(Harrison Arubu, NAN)
Nigeria’s suspension from Egmont Group — a global financial intelligence sharing body — and the consequence of the suspension which may result in expulsion have been a source of concern for observers in recent times.
Hint of possible eviction of the country is indicated in the warning from officials familiar with the principles and protocols of Egmont Group that Nigeria may be expelled in January 2018 except it does the needful.
Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) represents Nigeria in Egmont Group, comprising 156 other countries’ similar financial intelligence units.
Nigeria was suspended in July due to what the assessors describe as lack of a legal framework on the part of Nigeria as demanded by the protocols of the group.
Irrespective of this assessment, Nigeria has until January 2018 to provide the required legal framework to retain its membership.
In the light of this, there have been frantic efforts by relevant authorities, including the National Assembly, to meet the Egmont Group’s demand before the deadline.
One of such efforts; on July 27, the Senate passed a bill to establish a financial intelligence agency which would pull the NFIU out of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to become a stand-alone body if it becomes law.
Observers, however, note that the leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is convenient with the presence of the unit in the commission as a critical unit of its war against money laundering and allied financial crimes
For instance, observers call the attention of the public to a statement credited to the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Magu and the Director of the NFIU, Mr Francis Usani, warning that a stand-alone NFIU would be counterproductive.
But the Senate said the bill was given accelerated consideration to enable Nigeria to beat the deadline and avoid expulsion from Egmont Group.
Unhappy with the Senate decision, Usani said the condition given by the Egmont Group for the suspension to be lifted was misunderstood by the lawmakers.
He emphasised that the group was simply asking for amendment of Section 1 (2) (c) of the EFCC Act to recognise the NFIU as an autonomous unit in the commission.
“The NFIU does not serve the EFCC alone; it serves all law enforcement agencies in the country by way of directly giving them intelligence to enable them to carry out their responsibilities.
“Those agencies make requests directly to the NFIU for information without passing through the EFCC chairman.
“He does not know the information I give to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission; he does not know the information I give to Department of State Services and he does not ask to know whom I’m making request to or who is making request to me.
“I sign memoranda of understanding without recourse to the chairman; I attend meetings within and outside the country without reporting to him.
“There are a lot of other engagements the NFIU does without the knowledge of the chairman, so, all these things give credence to its operational autonomy,’’ he explained.
With less than four months to the deadline given by the group, Usani warned that the country had a little chance of fulfilling the requirements for the establishment of a stand-alone NFIU.
“The moment you set out to create a new FIU or move it from one location to another, you would be expelled because it comes with stringent conditions and requirements which I doubt we can meet within the short time remaining,’’ he warned.
Supporting Usani’s viewpoint, Magu noted that pulling the NFIU out of the EFCC would make it a legal entity thereby exposing it to all kinds of distractions, especially court cases by politically exposed persons.
“I am conversant with the workings of Financial Intelligent Units (FIUs) around the world. I was a member of the EFCC technical committee that established the NFIU and laboured for its admission into the Egmont Group in 2007.
“The best FIUs all over the world are domiciled in law enforcement agencies which give them institutional cover to do their work without unnecessary exposure and distractions; as intelligence gathering outfits, FIUs operate in secret,’’ he said.
These arguments notwithstanding, the Federal Government has constituted an ad hoc committee to reposition NFIU in that regard.
Concerned by the stance of EFCC and NFIU on whether or not NFIU should stand alone, the committee recently accused EFCC of blackmailing the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Ministry of Justice with allegations of impeding the government’s anti-corruption drive.
“There are several other documents detailing the commitment of the AGF and the Federal Ministry of Justice to ensure that Nigeria is fully ratified as a bona fide member of the Egmont Group and other international anti-graft bodies in line with President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s effort to combat all corruption and other forms of crimes.
“However, it is a sad tale to tell how the Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu-led EFCC has frustrated these efforts and even had to resort to blackmail in some instances oftentimes, alleging that the AGF and the ministry were all out to impede the government’s anti-corruption drive.
“Magu and other EFCC officials, and a times through online publications, had at one time or the other, accused the minister of trying to compromise the war.
“They have always perceived the Office of AGF as a threat instead of addressing the issues related to the best strategy to fight corruption advocated by the AGF,’’ a statement issued by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to AGF in Abuja,’’ Mr Salihu Isah, said.
Irrespective of these intrigues, analysts point out that Egmont Group principle and protocols respect autonomous operation with a robust confidentiality policy.
They insist that NFIU should be discrete and insulated from any form of political interference that may compromise its ability to effectively perform its mandate.
They also express concern that NFIU has been described inefficient and not operating up to international best standards; the problem that resulted in Nigeria’s suspension which the present administration is resolving presently.
All in all, concerned citizens advise that while it is a fact that the Egmont Group will not compromise its principles and protocols to favour Nigeria, relevant authorities should do the needful to prevent Nigeria from fresh application for membership of the group.