In the last one month, so much has been said and written about the unnerving extremist religious views of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami. The minister has not denied them but insists that they were views he espoused as a teenager. But in this exclusive interview with News Editor, Ishaya Ibrahim, Professor Samuel Achi recalls the events of December 9, 2004 when he received the news that his first son, Sunday Nache Achi, a 400-level student of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi, was murdered inside the university mosque by Muslim students over allegation that he circulated a tract that contained blasphemous content. Pantami was the Chief Imam of the mosque then and he was not13 years.
How have you been coping with the gruesome events that happened in December 2004 when you learnt that your son was killed in ATBU? How did you take the news?
Well, in the first place when it happened, it was my pastor that called me when I was in a hotel room in Abuja. I was a chief executive officer of a federal government establishment at that time under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. I was called to go to Abuja to see the minister. Immediately I was told of my son’s death, I had to be bold. I want to say that God gave me the grace to be bold to keep the information to myself when I got the information around 2 o’clock in the morning of December 9, 2004.
The discussion I was to have with the minister was supposed to be very crucial to the existence of the agency I was heading. So, God gave me the grace that I was able to control my emotion. We had a very nice discussion. It was after the meeting that I confided in the minister, Professor Turner Isoun. So, I went back.
Unfortunately, it was true. It has not been an easy road since then because the trauma was so much – my first son! Definitely, it was a very traumatic experience. Thank God because God has been our mentor. We have actually committed everything to him. To him has been the glory and he has been able to comfort us. Even the church and everybody else. We find solace in so many people coming to comfort us. Even up till today, my colleagues and many other people have been calling me. Even these few days that this thing (Pantami story) has been going on, I’ve received so many calls as well. So, it’s only the grace of God that has kept us going. And of course, I want to emphatically say that as a Christian, I’m happy to know God because if I didn’t know God, or if my family didn’t know God, what we would have done would have been detrimental to the existence of so many other things. But we took it as Christians and we gave God the glory. And as such, definitely, God has comforted us. You can see that not long after, I became a professor and I’ve been living above board by the grace of God.
Can you tell us a bit about your son because we learned that he was killed as a result of participating in evangelism outreach? What can you tell us about him?
Well, I’m happy to say that God enabled us to bring him up as a very good Christian. He was someone who was taking the word of God seriously. When he went to ATBU, we saw that he continued his good works in the (Christian) ministry. A turnaround was when he came on a holiday and informed us that he had been elected by his colleagues to be the ECWA student ministry leader in the university. I told him it was fine. In fact, it was with apprehension that his mother accepted it. But we prayed for him. We asked God to take care of him. I’m sure a lot of information is in the archives. If you browse his name on the internet, you will see a lot of information. The Christian networks have written so much since that time.
That day that you mentioned, December 9, 2004, when you got the news, was it the time it just happened or it had happened a while ago before you got the call?
Well, I was told that it happened about one and a half or two hours earlier.
After the incident, were you able to get a full picture of what happened?
Well, I got the full picture. But as I said, it is not something that I really want to discuss. But one thing I know that you people (media) got wrong is that he was not stoned to death. He was strangled inside the mosque and they threw the corpse outside the university mosque.
Did you get any visitor from the university? Did they come to you?
Yes. The university came to condole with us. They officially came to condole with us.
Was there any kind of investigation to find out what led to that incident?
Well, I didn’t pursue that.
What about the university? Are you aware if they did that?
I cannot say.
One of the information that is in the public domain, from Wikileaks, is that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Pantami, was expelled from the university because of a sermon he preached which resulted in violence. So many connections have been drawn between his sermon and what happened to your son. Do you also find the connection?
I cannot talk about that. It is not conducive for me to talk about that.
But as a father who wouldn’t want that to be done to another person’s child, what do you think are the measures that need to be put in place to forestall such a violent incident?
On paper, Nigeria is a secular state. But in practice, I want to categorically say that it depends on where you are that you can actually practice your religion freely. So, that freedom of expression, freedom to practice your religion should actually be given to everybody. It is very sad. It’s been more than 15 years now since this thing happened, and things are really getting worse.
The government needs to do a lot more. I can also say here that we should practice our religion the way we are expected to, without any fear of interference from anybody. Let me take you back to the period when it happened, maybe because I was chief executive of a federal government set up …
What agency was that?
The Federal College of Chemical and Leather Technology.
Okay. Go ahead, sir.
So, as at that time, the presidency played a very good role, and I commend the then president, His Excellency, Olusegun Obasanjo. He got the message and even though he didn’t talk directly with me, the then Chaplain of Aso Rock Chapel, Professor Yusuf Obaji, had a discussion with me. From it, what they understood was a direct religious intolerance. And he pleaded with me as a Christian to forgive and actually forget everything because the boy died in a very noble Christian way. So, I don’t think there is much to say again.
But going back to your earlier question on the tract, I saw the tract after the incident. And in fact, I was shocked to hear that such a tract could be the cause of my son’s death. But there is a climate of intolerance, and when people are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, people who have been assigned the responsibility of leadership either in the church or mosque or other secular organisations or wherever, if you fail to actually give out a message of peace, definitely you have failed.
The Chief Imam of the mosque was the person that ahh …. In fact, I have been aware of this information a long time ago. But I kept it to myself because it was not something that was worth thinking about.
Was it that the Chief Imam didn’t read the tract?
I’m just saying that even if he read the tract, and if he is a peaceful man, if the religion he practices actually preaches peace as it says, then he should have found a way of proffering solution to terrible incidences that would otherwise cause some pandemonium that could lead to loss of lives. That even lead to other incidences later on as a result of what happened, which is not very fine. I really abhor any form of violence. And definitely, I will never stand for anything that will take life from anybody.
Even at the time you found out that what was preached in the University mosque was what led to the death of your son, you immediately forgave the perpetrators?
I want to say here that I have already forgotten all this. Even when it happened, I went to the press. A publication was made in the Vanguard newspaper. I cannot remember the precise date, but it was about December 20, 2004. If you check that week, you will find my write up. I have a copy, but it is not with me right now.
But definitely, I wrote in the newspaper denouncing and also forgiving all those people that committed that dastardly act. So, I still stand as a representative of my family that we have actually forgiven whoever committed such an act. But his judgment is between himself and God, and it will continue to haunt him. So when I saw this (the Pantami story), I was surprised. I said where is this coming from again?
So, at that time you knew that the Chief Imam is the current Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami?
As at the time when you wrote that piece in Vanguard forgiving the perpetrators, you already knew that the Chief Imam of the ATBU mosque was Isa Pantami?
No. I did not know.
At what point did you find out that he was that same ATBU Chief Imam?
It was later on.
But not during this latest revelation about him?
No, it was not too long after the incident of my son’s death that I knew.
Were you aware of the kind of sermon that was delivered at the mosque before your son was murdered?
No. I’m not sure.
How has the family been carrying on, especially your wife?
You know it is well with the soul of the believer who surrenders to Him all he has got because our souls are controlled by Him. Our temperament or whatever you call them, if you commit them unto Him, He will surely take care of you. And that is what He has been doing for us. We faced a lot of … especially myself. I have faced a lot of discrimination, which later on was tied to my relationship to the deceased, my son. But I’m not ready to go into it.
You mean because of your son who was already late, you still faced discrimination?
Yes. But if I may go back again, at the onset of the event, I want to use this opportunity, which I have never done before. I got to know the action that my governor, Ahmed Makarfi, took by contacting the then governor of Bauchi State. He stood solidly by us. I want to use this opportunity to thank him because if not for him, the corpse of my son would probably have been buried in Bauchi without us knowing.
Governor Makarfi played a fatherly role and members of the ECWA Church took it upon themselves to go and retrieve my son’s corpse from Bauchi.
Prof, I noticed that you are trying not to mention the minister by name, but I want to ask you about this issue that was published in the media where the minister said he has renounced his past sermons where he supported extreme views. If you saw that, what came to your mind?
You see as a Christian, I cannot go back on my word. I said I have already gone to the press to make a pronouncement. And I don’t think I hold anything against anybody. Well, let whatever is there be sorted out by God himself. I don’t have any grudges against anybody because I know as a Christian, I have forgiven and God has shown me the fruitfulness of forgiveness, being able to forgive.
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