Mr. Qasim Akinreti is the current Chairman of Lagos NUJ. In this interview with INTEGRITY REPORTERS, he revealed how he planned to instill sanity and accountability into the Union and the level at which immediate past regime of the Union has misappopriated the money of the members
Q; What is the vision and mission of your administration as the Chairman of Lagos NUJ?
A; The mission is to have a new beginning and that new beginning covers to restore integrity to stakeholders, accountability, improvement in professionalism. Our vision is to ensure that NUJ is resourceful and viable and more importantly to upheld professionalism.
Q; Do you mean that the integrity of immediate past administration was questionable?
A; Well, if you have been following the development in the past five years, you would have seen what have gone wrong in the union. we walk into this office by the support of the entire members. The union was somehow dead in the area of making the members belief in the union. it is clear, that is why I said we are going to have a new begining. For some of us in the system, for ten years, so many of us paid for land, up till now we couldn’t get it. And some others paid for a house to be built but that project was not realized. So what we inherit was scandal. The documents are there. Individuals have been going to he EFCC to fight for their fundamental human right, that their money should be returned because commonwealth is misappropriated.
Land issue apart, the money coming in from the investment that were left for us by our founding fathers are left in shamble, funds were diverted into personal accounts instead of the union account. So, it is not about witch hunting any person, but we are saying, this is the way to go. So what we intend to achieve is that never again would one person take the entire members for a ride. You must be diligent, work as for the interest of the members. Any attempt to short change them is a criminal offense and against the code of conduct of NUJ.
We are starting afresh and we want members to put us in check. At the appropriate time, call for our books, that is the part of our mission in this new beginning. We have also told members that you can also bring money into the union as grant or aids and you take 20% interest.
For the first time, we are going to run this union on budget, there is a budget now. So rules and processes have also changed. And part of these processes is not all about money but about championing the right thing. I am happy that so far, there has been tremendous support from our members. Our election was the toughest since the last ten year. This shows that there is no place for vested interests, but the people they believe in, should come in. Our track record shows volume. I have been supporting every succeeding administration. So we waited for our own time to make a change.
Q; Many people think that you have been witch hunting your predesessors, how truth is this?
A; It is not witch hunting, it is about clean up. Are we witch hunting someone who has misappropriated the funds of the people? Those affected in the probe were given opportunities, they were invited. Elders also came in to ask them questions. It is not about a person, it is about the institution. Let us build the institution of the NUJ. Those who care to listen we would tell them. That is why I said, when am leaving let them come and I would give them the account. I have told my executives to be ready to give the accounts of their stewardship. It is not about witch hunting. Everything we have been talking about has been in the public domain.
Q; Many people think that you should have taken it one-on-one with your predecessors rather than taken it to the level of EFCC, what do you have to say to this?
A; No, I am not the one that took the matter to EFCC as an individual, but the Congress of Lagos NUJ. We have been appealing to them to give account of their stewardship to the members. This is the second month, they have not been able to account for it. That is why I allow the Elders to come in. I didn’t go to EFCC, it was the individuals who feel cheated. There are rules of engagement and that is what we are following; we set up a committee to look at the truthfulness of all the documents flying around about misappropriation of funds, and the committee gave everybody equal opportunity. We have the audio report, apart from the hard copy report. Those that were interviewed were recorded and they were told that they were being recorded.
Q;Don’t you think this will damage the image of journalist at the end of the day?
A; It would not. It would enhance their integrity, and show that there are people who believe in integrity. We are just cleaning our house. How would you think that over N70 million was misappropriated, not the organisation money, but money owned by individuals.
Q; How do you want to be remembered?
A; I want to leave a brighter future for the union.