Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, has denied links to extremist views, saying criminals and other entrenched interests are behind the attacks on him.
Pantami, in an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said the allegations were untrue claims being peddled by forces that are against the federal government policy of compulsory national identity registration for all Nigerians and those residing in the country.
“I have no doubt about this. It has to do with the National Identification Number. Do you know one thing? This policy was started in 2011, it was not successful. Why? It was fought,” he said
Asked to name the forces fighting against the policy, Mr Pantami said, “You have to try and investigate as a journalist. In 2015, it came up, it was not successful. In 2018 there was a time that there were meetings between government and mobile network operators. And it was actually announced that by the agreement with government, the deadline was January 2018. It is there online, I will share it with you if you like. By January 2018, it was not implemented, because there are forces against it. There are forces!
“Now they have started coming with the news that people are coming from neighbouring countries to register. What they fail to understand is that the National Identification Number is not only for Nigerians; anybody in Nigeria can obtain it. Section 16 and 17 of the Act mention the registrable people in the country – citizens, legal residents, legal permanent residents, and legal residents for a minimum of two years. So, it is not only for citizens. And it is also important to know that this is not just an indication that they are citizens of Nigeria. It is rather an indication that you presented your biometric data, so government has control over your data. And that data of NIMC (National Identity Management Commission), nobody has an access to it in any way he likes. Getting access to it illegally is 10 years in prison. It is there in the law. But people will like to discredit it, because they don’t like it.
“As long as it is implemented by government, it will go a long way in reducing crime and based on the statistics we have been seeing now, it’s really encouraging.
“As government, our priority is the protection of lives and property of our citizens. Security is our priority as a government – whether in agric, digital economy, education or in health, in whatever. President Muhammadu Buahari is so passionate about security, and he directed me to do that because he knows I try to persevere despite challenges and do what is right in the interest of our citizens and humanity.”
Mr Pantami said despite the attacks on him, he would remain focused on his job.
“You know as a government appointee, and at this level, if you say you are going to be intimidated by everything, then you cannot do the work. You cannot do the work. I was with the Minister of Foreign Affairs this week, on April 12. I was with the minister. I was with the ambassadors of the U.K., the U.S., South Korea, and many other countries.
“We had an official meeting with them. We explained to them, even the wisdom behind the National Identity Number. One of the representatives of the development agencies said ‘your work is excellent, but you should be patient, you will encounter many attacks’. This was said to me in the presence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He said ‘you answered all our issues convincingly based on the wisdom and usage of NIN number, because criminals do not like it, criminals do not like it’.
“Even this issue that we are talking about, based on our findings, preliminary investigation, many people are not happy with what we have been doing – linking National Identification Number with SIM. Because a situation will come that all the people using SIM to commit crime will not be able to do that.
“If they do that government will be able to intercept them easily. This is what they don’t want to happen. And this is a mandate given to me by President Muhammadu Buhari. He personally signed the letter that ‘you are mandated to do that’.
“As his appointee, I should either do it or say I cannot. So, since I am willing to serve my country, I must continue to do it to the best of my ability.
“So, in my meeting with them, they even encouraged me to push it and make it very successful.”