By Mohammed Isa
The suspension of Nigeria and a further threat to expel it from Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) in July placed the nation in a fix on the survival or otherwise of the war against corruption which is a cardinal programme of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The fact that high profile money laundering and corruption cases are usually with international dimension underscores the importance of the huge set-back the nation will witness in its fight against corruption as a result of its suspension and threat of expulsion from the Egmont Group.
The Egmont Group is an informal network of 154 National Financial Intelligence Units (NFIUs) which provides a platform for the secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering, the financing of terrorism, and other related offences.
The NFIU helps tackle money laundering and monitor financial flows, a task eased by its membership of the Group whose members share intelligence relating to illicit flow and international finance.
The Group at its 24th plenary held in Macao, from July 2-7, 2017, chaired by Mr. Sergio Espinosa, suspended Nigeria for lack of the independence of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The Group, however, expressed its hope that the Nigerian authorities will address these concerns to enable it lift the suspension as soon as possible.
Rising to the challenge posed by the suspension and impending expulsion of Nigeria from the Group, the Senate in its usual prompt response manner on July 19 resolved to pass a law creating a substantive and autonomous Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA), to replace the NFIU and make it legally and operationally autonomous.
When created, the Agency will be vested with powers for the employment, reward, training, promotion and discipline of its workforce independently. 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 President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, while commenting on the suspension noted that, “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.”
Walking its talk, the Senate on July 27 passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA) Bill after going through the normal legislative scrutiny.
The bill with 38 sections and 8 parts covers the objectives, establishments of NFIA, management and staff of the Agency, financial provisions, supervision and monitoring by the Agency.
Others are; application of counter measures and risk management, legal proceedings against the Agency and miscellaneous provisions. Highlights of the bill include the creation of autonomous Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA) in accordance with international best practices.
According to the bill, the proposed Agency will be created through the conversion of the existing National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) that is currently a unit under the control and administration of EFCC.
To insulate the Agency from external influence as required by the Egmont Group, the bill makes provision for its operational independence by making its budgetary allocations to be on first line charge on the consolidated revenue charge of the Federal Government.
The Agency, if created, according to the bill, would for the purpose of institutional location and logistical support, and in line with what is obtained in other jurisdiction be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) though not as a department or unit but for institutional support.
Giving a thump up for the Senate, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who oversee both the NFIU and EFCC expressed satisfaction with the timely response of the Senate through the accelerated passage of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA) Bill. The AGF in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Salihu Isa, particularly commended the Senate leadership and urged the House of Representatives to adopt the same spirit of the Senate so that the Bill would be promptly assented to by the President, thus saving the nation from the expulsion threat and the obvious embarrassment it will cause.
Also affirming its support for the separation of NFIU from the EFCC, Society for Forensic Accounting and Fraud Prevention (SFAFP), noted that the decision taken by the Senate in passing a bill on NFIU was influenced by global trends.
Chairman, Board of Trustees of SFAFP, who is also the second Vice President, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), Professor Benjamin C. Osisioma, said, “in as much as EFCC has tried to give it some levels of autonomy to enable it to operate, but now, unless this particular trend is undertaken, we are going to be deregistered by the relevant authorities.”
With the prompt passage of the NFIA bill, the Senate had not only saved Nigeria from expulsion from Egmont group and the attendants embarrassment but more importantly save the federal government anti corruption war from being defeated.
- Isa is a Special Assistant to the Senate President on Public Affairs