Dennis Amachree, a former Assistant Director with the Department of State Services, has confirmed that the embattled Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, was screened by the secret police before his confirmation as minister in 2019.
Amachree, who spoke on Wednesday while featuring on Punch Online interview programme, The Roundtable, however, said the minister must have sailed through the DSS and Senate screenings due to a lot of factors including federal character balancing.
Pantami, a former director-general with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), is the only member of the Federal Executive Council from Gombe State.
He has come under fire over his past controversial comments on terrorist groups including Taliban and Al-Qaeda. After initial denials, the minister later denounced his radical comments, saying he now knows better but Nigerians have been unsparing and relentless in the call for the sacking of the minister.
The ex-DSS director also said the minister should resign as it was difficult to change someone of his kind.
He said the DSS has information on all individuals of interest, adding that the minister’s past extremist views were communicated to the Federal Government and the legislature.
Amachree said, “There is no information that escapes the DSS, we have all of it, all. When I was working there, we keep a catalogue of anybody of interest that comes up to limelight in this country.
“During the vetting process for anybody to be appointed a minister or commissioner or anything, your name is sent to the SSS for vetting. They check your background up to the extent of your grandmother. They check your schools up to the extent of your primary school. And of course, they keep a tab on you online and offline. We get a lot from open source intelligence and I can tell you that in Pantami’s case, we have it.
“But there is a political angle to it. When somebody is being appointed, if the security agencies see that there is something wrong with his name, they will send it to the appointing agency. The appointing agency will now decide amongst other variables either religious variable, federal character balancing variable, or political variable and say that, ‘Oh, yes, we know that this guy has this and that but let’s appoint him.
“So, the political decision is not taken by the SSS. Even when you go to the Senate for confirmation, there is party by party and you can see that there are some political candidates that the opposition party will say that this one will not be appointed but because he belongs to that party, they will appoint him. So, these are political and federal balancing where they will say that there is nobody from this place that has been appointed, so let’s appoint him.”
The ex-DSS director further said the United States was gathering information on the communications minister.
Amachree said, “He (Pantami) has just submitted his name into US database. The cataloguing of people is not automatic, it comes in drips and drops. Now, people are talking about him and that has come to the attention of the United States Embassy in Nigeria already. Now, they will do a deeper dive into his background. They will catalogue him and now they will start watching him and if it comes to a very critical level, they will place him on a no-fly zone.”