Semi-autonomy for NFIU
The Senate has commenced the process of granting autonomy to the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit [NFIU] which is presently domiciled in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] with the passage of the bill for Second Reading. The Senate initiative is in response to the recent suspension of Nigeria from the EGMONT Group of financial intelligence units, which serves as backbone for monitoring international money laundering activities. Chairman of Senate Committee on EFCC Senator Chukwuka Utazi had moved a motion on “Dire Implications of the suspension of Nigeria from the EGMONT Group of Financial Intelligence Units.” The Senate then pledged its resolve to do everything possible to ensure the reversal of Nigeria’s suspension from EGMONT Group.
Nigeria has up to December 2017 to effect the statutory autonomy for NFIU to avoid expulsion from the EGMONT Group. Such a development will initiate the filing of a notice against Nigeria to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption [UNCAA] Implementation Review Group. This in turn will alert financial institutions of member nations of EGMONT Group to issue advisories to treat all financial transactions with Nigeria with suspicion, extra care and diligence. The advisories under consideration include the Financial Criminal Enforcement Network Advisory and Foreign Assets and Cash Directive. This means that all transactions between Nigeria and its major trading partners will be subjected to intense scrutiny.
This country’s suspension was as a result of failure by the Nigerian government to provide the operational latitude for NFIU to work in accordance with the rules of engagement as adopted by members of the EGMONT Group. Senate blamed Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, Minister of Interior General Abdurrahman Dambazau and EFCC’s Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu for this situation. The situation is compounded by EFCC and the Budget Office’s failure to provide separate budgetary sub-heads for NFIU in the 2017 budget so that it can operate optimally.
It is sad that this situation should arise when fighting corruption is one of the main agenda pillars of the Buhari Administration. NFIU which is one of the main tools available for fighting corruption has been technically hampered in the discharge of its duties, which has even attracted the attention of international institutions. Given its role in the country’s fight against money laundering NFIU should occupy a prominent position in the administration’s anti corruption war. It also represents the country in the global anti-corruption network. For instance, it is by virtue of NFIU’s links with the EGMONT Group that the recent disclosures with respect to the theft and diversion of humongous amounts of Nigeria’s public funds to offshore havens by corrupt government officials were achieved.
The potency of NFIU in the ongoing anti corruption fight especially in the country’s public service is made greater by its ability to track diversion of payments for government contracts by public officers to private accounts from where such is siphoned into personal accounts. It is believed that as much as 60% of public sector contract awards are channelled to interests that are mere fronts for designated insider public officials while the monies end up in their private bank accounts. Since the Financial Action Task Force [FATF] High Level Mission is scheduled to visit this country in November to appraise our preparedness, it is timely for Senate to act on this matter.
What EGMONT Group is asking for is ‘financial autonomy’ for NFIU with a fixed term for the person heading it. As at now, the head is just another staff of EFCC. Senate is however talking about full autonomy and creating a new agency. This is not necessary because financial intelligence is a core source of information for EFCC operations and EFCC should not be undermined by completely removing NFIU from its purview. In passing this bill, Senate should amend the EFCC Act to reflect how NFIU should relate with EFCC in the light of the problems it has faced and the complaints by the EGMONT Group.