The National Assembly on Tuesday, March 6, granted the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, autonomy from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. The development followed the adoption of the NFIU Bill by the Conference Committee of both chambers of the Assembly.
In so doing, the lawmakers removed Section 2(c) of the EFCC Act which provides that the EFCC “is the designated Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) in Nigeria, which is charged with the responsibility of coordinating the various institutions involved in the fight against any money laundering and enforcement of all laws dealing with economic and financial crimes in Nigeria.”
The domiciliation of the NFIU in the EFCC was at the core of the suspension of the unit, last July by the Egmont Group, same with the tiff between the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and the EFCC leadership.
The executive, legislature as well as watchers and players in the global anti-corruption circuit are well aware that Nigeria needed to separate NFIU from the EFCC on or before the March 11 meeting of the Egmont Group in Argentina or be handed a permanent expulsion by the group.
Though it has passed the NFIU Bill, through a process that crawled from July last year upon NFIU’s suspension, the Senate understands that only half a chance has been ensured in the attempt to stave off Egmont Group’s wrath.
Nigeria’s sure-footedness in the Egmont Group would only come when the process runs full circle with the bill becoming law. With the bill only passed, NFIU’s readmission remains squarely a matter for Egmont Group’s discretion. It would amount to self-delusion on the part of the National Assembly to assume that as the Group sits in judgement over Nigeria’s membership in a matter of hours, it would have illusions that the legislation on NFIU are worth more than the paper on which it was written unless it is transmitted to the executive for assent.
Given the emergency, one would expect the legislators to avoid the lazy path they treaded in the passing of the bill in transmitting it as well. We recall that the Senate, last July, hurriedly passed the NFIU Bill without even conducting a public hearing. This it did in a knee-jerk reaction to the Egmont Group’s suspension of the NFIU. However, a spat with the House of Representatives over procedures ensured that the Conference Committee of both chambers would not sit and harmonise the bill for adoption until it dawned on them that the country was just five days adrift of Egmont’s deadline to permanently expel NFIU and by extension, Nigeria.
The Egmont Group provides and shares intelligence to financial intelligence units, FIUs, of member countries as part of effort to combat money-laundering and terrorism financing “and other predicate offences.” With about 153 countries as members, the group is the supreme inter-governmental association of intelligence agencies in the world of which the suspended NFIU is Nigeria’s representative.
The consequences of NFIU’s expulsion from the Egmont Group are both dire and severe on any economy and may be aggravated on that of Nigeria that is still gasping in recession aftershock.
Expulsion from the Egmont Group means a straightaway withdrawal of seals of integrity and credibility from the country in global financial transactions and replacing it with those of suspicion and doubt. In an instant, it would erode the confidence of the international community in doing business in or with Nigeria and Nigerians.
Barring those who bear diplomatic passports, every Nigerian who ventures outside the country would be flagged on the suspicion of being a possible money launderer or conduit for funds to terrorist cells. This would imperil the use of Nigeria-issued credit and debit cards by Nigerians abroad. The expulsion will also hobble the country’s ability to recover stolen funds hence the nation will be interdicted from carrying out international monetary transactions and specifically orphan the NFIU within the global financial crime intelligence sharing community.
Aside making NFIU an independent entity as prescribed by Egmont Group, the bill establishes a new entity called Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency, NFIA and situates the NFIU in the Central Bank, without making it answerable to the apex bank. The NFIU would also now derive its funding sources from international grants and federal government’s budgetary allocations, while its director will be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Avoiding Egmont Group’s axe, in our opinion, is not an option for the country – it is a disaster it must head off, especially having had nine long months to get things done and dusted.