A presidential aide has explained that the president decided to sign the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Act into law because it will strengthen the recently signed Executive Order 6, aimed at consolidating the fight against corruption in the country.
Briefing State House correspondents on Wednesday in Abuja, Mr Buhari’s legislative adviser, Ita Enang, said with the signing of the Act, the NFIU will now be independent of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He said the NFIU will now be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), but will remain “autonomous and Independent”.
The establishment of the NFIU is based on the requirements of Recommendation 29 of the Financial Action Task Force Standards and Article 14 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, he said.
The Egmont group, an informal network of 156 financial intelligence units (FIUs), had suspended Nigeria due to the alleged inability of the country to grant autonomy to the NFIU.
To this end, the two chambers of Nigeria’s National Assembly passed the NFIU bill on March 7 this year.
National FIUs collect information on suspicious or unusual financial activity from the financial industry and other entities or professions required to report transactions suspected of being money laundering or terrorism financing. Such information and then shared with relevant anti-crime or regulatory agencies.
Mr Enang on Wednesday said the new NFIU is now “independent and operationally autonomous body institutionally domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria.”
He also said the new act has now dissolved “the Nigeria financial intelligence unit established in the EFCC Act and consequentially amends the Economic and Financial Commission Act, the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act among others.
“One of the key objectives of the Act is the creation of a legal, institutional and regulatory framework to ensure transparency, effective and efficient and management administration and operation of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit.
“Also the bill will institutionalise best practices in financial intelligence management in Nigeria and strengthen the existing system for combating money laundering and associated predicated offences, financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
“The Act, which makes the unit an autonomous body, makes provision for the unit to exchange information with financial intelligence institutions or similar bodies in other countries in matters relating to money laundering, terrorist financing activities and other predicated offences.”
The EFCC and some anti-corruption experts were opposed to the total separation of the NFIU from the EFCC.
For instance, the pioneer chairman of EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, in March this year warned against removing the NFIU from the EFCC. He described the proposal as a setback for the Nigeria.
Speaking at an Anti-Corruption Situation Room organised by the HEDA Resource Centre in Abuja, Mr. Ribadu recalled how the NFIU was conceived, and nursed by the commission.
He said the NFIU achieved milestones because of the institutional backing and the enforcement effect of the EFCC.
“I feel sad that they want to take the NFIU away from EFCC. This will set us back,” he said.
Recalling his time as pioneer chairman of the EFCC, Mr Ribadu said “what we did with NFIU was to bring Nigeria at par with the rest of the world in terms of financial regulations and tracing suspicious deals.”
In the same vein, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, said at an interactive session with editors in August 2017 in Abuja, that efforts to create a “stand-alone’’ NFIU was needless.
“This is another way of corruption fighting back; people are fighting and pretending to be in support of what is ongoing, but they are not giving a face to the fight against corruption,” he said.
Mr Magu said he was “not opposed to the autonomy of the NFIU; in fact the NFIU has always been operationally autonomous.
“I understand the workings of Financial Intelligence Units around the world and they are domiciled in law enforcement agencies based on their credibility”
Also, the Director of the NFIU in EFCC, Francis Usani, who spoke at the occasion said the Egmont Group was not calling for the removal of NFIU from the EFCC, but simply asking for amendment of Section 1(2)(c) of the EFCC Act.
“The section says that the EFCC is a designated FIU, but the group is saying the provision is not clear to them.
“What the group is saying is that we should create the NFIU as a unit under the EFCC by amending that provision of the EFCC Act. It is as simple as that.
“But it is unfortunate that the perception generally is tending towards abusing what the Egmont Group is asking us to do,” he said.