The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency is all but independent now. This lack of independence is the reason for Nigeria’s suspension from the Egmont Group in 2017. The group is a network of 154 member nations that share intelligence on criminal financial activity. In Nigeria, the NFIA is not only made an appendage of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), it is housed in the premises of the Commission which also determines who becomes the head of the agency. The Egmont Group fears that the Nigerian situation compromises the intelligence coming from the agency.
The Nigerian Senate Wednesday adopted the harmonised report of the conference of the two chambers that agreed on autonomy for the NFIA. The House of Representatives, the second chamber of the National Assembly, had accepted it a week earlier. This means that the agency no longer will report to the EFCC but the Central Bank of Nigeria. All that is required to formalise the new arrangement is President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent. This must come before March 11, the day the Egmont Group meets, to stop it from expelling Nigeria altogether.
The intention of the draft legislation is to make the agency the central body responsible for “requesting, receiving, analysing and disseminating financial and other information to all law enforcement and security agencies and other relevant authorities.” Because this was not the case before, the Egmont Group suspended Nigeria at its last general meeting in July 2017, with a threat to expel the country if the agency had not been given autonomy by its next meeting scheduled for March 11-16, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. If expelled, we, as a nation, will “suffer a blacklist in the global finance sector and Nigerian Banks will be unable to issue Mastercard and Visa credit/debit cards while card transactions with Nigerian originated cards will be blocked. This means Nigerians will be unable to carry out foreign transactions.”
An autonomous agency, according to originating bill, specifically performs these functions: “institutionalise best practices in financial intelligence management in Nigeria; strengthen the existing system for combating money laundering and associated predicate offences, financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and make provision for the Agency to exchange information with Financial Intelligence Institutions or similar bodies in other countries in matters relating to money laundering, terrorist financing activities and other predicate offences.”
It is, therefore, understandable why the Egmont Group was uncomfortable with the Nigerian agency placed under the supervision of a rival organ of the government. It was against its normal. But all said, the group has been particularly merciful to Nigeria, almost begging that we do the right thing. President Buhari should have no problem with giving his assent to the bill, seeing an independent agency such as envisaged in the NFIA, will be a big plus in the fight against corruption, a fight he has declared “a top priority”.
Speaking after the Senate had adopted the harmonised conference report, the Senate President Bukola Saraki called on Buhari to quickly sign the draft law. “I hope on the part of the Executive, they will quickly assent to this Bill and also ensure that the independence of the Financial Unit goes beyond just signing this Bill into law. It is important that we see it being practiced; this is very important.” This is both advice and a warning. We, at Peoples Daily, cannot but support Saraki.