Senators yesterday began moves to make the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) independent of the Economic and Financial Crimes Comission (EFCC).
The Senate Committee on EFCC is to articulate a bill within four weeks for the immediate autonomy of NFIU, which is domiciled in the EFCC.
The decision was taken after a debate on Nigeria’s suspension from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.
The Senate blamed Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, Interior Minister Abdulrahman Danbazzau and EFCC Acting Chair Ibrahim Magu for Nigeria’s suspension.
The Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units provides the backbone for monitoring international money laundering activities across the world.
The Senate also said it was ready to do everything necessary to reverse Nigeria’s suspension moreso when “the group warned that if Nigeria fails to comply with the group’s demands for a legal framework granting autonomy to the NFIU by January 2018, the country will be expelled from the global body”.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Financial Crimes, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu North), moved a motion on “dire implications of the suspension of Nigeria from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units”.
The Senate said it was concerned that in view of the “non-cooperating stance of the executive branch”, the legislative branch would have to urgently leverage its institutional mechanism to ensure that Nigeria’s suspension from the EGMONT Group was reversed.
The upper chamber noted that it was all the more urgent, considering the December deadline given to the country to comply to avoid expulsion.
Besides, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) High Level Mission to Nigeria plans a visit to the country in November 2017 to appraise Nigeria’s preparedness to be granted the status of observer and later membership of the FATF, especially with regard to the needed co-ordination by the three line ministries of Justice, Finance and Interior.
It noted that the granting of the requisite autonomy to the NFIU has been “aggressively and progressively resisted by the EFCC.”
The Senate added that its Committee on EFCC, in order to provide the needed autonomy for the NFIU to meet its primary mandate, technically and logistically, considered the NFIU’s budget separately from EFCC’s in the 2017 budget “but for the non-provision of budget sub-heads by the Budget Office and the reluctance of the EFCC to do the administrative necessity required”.
Adopting the report, the Senate said it was informed that if expelled, “the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) Implementation Reviewing Group will be served a notice against Nigeria, and most countries, including the United States, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, etc., would alert their financial institutions and services through the issuance of advisories such as the Financial Criminal Enforcement Network Advisory and Foreign Assets and Cash Directive, to warn them to apply extra care and diligence in transacting with Nigeria and Nigerians.”
The Senate resolved to:
*pass a law creating a substantive and autonomous Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, and make the Unit legally and operationally autonomous with powers for the employment, reward, training, promotion and discipline of its workforce independently;
*empower the NFIU to, in line with international best practices, exchange and relate with all countries on issues affecting its mandate at the bilateral and multi-lateral levels;
*urge the three Line ministries of Justice, Finance and Interior to do all within their powers to ensure that Nigeria’s suspension is immediately reversed and ensure that all conditions specified by the EGMONT Group are met to re-admit and improve Nigeria’s standing within the Group while increasing their levels of cooperation and co-ordination to ensure that Nigeria achieves membership of FATE; and
“urge the Executive branch to include in any supplementary budget estimate that may be presented to the National Assembly before the end of the year a separate budget for the NFIU in view of the need to lift the suspension of Nigeria as soon as possible.
The Senate also noted ”the meddlesomeness of the Acting Chairman of the EFCC in the affairs of the NFIU by his interference in the operations and staffing of the Unit leading to the departure of many competent hands; and divulging confidential information concerning the activities of the EGMONT group.”
Senate President Bukola Saraki said the Senate would work swiftly to ensure that the suspension was lifted.
Saraki said: “Clearly, this suspension is a setback in our fight against corruption and, as such, we must move swiftly because we cannot afford to be cut off from the EGMONT Group.
We must move swiftly and ensure that this suspension is lifted. And one of the things that we need to do is to ensure that we pass this bill as soon as possible to give independence to NFIU and any of the other activities that must have led to this must be stopped. And the Committee on Anti-Corruption should carry out their oversight to ensure that the sooner we get the suspension lifted, the better for our image and the fight against corruption.”