By Okechukwu Emeh
It is unfortunate that the Canadian-based Global EGMONT Group of Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) has delisted Nigeria from the membership of the reputable global body after delay by the country to set up an autonomous financial intelligence unit. It would be recalled that in a renewed bid to strengthen the campaign against money laundering, terrorist financing and other unlawful activities that could threaten and undermine our financial system and national security, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria took a giant step by proposing a Bill seeking to establish the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA) in 2014. Instructively, the bill sought not only to review certain provisions of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act but also amend the Money Laundering Act by transferring the operations of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) against money laundering currently domiciled in the EFCC to the proposed NFIA.
Similarly, the administration of President Buhari in 2016 proposed a bill to set up the Bureau for Money Laundering Control (BMLC). It is self-evident that Buhari’s anti-money laundering bill is in tandem with the urgent necessity to establish a formidable financial intelligence body to combat money laundering, terrorist financing activities and other predicate offences in Nigeria.
Such a body, as required under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 (as amended), the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 (as amended) or any other relevant law or regulation, would have mechanisms for sound policy and decision-making requiring adequate, quality and timely information analysis necessary for tracking and choking off the flow of proceeds from illicit activities that could impact negatively on our economy and national security. Furthermore, the proposed agency would play a central role in establishing an effective and efficient system to arrest money laundering, terrorist financing and related crimes, especially if premised on independent operation, adequate funding, deployment of technology, confidentiality, security of information, etc BMLC would ensure exchange of mutual information between member states of EGMONT Group of FIUs in a more timely and efficacious manner.
Looking back, NFIU, the precursor of the proposed NFIA, was created under the EFCC in 2005, in line with the international conventions against money laundering, as coordinated through the institutional platforms of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Global EGMONT Group of Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs). Coming back to the proposed NFIA Bill, Senator Victor Rampyal Lar, the Senate Committee Chairman on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, said it “is aimed at establishing a national agency that will be responsible for the receipt of information from financial institutions and designated non-financial institutions, analysis of the financial information for the purpose of turning this information into financial intelligence and dissemination of the financial intelligence to all law enforcement agencies”.
It is noteworthy that during a one-day public hearing on the NFIA Bill organised by the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption in December 2014, key stakeholders agreed on the necessity of passing the bill into law. In this regard, representatives of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), Department of State Security (DSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and others supported the removal of the NFIU from the apron strings of the EFCC, stressing that it would empower this Special Control Unit to effectively disseminate financial intelligence to law enforcement agencies, as well as strengthen the fight against financial crimes. There was, however, reservation by the CBN about the portions of the NFIA Bill it adjudged as imposing supervisory and regulatory functions on the agency with regard to banking operations in Nigeria. Such reservation is unnecessary, considering that the major role of the proposed agency in the financial sector is strict enforcement of anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML & CFT) rules set by the FATF. Similarly, at this time when the Federal Government is contemplating the idea of restructuring and rationalising its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), based on the Steve Oronsaye Report, the proposed NFIA, which can be grouped under the Nigerian intelligence community (alongside NIA, DSS, DIA and FIIB), will not amount to duplicating the functions of any other agencies or creating another unnecessary bureaucratic organisation. To be sure, the goal, objectives and functions of the agency are markedly different from those of other stakeholders.
As regards the opposition of the EFCC to the proposed legislation seeking to establish the NFIA, this is not necessary. This is because the Global EGMONT Group of FIUs requires that all FIUs must have both independent operations and staff, in addition to an explicit provision in the law for security of information and data. It is also arguable that the NFIU created under the EFCC, pursuant to Section 2 (C) of the Act of the commission, is not fully a Nigerian FIU but an EFCC department and this informs the reason why there is no place in the law where its mandate is spelt out. Furthermore, the unit has not been performing effectively because of undue interference by its parent body (EFCC) – as observed in the removal of its successive directors without regard to the commission’s Board Resolution that sought to give some level of independence to it based on the EGMONT and FATF standards. It is notable that the effectiveness of the NFIU is premised on independent operation, adequate funding, deployment of technology, confidentiality, security of information, credibility etc. On the contrary, the EFCC has not provided such an enabling environment for the unit to discharge its functions without any trammel – hence the necessity of the NFIA Bill.
Regarding the concern in certain quarters that turning the NFIU into a fully fledged agency would make it susceptible to litigation and political influence, this is banal. For one thing, as a legal entity, the proposed NFIA can sue and be sued as a corporate organisation, just as it is liable to political pressure like any other public institutions. For example, despite the extensive power of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States (US), the agency has, in recent times, been entangled in serious court cases and political pressures from different quarters over its controversial worldwide snooping programme.
In all, it is heartwarming that the Senate has awakened from its slumber by trying to separate the NFIU from the EFCC following the suspension of Nigeria from the Global EGMONT Group of Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) due to the inability of the Federal government to honor the provision on autonomous FIU. That the proposed NFIA or BMLC is a marvelous idea whose time has come in Nigeria is not in doubt. This is especially at these perilous times of heightened level of transnational crimes fuelled by illicit cash flows from fraud, narcotic peddling, terrorism, smuggling of small arms and light weapons (SAs & LWs), human trafficking, international prostitution, crude oil theft and trading in contraband goods and endangered species and artefacts. In view of this, the NFIA Bill or that of BMLC should be given urgent consideration. All-out efforts should be made by NASS to accelerate the passage of the NFIA Bill or that of BMLC so that the financial spy agency can kick-off in earnest and Nigeria can be reinstated into the Global EGMONT Group of FIUs.
Emeh writes from Wuse 2, Abuja, via [email protected]