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Suspension from Egmont Group: Senate vows to separate NFIU from EFCC

…Moves to stop Nigeria’s expulsion from Egmont Group
…Urges anti-corruption c’ttee to submit draft bill for independent NFIU
…Suspension, setback in fight against corruption— Saraki

By Henry Umoru

ABUJA— The Senate was, yesterday, poised for another showdown with Acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, as it moved to pass a law to make the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, independent of the commission, following the suspension of the country from the Egmont Group.

The Egmont Group is an informal network of national financial intelligence units, FIUs.

The Egmont Group had threatened that if Nigeria failed 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 which provides the backbone for monitoring international money laundering activities.

In the event of an expulsion, Nigeria will no longer be able to benefit from financial intelligence shared by the other 153-member countries, including the US and the UK, while the country’s ability to recover stolen funds abroad will also be hampered.

SENATE CHAMBER

The Federal Government is currently seeking to recover funds laundered globally by politically exposed persons and their associates.

Another major dire consequence will be the blacklisting of Nigeria in international finance, and this could affect the issuance of Mastercard and Visa credit and debit cards by Nigerian banks.

It could also affect the international rating of Nigerian financial institutions, restricting their access to some big-ticket international transactions.

Nigeria’s admittance into the group in 2007 is considered to be one of the biggest achievements of the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

The membership ensured the removal of Nigerian banks from the blacklist of international finance.

Urges anti- corruption c’ttee to submit draft bill for independent NFIU

Reacting to the development, the Senate mandated the Senator Chukwuka Utazi-led Committee on Anti- Corruption and Financial Crimes to submit, within the next four weeks, a draft bill for discussion, with a view to setting up an independent NFIU.

In this regard, the Senate resolved to pass a law creating a substantive and autonomous Nigeria Financial intelligence Unit, NFlU, and make the unit legally and operationally autonomous with powers for the employment, reward, training, promotion and discipline of its workforce independently

It also resolved to 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 multidateral levels.

The resolutions of the Senate were sequel to a motion by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North), entitled: “Dire implications of the suspension of Nigeria from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.”

The Senate also urged the    three line Ministries of justice, Finance and Interior to do all within their powers to ensure that Nigeria’s suspension was immediately reversed and ensure that all conditions specified by the Egmont Group were met to re-admit and improve Nigeria’s standing within the group, while increasing their levels of cooperation and coordination to ensure that Nigeria achieved membership of FATF.

Suspension, setback in fight against corruption — Saraki

In his remarks, Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, said separating the NFIU from the EFCC would show that the Senate is serious about the anti-corruption war of the government.

He also described the suspension as a set back to the anti- corruption crusade of the government.

Saraki, who called on the Senate to begin the process of enacting the law, 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 we need to do is to ensure that we pass this bill as soon as possible and give independence to NFIU.

“Other activities that must have led to this must be stopped. The committee on anti-corruption will carry out its oversight to ensure that the sooner we get the suspension lifted, the better for our image and the fight against corruption.”

In his contribution, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, stressed the need for a public hearing among all relevant stakeholders, including the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA; Attorney General of the Federation, OAGF; Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN; Department of State Services, DSS, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Matter, ICPC and the EFCC, among others, to resolve the issue of autonomy for the NFIU.

Ekweremadu noted that it was the immediate past AGF, Mohammed Adoke, who brought the NFIU under EFCC because he supervised the anti-graft agency.

He said:  “This matter is very simple and straightforward. I remember that there was a huge debate on this matter in the last Senate.  The NFIU used to be a department in the EFCC and what they do is to gather financial intelligence about bank transactions.

‘’Because it gets international funding and it is very influential, there was a huge debate on where  to domicile it. Is it in the Central Bank of Nigeria or Office of the  Attorney General of the Federation or Office of the National Security  Adviser?

“Eventually, the last Attorney General of the Federation, because EFCC  reports to his office, was able to domicile it with the EFCC. The  problem now, which the Egmont Group is complaining about, is that all  the (members of) staff of NFIU are all from the EFCC; and they believe  that it is not right; that it is supposed to be independent.

‘’I think what we need to do at this moment is to direct the committee to call a meeting of  stakeholders, namely the CBN, OAGF, ICPC, EFCC, ONSA and even the DSS. Let them sit down and look at the best practices. Where are they (the unit) domiciled in other jurisdictions? Then, we can now come back and have an informed opinion on what to do.”

Also, Senators Shehu Sani (APC Kaduna Central), Foster Ogola (PDP Bayelsa West) and Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West) said the NFIU should be separated from EFCC to avoid Nigeria’s expulsion from the Egmont Group so as to show the country’s seriousness in its fight against corruption.

Senator Shehu Sani said:  “If actually we are serious about fighting corruption, it must be done smartly and intelligently; intelligently in the sense that we must  belong to internationally acclaimed groups like Egmont where our  activities will tally with other countries worldwide.’’

On his part, Senator Foster Ogola said:  “ This    issue is very crucial to the survival of Nigeria as a nation. The economy will be in shambles because the expulsion of Nigeria from this very foremost anti-corruption unit of the world, backed by the United Nations, will spell doom for businesses in Nigeria. That is why we need credible institutions to fight corruption.’’

In his contribution, Senator Dino Melaye said:  “This will affect Nigeria’s ratings by global organisations. Separating the NFIU from the EFCC will show that we are sincere in the fight against corruption. Today, we all know that there is a serious interference with the activities and operations of the NFIU.’’


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