of those who are.
Pantami will not be oppressed or suppressed, he will not be intimidated and he will not abandon his mandate.
Uwa Suleiman is Spokesperson to the Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.