Senate was yesterday divided over the creation of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Centre (NFIC), as some of the lawmakers insist that the agency should be a standalone, while others argued that the agency should be a department in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Bill, which was sponsored by Victor Lar (PDP, Plateau), had passed second reading in the Senate, but was brought forward yesterday for consideration and passage for third reading after clause by clause consideration at plenary.
However, the Bill met turbulent waters immediately after it was introduced for consideration at the committee of the whole, as some of the lawmakers questioned the rationale behind the Bill since its objectives are already taken care of by the existing laws, including the EFCC Act.
Earlier presenting the report of the Committee, Victor Lar, who chairs the committee, said if passed for third reading, it will establish a centre that would facilitate exchange of information with financial intelligence institutions or similar bodies in other countries in matters relating to money laundering, terrorist financing, among others.
He also said the Bill will strengthen the existing system for combating money laundering and associated offences like terrorism financing and proliferation of arms, in addition to institutionalising best practices in financial intelligence management in Nigeria.
He also said that, during a public hearing organised by the committee, all the sister agencies were in support of creating the NFIC for the purposes of integrity of information, adding that it was only the EFCC that criticised the plot to set up the agency.
However, trouble started when the Chairman of Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang, condemned the Bill, saying that it is only a duplication of efforts and resources, pointing out that NFIC is already a department in the EFCC.
He argued that if the NFIC Bill must be passed into law, relevant sections of the EFCC Act should be repealed or amended, explaining that some sections of the EFCC Act have has taken care of the Bill.
Enang observed that some countries that have similar agency like EFCC, do not have an independent financial intelligence centre as being proposed for Nigeria by the Bill.
He said, “I am conscious that this is an Executive Bill. I will only draw attention of the Senate to existing Acts. Passing this Bill will amount to repetition of the laws.
“The same people who make up the board of EFCC also make up this board. There are so many service bodies in the financial sector and there are series of others proposed by the Central Bank of Nigeria .
“All these are income consuming. Therefore, it will not add anything substantial to the economy of this country. EFCC is working and the financial intelligence unit is the core unit of EFCC. If we remove this unit and make it an agency, what will remain of the EFCC”, he said.
On the contrary, Senate leader, Ndoma-Egba, while commenting on the Bill said the need to establish the agency was part of the efforts of the Federal government to combat money laundering and financing of terrorist activities in the country.
“Inter-government action group against money laundering has observed that the financial intelligence unit in Nigeria, among other countries in West Africa, has been operating sub-optimally“, he added.
In his contribution, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said he had listened to the concerns of Enang on the seeming conflict with the extant law but that it was the business of the senate to find solution to that.
He said that the Senate should not because there are extant laws relating to the new Bill, refuse to make laws that will strengthen the anti-corruption agencies.
Senate President, David Mark, observed that the bill was desirable but noted that the challenge before the upper chamber was whether the centre should be domiciled in the EFCC or whether it should stand as an independent agency.
Meanwhile, the Bill was suspended for another legislative date, for consideration of other clauses in the report.