The lifting of Nigeria’s suspension from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units, a 155-member global group that facilitates the exchange of financial intelligence, expertise and capability, is a massive relief for our financial system.
The fear, six months ago, that the international community would expel Nigeria from this system and render our financial system an island unto itself and a pariah, has been put to rest.
Breaking the news, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes, Hon. Kayode Oladele, said the suspension was lifted during the 25th plenary session of the Group in Sydney, Australia. After several warnings, the Egmont Group had suspended Nigeria during its 2nd July 2017 meeting in Macao, China, on grounds of our inability to comply with the directive to ensure our Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) was independent of governmental control.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) establishment Act of 2004, which created the NFIU had put it under the EFCC, a Federal executive body which is controlled directly by the Presidency. The lack of independence of the FIU showed in the penchant of the EFCC to leak its findings as part of its notorious media trial strategy, usually deployed against government opponents. The EFCC had stiffly resisted attempts to make the NFIU an independent body or at least transfer it to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as the Egmont guidelines directed.
When Nigeria was suspended and given till 7th March this year to correct the anomaly or face outright expulsion, the Presidency set up the Senator Chukwuka Utazi Ad-Hoc Committee to reposition the NFIU and ensure that Nigeria was not expelled. By deadline very little had been achieved. It took desperate panic campaigns by concerned media outfits (including Vanguard) before the Federal Government’s usual fire brigade reflex kicked in.
Fortunately, the National Assembly was very proactive and quickly created a legal framework for the NFIU which met the expectations of the Egmont Group’s fact-finding mission to Nigeria. As Hon Oladele put it: “They inspected all our facilities and were impressed.”
The immediate upshoot of our readmission is that Nigeria will no longer be isolated from the international financial system. Our banking system can continue transacting international business without fear, and Nigeria can continue to exchange information with members of the group on terrorism financing, money laundering and other relevant matters.
But are we ready to learn from this saga? Must we continue to wallow in backward governance practices until we are kicked in the butt before we wake up? Will the newly “independent” NFIU maintain the political neutrality required of it to help fight corruption without bias?
The future will tell.