I came across Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim (who is popularly known by the epithet ‘Pantami’), the current director-general of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Nigeria, for the first time in December 2012, in the United Kingdom. Our meeting was facilitated by a conference organized by the Nigerian Muslim Forum in the UK (NMFUK), which was hosted in Stamford Court, at the University of Leicester. At the time, Dr. Pantami was a doctoral researcher at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, where he was working on a project that investigated the barriers to the adoption of state-of-the-art information systems by Nigerian indigenous oil companies. But despite his education, training, and experience in the information systems sciences, Dr. Pantami was not invited to the NMFUK conference as an information systems scientist, but as an Islamic scholar of repute, in his own right. His invitation was a testimony to his uncommon combination of both the finest Western scholarly tradition, as well as a towering erudition in Islamic scholarship.
The NMFUK conference of December 2012 was themed on “Poverty Alleviation and Good Governance as Tools for Conflict Resolution.” Although there were many speakers at the conference, where brilliant ideas were put forward for the improvement of the livelihoods of Nigeria’s poorest, Dr. Pantami, I remember, discussed extensively on the need for Nigeria to bring forth strong institutions that promote justice, equity and fairness for all citizens. He reiterated the fact that although the world’s great religions such as Islam and Christianity promote justice and equity and encourage leaders across all spheres of the society to be just and equitable toward their subjects, however the belief in and worship of God, on its own alone, without recognizing and inculcating the interest of justice within our devotions, would not produce a just society. Taking instances of Nigeria and the U.K., Dr. Pantami compared the religiosity of the two countries vis-à-vis the subsistence of justice.
But the wisdom I could extract from Dr. Pantami’s lecture at the time was quite profound, especially when we take the realities of our country Nigeria into study. We are a country that is arguably the most religious in the world, where both the mosques and churches are regularly full of worshippers on Fridays and Sundays, yet Nigeria is, undoubtedly, one of the most corrupt nations of the world. Despite our religiosity, people who occupy the few positions of privilege in government plunder public funds mercilessly, while so many others are notorious for economic and financial crimes, drug trafficking, counterfeiting and forgery, etc. And because of these unfortunate instances, it cannot be possible to have a country that guarantees the security of lives and property. This leaves us with a country that is dangerously sinking more and more citizens into poverty, while, sadly and ironically, the leaders, including religious ones, are continually prospering. It is for this reason that Lamido Sanusi, who is now the Emir of Kano, once noted in one of his essays that if the God we say we worship is as we say He is, then it cannot be said that we worship Him if this is our character.
Thus far, having reflected on the lecture of Dr. Pantami at the NMFUK conference, in particular, and on the many teachings, preaching and sermons on Islamic studies and the shariah that he dedicated all his life to it in order to realize a better society, in general; and even more importantly, on his principles as a person, which serves as a foundation for his beliefs and behaviour, I had no doubt that he would make a good leader that the Nigerian people deserve. As much as I am not a fan of hagiography, not to risk giving undue reverence to public officers in Nigeria, nevertheless when I recognize public officers who are role models for leadership, I do not hide my admiration for them. Such is the admiration I have for Lamido Sanusi and, now, Dr. Pantami. In my June 2015 essay entitled “What Sanusi’s Eminence Spells for the Rest of Us”, published in several print and online media outlets, I noted that whenever I found myself discussing contemporary Nigeria, I had always advocated that what Nigeria needs at its trying moments are people like Sanusi (and Dr. Pantami) to influence the affairs of government. It is only true, like Sanusi once noted, that the dirt in Nigeria’s leadership can only be cleansed by encouraging good people to participate in the leadership process to flush it out of its current situation; its wanton depravity.
And as was the case for Sanusi, the opportunity to serve Nigeria in public office for Dr. Pantami, came to me as a delight and a renewal of my hope in the Nigerian project. People like me who had followed Dr. Pantami through his scholastic pedigree and personal antecedents for several years now had hoped for his recognition in government where his impact will be most felt. And in staying true to principle, Dr. Pantami has so far not disappointed me. He is matching his long-standing words with an actionable work ethic. He does not seem to change in words and in deeds, deciding to remain the Dr. Pantami of old. I am confident that Dr. Pantami’s best is yet to come if he continues to exude managerial excellence in many aspects within Nigeria’s IT industry. If he continues in the path of upholding probity and accountability in executing the core mandates of the organization that he leads; if he continues toward a visionary leadership formed from a well thought out perception; then he will carve out a place for himself as a leader whose styles are not usually common, and from whom others could learn.
To be concluded next week