NFIU Bill: HEDA calls for restraint, canvasses permanent solution
The Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Center), has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to demand a second look at the NFIU bill and request the appropriate amendment to the bill hitherto; domicile the NFIU in its current position, remove clause imposing Senate confirmation of appointed Director of NFIU; and other reactionary clauses.
In a letter forwarded to the President and signed by HEDA’s National Chairman, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju, the Resource Centre said elocating the NFIU to the Central Bank is to say the least, crippling the financial intelligence foundation of the country, adding that the complicity of the Central Bank in past money laundering cases involving former Heads of State and the unprofessional role of the bank in approving, transferring and warehousing illegal fund for political officers under the immediate past regime lend credence to its stance.
The letter reads: “It is longer news that the NFIU has been suspended from the activities of the EGMONT Group of FIUs, and has been disconnected from the Egmont Secure Website, a platform used by Egmont Members for Exchange of information.
“The suspension of the NFIU though generally misconstrued, is not for the lack of effectiveness of the NFIU, or its failure to meet the EGMONT Group standard operation as an FIU, rather it was due to the failure of Nigeria to address the legal framework of the NFIU. May I stress for the records that over time the NFIU has performed creditably, a fact which is evidenced from the quest of FIUs within the West/Central African region to be mentored/sponsored by the NFIU. The EGMONT Group in recognition of the effectiveness and robustness in the activities of the NFIU, approved the NFIU to mentor the FIUs of The Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone to EGMONT Group membership and equally appointed the Director of the NFIU, its regional representative for the West/Central African sub region.
“The FATF is a flexible entity and will never impose a structure on a sovereign State like Nigeria; the FATF clearly understands that an FIU can be located in a larger entity, but with functions different from the larger entity. The FATF interpretative note to Recommendation 29 is very instructive on this.”
HEDA noted further that: From the recent feat of the EFCC in the fight against corruption and money laundering, and our partnership with international prosecuting agencies in efforts at tracing and recovering stolen asset, we have understood the importance of the continuous domiciliation of the NFIU under the EFCC. The effect and impact of relocating the NFIU from the EFCC in terms of dwindling and incapacitating the EFCC in the normal cause of it’s operations will be enormous. The philosophy of this domiciliation was informed from the fact that the EFCC is the sole agency in Nigeria with the mandate to investigate and prosecute Economic and Financial Crimes.
“Looking at the concerns of the Egmont Group that led to the suspension of the NFIU from it’s activities, there is nothing inferring that the Egmont Group does not recognize the robustness of the NFIU in terms of it’s operations, the concerns are hinged basically on the legal framework defining the operational autonomy of the NFIU vis-à-vis the EFCC and the legal framework to protect the confidentiality of information received by the NFIU, these concerns can easily be addressed by amending Section 1(2) and Section 6 (l) of the EFCC Act 2004, simplicita.
“Going by the Egmont Group principles and protocols, the passage of the EFCC Amendment Bill without more would have automatically resulted in the lifting of the suspension of the NFIU since January 2018. This option, as easy and straight forward as it is, has been jettisoned by principal protagonists of severing the NFIU from the EFCC, for reasons best known to them.
“It is common knowledge that under the principles and procedures for membership of the Egmont Group, by it’s Addendum for membership, published in 2005, where an FIU undergoes a fundamental change in its structure and composition, that change triggers a review and compliance process that will result to a fresh application for membership of the new FIU, this will be carried out by an appointed team of mentors from the Egmont Group Secretariat who will visit the new FIU to determine if the new FIU meets the criteria for Egmont Group membership. Germany just went through this process when it relocated it’s FIU from the Police to Customs, Germany was expelled, and it had to go through the process of reapplication for membership, the German FIU was eventually readmitted to the Egmont Group on the 5th of July 2017, the German experience should be instructive to whatever position Nigeria will want to take in this matter.”
The Centre averred that: “Relocating the NFIU to the Central Bank is to say the least, crippling the financial intelligence foundation of this country, considering the complicity of the Central Bank in past money laundering cases involving former Heads of State and the unprofessional role of the bank in approving, transferring and warehousing illegal fund for political officers under the immediate past regime. Meanwhile, the banks have a statutory responsibility of reporting financial transactions to the CBN. The proposed domiciliary on will attract automatic expulsion for Nigeria.
“The new Law as passed is accented to will be reviewed and where there are deficiencies, the Act will be sent back to Nigeria to address the observed deficiencies by amending the new Law. Through this entire process, the NFIU will remain suspended or expelled as the case may be. Considering the fact that 2018 is pre-election year, what will be the guarantee that parliamentarians will have the time to commit themselves to deal effectively with these issues. Relocating the FIU to the Central Bank or any other entity, the EGMONT Group will consider this as a fundamental change in the structure of the FIU, and the resultant effect will be an automatic expulsion, which will further subject Nigeria to the process of reapplication for membership, under the revised EGMONT Group membership procedure adopted in 2014.
“Recalling that it took the NFIU a period of 2 years to conclude its original membership application, with the current requirements for membership, as cumbersome as there are now, for Nigeria to regain membership, it will take an estimated period of 3 years. The process entails, a review of the new law (NFIA) by the MSCWG and where there are observed deficiencies, the law will be referred back to the National Assembly to address the concerns. Nigeria will need to identify two countries to mentor and sponsor it as a new FIU through it’s process of membership, the mentors and the EGMONT Group secretariat will conduct on-site visit to the new FIU to determine if the FIU, meets the criteria of the EGMONT Group in terms of technical capacity i.e. if the new FIU has both human and technical experts to aid or conduct analysis and if our ICT systems are up to date and meets international standards.”
HEDA said its decision to make this position known to the President is basically because, “At the end of the day Nigeria is exposed to more daring consequences as the current NFIU Bill, as it has been passed by the National Assembly is unwieldy and detracts completely from the core functions of an FIU which is to receive information, analyse the information and disseminate to Law Enforcement Agencies without interference.
“Our position in this matter going from the above should not be misconstrued to mean otherwise. We are totally in support of the provision of a legal frame work that defines the operational autonomy of the NFIU vis-a-vis:
“The EFCC and the provision of measures that will guarantee this autonomy i.e. amending Section 1(2) of the EFCC Act;
Establishing the NFIU as an operationally independent Unit under the EFCC;
Providing the NFIU with its budget Code that gives the NFIU financial autonomy and making provisions that will guarantee the tenor of office of the Director of the NFIU;
Amending Section 6(l) of the EFCC Act which is interpreted by the Egmont Group, to mean that the EFCC equally has access to information given to the NFIU by reporting entities in the cause of its operations; and the confidentiality concerns that have over time been raised.
“It is our humble submission that as variously expressed by some stakeholders including other previous Head and Directors of the NFIU, except those with other motives than altruistic, the option of amending the EFCC Act is more feasible, simple and straight forward. I strongly believe that it will do the country so much good to restrict yourself to addressing only the concerns raise by the Egmont Group, to do otherwise, we will be exposing the NFIU and Nigeria to more dire situations that may take the country another two to three years to address.
“You are therefore implored to without accent and demand the appropriate amendment to the bill hitherto; domicile the NFIU in its current position, remove clause imposing Senate confirmation of appointed Director of NFIU; and other reactionary clauses imposed by selfish Parliamentarians driven by unseen hands and motives,” the letter reads.