The Senate said it would initiate a bill for a law to make Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) autonomous.
This is coming on the heels of the suspension of Nigeria from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units, the highest inter-governmental association of intelligence agencies in the world.
The Senate said it would make the Unit legally and operationally autonomous with powers to employ, reward, train, promote and discipline of its workforce independently.
It also resolved to empower NFIU in line with international best practices, to exchange and relate with all countries on issues affecting its mandate at bilateral levels.
These resolutions followed a motion on “Dire implications of the suspension of Nigeria from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units“ sponsored by Chairman, Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Sen. Chukwuka Utazi.
Utazi said that Nigeria was suspended until January, 2018 at the group’s meeting in China earlier in July, and that the group threaten to expel the country if it failed to meet the standards of financial intelligence oprations.
According to Utazi, Nigeria’s suspension from the group was because the NFIU has not been granted operational autonomy and the unit was still domiciled within the EFCC.
Another reason, he said, was the meddlesomeness of the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Magu, in the affairs of the unit, explaining that Magu was interfering in the operations and staffing of the unit.
He noted that by virtue of Nigeria’s membership of Egmont group, the country enjoyed privileged information which was crucial to the universal and local war against corruption and terrorism financing.
The committee chairman said that one of the immediate effects of Nigeria’s suspension from the group was that the Egmont Secure Web had been shut against Nigeria.
He said that apart from the suspension, the group had given Nigeria up till December to address the issues or be expelled, adding that this would attract international sanctions against the country’s financial system.
“Nigeria can ill-afford to be blacklisted as the implications are dire, not only to our aspiration for membership of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) into which so much energy and time have been invested.
“An expulsion might also, under certain conditions, attract the imposition of financial transaction limit, including the withdrawal by some countries of scholarships to students of Nigerian origin,” he said.
Utazi lamented that the effort of the committee to avoid the suspension was not complemented by the executive arm of government.
“We will not renege; this is the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and we are going to live up to the billing of this body and ensure we do things rightly.
Supporting the motion, Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, said that based on the matter, there was a huge debate by the 7th Senate.
“The NFIU used to be a department in the EFCC. So what they do is to gather financial intelligence about bank transactions.
“And, because they get international funding and they are very influential, there was a huge debate where to domicile it, whether in the CBN or Office of the Attorney-General. There was an inter-agency rivalry.
“Egmont is complaining that all the staff members of NFIU are all from EFCC; they said this was not right.”
Ekweremadu said what was needful was to direct the committee to hold a meeting with the stakeholders to come up with best practices.
In his contribution, Sen. Shehu Sani, said that Egmont was one international institution that served as a compass to countries that were committed to fighting corruption.
“If actually we are committed to fighting corruption, it must be done smartly and intelligently.
“Intelligently, in the sense that we must belong to internationally acclaimed groups like Egmont in which our activities will tally with similar countries worldwide that share our goals.
“What this parliament can do is to rescue the situation. December is the deadline. The deadline which we either meet up or we are expelled from it.
“If we are desirous of achieving results in our anti-corruption fight, then we must not afford to be expelled by an institution that knows and have the mechanism to support our own local national laws and agencies,” Sani said.
Similarly, Sen. Foster Ogola (PDP-Bayelsa) said that the issue was very crucial to the survival of Nigeria.
“The economy will be in shambles because the expulsion of Nigeria from this 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,” Foster said.
On his part, Sen. Dino Melaye (APC-Kogi) said the suspension would 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.”
In his remarks, President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, said that the suspension was a setback to the 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 their oversight to ensure that the sooner we get the suspension lifted the better for our image and the fight against corruption,” Saraki said.
Egmont is a network of national financial intelligence units and is the highest inter-governmental association of intelligence agencies in the world.
“It has membership of 152 countries or state parties, which sit regularly for the purpose of sharing criminal intelligence and financial information bothering on money laundering, terrorism financing and proliferation of arms.” (NAN)