MEDIA Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption, MIIVOC, a civil organisation, has warned Nigeria’s federal government to immediately act on the report of the committee to harmonise issues around the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Agency Bill, to save the nation from imminent expulsion from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.
Walter Duru, executive director of the MIIVOC, who gave the warning while addressing newsmen in Abuja, Tuesday, February 6, expressed shock at what he described as the desperation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to retain control of the NFIU, against the interest of the country and international best practice.
He called on the federal government to call the anti-graft agency to order, before it throws Nigeria back to the dark days of being on the list of high risk jurisdictions in the world.
He said the lack of autonomy for the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit-NFIU, which was suspended at the Egmont Group meeting held in China in July, 2017, following its refusal to make NFIU autonomous in its funding, is again rearing its ugly head. Duru pointed out that this had been prompted by the failure of the country to pass a law making the NFIU independent is the main issue.
He warned: “If Nigeria fails to comply with the group’s demand for a legal framework granting autonomy to the NFIU by March, 2018, the country may be expelled from the global body, which provides the backbone for monitoring international money laundering and terrorist financing activities.
“When expelled, Nigeria will no longer benefit from financial intelligence shared by the other over one hundred and fifty member-countries, including the United States of America and the United Kingdom, while the country’s ability to recover stolen funds abroad will be hampered.
“Another major consequence will be the blacklisting of Nigeria in international finance, and this could affect the issuance of Mastercard and Visa credit and debit cards by Nigerian banks. In fact, financial instruments from Nigeria may not be honoured abroad.
“It could also affect the international rating of Nigerian financial institutions, restricting their access to some major international transactions. Nigeria’s membership of the Egmont Group ensured the removal of Nigerian banks from the blacklist of international finance. The blacklisting had prevented the banks from engaging in correspondent banking with foreign institutions and also denied Nigerians access to foreign credit cards.
“Now, the situation is that the 8th Senate has passed a version of the NFIA Bill, which wants the Agency domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria, with full autonomy. The House of Representatives passed a different version, proposing that it remains in the EFCC. A Committee was set up by the Federal Government to harmonize the differences. The Committee submitted its report late last year and till today, nothing has been done about it. Nigeria is at the verge of being expelled from the Egmont group of Financial Intelligence Units. Specifically, in March, 2018, it will take a miracle for Nigeria to escape expulsion from the Egmont Group.
“The controversy over where it should be domiciled is needless, as we already have a clear guide. The version passed by the present Senate can save the situation. The surest way forward is to adopt the Senate version, produce a clean copy and present for immediate assent by the President. Anything outside this will fall short of the Egmont standard and place Nigeria in a disadvantaged position. The politics of wanting to continue to control the NFIU by the EFCC is self-serving and will land the country in a deeper mess.
“The last Egmont group statement about Nigeria is very clear. The issue of autonomy for Nigeria FIU is the crux of the matter. The statement reads in part: “……. Nigeria shall remain excommunicated until its commitments to the international community on the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing are met, including the specific issues related to the autonomy of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit.” At this stage, we are talking about outright expulsion of the country from the group. This will spell doom for the country.
“The Federal Government must call the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission-EFCC to order now, before it is too late. The implications of expelling Nigeria from the Egmont Group are far-reaching. Nigeria will fully return to the list of high risk jurisdiction countries of the world, if the EFCC is not called to order.
“The argument that if the FIU is removed from EFCC, Nigeria will be expelled is the direct opposite of the situation and amounts to outright misrepresentation of facts. Countries like the United Kingdom have had reasons to move their FIU from Serious and Organized Crime Agency- SOCA to National Crime Agency- NCA. Just the same way Nigeria desperately needs to move its FIU away from the EFCC. We need an FIU that enjoys autonomy. The Egmont Group of FIUs and Financial Action Task Force-FATF shall never dictate for any country, where to situate its FIU. There is no such precedence and they have always made this clear. There is no alternative to NFIU autonomy. The surest way out of the looming humiliating expulsion of Nigeria is that the authorities call the EFCC to order. They must stop spewing falsehood and steer clear the FIU.”