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Labour leaders, presidential committee clash at anti-corruption meeting

An executive of the Trade Union Congress stirred up a hornet’s nest during a Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption meeting in Lagos, Tuesday, when he suggested the workers’ union be incorporated into the committee.Simeso Amachree, the Acting Secretary of the TUC, said the Committee’s task would be more effective if they include one member each from his union, the Nigerian Labour Congress, and the civil society, adding that organised labour has the structures to enable their work reach millions of Nigerians.

Another unionist, Adekola Adetomiwa of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, added that for labour leaders to key into the anti-corruption fight, they “need to be carried along.”

The suggestions irked members of the anti-corruption committee.

Femi Odekunle rejected the suggestion, describing “people parading themselves as labour leaders” as “corrupt and compromised.”

Mr. Odekunle, a professor of criminology, said instead of pushing to be members of the anti-corruption advisory committee, the labour union should use their power to fight corruption.

“What PACAC (Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption) cannot do, what EFCC cannot do, what Police cannot do, Labour can do it,” Mr. Odekunle said.

“Korea for the past one month, from 10,000 to 30,000 to about 2 million now, they are insisting that they will not agree with what the president had done, they are not fighting, they are just….

“Now if you don’t like any particular policy, whether it’s forex, whether it’s subsidy, whether it’s education, why don’t you mobilise your people and be able to persevere for one week, two weeks, one month until you achieve your objectives? Instead of doing two days, then go to the back door, go and meet at the Villa and then you give up because your leaders have agreed.

“I want to emphasise this matter, your responsibility, you must attend to it and you have not been doing so.”

Etannibi Alemika, another member of the Committee, accused the union members of grandstanding in a national issue that ought to be taken serious.

“We are talking about Nigeria’s problem of corruption, you are posturing yourself as if PACAC has a problem in their advisory role and you have to help them solve it,” said Mr. Alemika, a professor of criminology and sociology of law.

“I don’t think that is the issue. the issue is simply, what can we do in our respective sectors to solve the problem of corruption? That is the main issue here. not that you have the strategy to solve the problem and you are not incorporated.”

Mr. Amachree responded by saying he “took exception” to the claims that labour leaders are corrupt.

“I ask you, whenever strikes have been called nationwide, how many times did you come out? Most likely you sat at home, so easy to stay there and say ‘do this do this,’” he told the Committee members.

Mr. Amachree said in the 2012 fuel subsidy protests where Labour leaders were accused of collecting money from government, the protests were actually ended because the union “put the national interest first.”

“In 2012, we were fully determined to continue, but at some point in time it appeared that things were being hijacked,” he said.

“How do you explain, for instance, you have tens of thousands of people gathering at a particular spot in Lagos every day consecutively. And being fed food, drinks, water. It didn’t come from us, where did the money come from? Somebody, some persons were sponsoring. We are not stupid.

“And then you have this man from the Niger Delta, if you remove him there’ll be chaos.”

Itse Sagay, the committee chairman, said people don’t need to belong to PACAC to fight corruption.

“PACAC is not made up of representatives of any groups or sectors,” said Mr. Sagay, a law professor.

“Fight corruption from your own organisation. And if we invite you, participate, you don’t have to say unless you are a member of PACAC. How many members will PACAC have if it invites people from every sector? I think that’s a very negative attitude.”

President Muhammadu Buhari appointed the six member Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption in August last year. The Committee’s work is supported by $5 million fund donated by the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Open Society Foundation.

“We have our faults but you have to help us, and one way you can help us is to have us there,” said Mr. Amachree, during the committee’s interaction with the media and civil society organisations on Tuesday.

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