Amidst serious concerns over undue interference in the work of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), the Egmont Group, which is a body of 154 financial intelligence units (FIUs) across the world, had announced at its meeting held in China from July 2-7, 2017, that it was suspending the NFIU from its fold.
The group had cited the failure of Nigeria to create the legal framework making NFIU autonomous as a major reason for its decision. It gave Nigeria until January of 2018 to complete the process for making the NFIU fully autonomous or risk expulsion.
As at present, the NFIU is a department under the EFCC; even though the leadership of the anti-corruption agency has maintained that the unit’s work is conducted without interference as it enjoys autonomy; a position strongly disagreed with by the Egmont Group.
The group mandates countries to establish a financial intelligence unit that serves as a national centre for the receipt and analysis of (1) suspicious transaction reports; and (2) other information relevant to money laundering, associated predicate offences and financing of terrorism, and for the dissemination of the results of that analysis.
As a member of the group, the NFIU can access the key data including bank accounts of persons of interest in all the other 153 member countries. The group, which is an initiative of the American government, has in its fold countries from the different continents of the world.
Reacting to the development on Wednesday, the Nigerian Senate resolved to probe EFCC and also pass a law that would make the NFIU independent of the anti-graft agency in order to facilitate Nigeria’s reinstatement.
Jolted by the developments, on Wednesday, Ibrahim Magu, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), while confirming the news, quickly scrambled and inaugurated a committee to reposition the unit.
The committee as set up by Magu, had members drawn from law enforcement, as well as financial and regulatory agencies, and is chaired by Abdullahi Shehu, a former Director General of the Inter-Governmental Action Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA).
A statement issued by Wilson Uwujaren, the commission’s spokesperson, said other members of the committee are Chidi Chukwuka from the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC; Bamanga Bello, Head of the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering, SCUML; Jamila Yusuf of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Udofia Akpan Obot, a former deputy director, CBN, and Joke Liman of the EFCC who is to serve as secretary.
Speaking at the inauguration of the committee, Magu charged the members to take a comprehensive look at the mandate and operations of the NFIU with a bid to coming up with proposals to reposition the unit for greater efficiency.
He reminded the committee that membership of the Egmont Group was crucial to Nigeria’s fight against money laundering, and capacity to monitor financial flows within and outside the country.
He charged the committee to among other things, address the concern of the Egmont Group, by providing the necessary frameworks needed “to coordinate the effective process of amendment of section 1(2)(c) of the EFCC Act to expressly reflect NFIU as an autonomous unit under EFCC so as to provide legal basis or clarity on its operational independence from the EFCC.
It is to also, “Make recommendations with respect to the funding of the NFIU’s operations, develop a career path for the staff of the NFIU, develop protocol for the protection of information and confidentiality, specifically as regards the status of STR information and information deriving from international exchange, and also develop procedure for the processing of information held by the NFIU either deriving from STR or from international exchange for legitimate purposes.”
Responding on behalf of the committee, Mr Shehu expressed delight at the opportunity given to them to serve the country.
“We see this as a call to service and we assure you that we will ensure that we carry out this task judiciously in order to reposition the NFIU, and ensure that it is autonomous as this will further strengthen the anti-corruption fight”, he said.
Many observers will wonder why it taken Nigeria years to conclusively resolve the protracted issues surrounding the lack of autonomy of the NFIU considering its importance to the fight against corruption, and why it has taken the senate and the EFCC weeks after the decision was made by the group, to only now commence the reform process in earnest.
However, the fact that both the senate and Magu appear to be headed in the same direction in the reform effort is promising, especially given the fact that their relationship has soured over the past months resulting from the senate’s resolution to never consider Magu for confirmation again having twice rejected him, amidst their loud and persistent call for his sack which has also fractured relations between the upper legislative chamber and the executive.
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