From FRED ITUA, Abuja
The Senate, yesterday, said the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Interior, General Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd) and the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, should be blamed for the suspension of Nigeria by the global anti-graft agency, Egmont Group.
The suspension, announced at the Egmont Group meeting held in China from July 2-7, 2017, was borne out of the country’s refusal to comply with the group’s demands for a legal framework granting autonomy to the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).
The red chamber said it would also probe the EFCC to ascertain how grants and other financial aids received by the NFIU from foreign donors were spent.
NFIU is an agency supervised by the EFCC.
The Senate arrived at the decision when it considered a motion tagged: “Dire implication of the suspension of Nigeria from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units” sponsored by Chukwuka Utazi.
In the motion, Utazi who chairs the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, bemoaned the suspension of Nigeria by Egmont Group.
The lawmaker from Enugu State urged his colleagues to immediately give nod to the sponsorship of a law which will remove NFIU from the control of the EFCC and invest it with power and full autonomy to employ, promote and discipline its staff.
“My committee will soon commence a probe into the activities of NFIU to determine and ascertain how grants and aids they received have been spent by the EFCC,” Utazi said.
The Egmont Group is a body of 154 financial intelligence units (FIUs) across the world. The body provides a platform to secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
The Nigerian Government joined the group on an operational basis on January 1, 2005 and became a full member on June 1, 2007, two days after President Olusegun Obasanjo left office.
The group mandates countries to establish a financial intelligence unit that serves as a national centre for the receipt and analysis of suspicious transaction reports; and other information relevant to money laundering, associated offences and financing of terrorism, and for the dissemination of the results of that analysis.
As a member of the group, the NFIU can access the bank accounts of persons of interest in all the other 153-member countries. All advanced countries are members of the group, which is an initiative of the American government.
The global anti-graft body, which provides the backbone for monitoring international money laundering activities, has also threatened to expel Nigeria by January next year.
In the event of an expulsion, Nigeria will no longer be able to benefit from financial intelligence shared by the other 153 member countries, including the United States of America and the United Kingdom, while Nigeria’s ability to recover stolen funds abroad will also be hampered.
Another consequence is that Nigeria would be blacklisted in international finance, a development which could affect the issuance of Mastercard and Visa credit and debit cards by Nigerian banks.
It may also affect the international rating of Nigerian banks and restrict their access to some big-ticket international transactions.
Utazi who explained how his committee made frantic efforts in the past to prevent the suspension, told his colleagues that the Federal Government should be held responsible.
“The valiant efforts of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes to avoid this suspension including leading the Nigeria delegation to many meetings of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to impress upon them Nigeria’s readiness and willingness to be accorded full membership were not complemented by the executive branch, especially the recognised three front ministries –justice, finance and interior, as repeated pleas and correspondences for action to avert this suspension went unheeded.”
Also, Utazi said in the past, EFCC, repeatedly rejected moves by his committee to get full autonomy for NFIU.
“The meddlesomeness of the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu in the affairs of the NFIU by his interference in the operations and staffing of the Unit, has led to the departure of many competent hands. EGMONT Group said the EFCC divulges confidential information concerning its activities to the media.
“By virtue of our membership of the Group, the NFIU enjoys the benefit of the privileged information which the members of the group share among themselves. This intelligence sharing is crucial to the universal and local war against corruption, money laundering, terrorism financing, financial and economic crimes.
“For example, by virtue of her membership, Nigeria relies on the Egmont Group for assistance in the investigation of the crimes listed above as all bank accounts and other assets of suspects are made available to the country wherever they are located in the world.”
“Apart from the suspension of Nigeria this July, the group has given Nigeria up to December 2017 to address the issues raised in the suspension or be expelled which will attract international sanctions.”
Contributing to the debate, Dino Melaye, senator representing Kogi West, said the senate should immediately start procedures of enacting a law for the NFIU.
“Separating the NFIU for the EFCC will ensure transparency in the fight against corruption,” he said.
At the end of the deliberations, the Senate resolved that a law be passed to create a substantive and autonomous NFlU and make the Unit legally and operationally autonomous with powers for the employment, reward, promotion and discipline of its workforce.
It also agreed to empower the NFIU to, in line with international best practices, exchange and relate with all countries on issues affecting its mandate at the bilateral and multilateral levels.
The Senate also urged the three ministries- Justice, Finance and Interior- to do all within their powers to ensure that Nigeria’s suspension was immediately reversed and ensure that all conditions specified by the Egmont Group were met to re-admit and improve Nigeria’s standing within the Group.
Lawmakers equally urged the executive to include in any supplementary budget estimate that may be presented to the National Assembly before the end of the year a separate budget for the NFIU in view of the need to lift the suspension of Nigeria as soon as possible.