The actions culminating in the suspension of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units was triggered after an embittered former director of the agency wrote a petition to the Group painting Nigerian officials in bad light, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
The NFIU, an arm of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was suspended from the group at a plenary of the Heads of FIUs in Macao on July 5, 2017.
“What Nigeria is facing today may have been self-inflicted as certain citizens with vested interests in the running of the NFIU are known to regularly feed the world body of FIUs with false information regarding the situation in Nigeria,” a top official in the EFCC who did not want to be named told PREMIUM TIMES.
“The issues that culminated in the recent suspension of Nigeria are predicated on a false petition by a former director of the NFIU who, embittered by the manner of her dismissal, painted a false imagery of siege on the NFIU with the objective to compromise information from the Egmont Secure Website,” he said.
“Though this allegation was investigated and proven to be false by the Egmont Group, it triggered the placement of the NFIU on the Egmont Group support and compliance process, which necessitated a review of the entire compliance requirement of the NFIU.
It is unclear if the petitioner was Juliet Ibebaku, a former head of the NFIU who was removed by the then head of the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde.
The Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units is an informal network of 154 national FIUs which provides a platform for the secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering, the financing of terrorism, and other related offences.
The NFIU helps tackle money laundering and monitor financial flows, a task eased by its membership of the Group whose members share intelligence relating to illicit flow and international finance.
The official said the petition to the Group raised concerns over the autonomy of the NFIU.
“The Group specifically wants Section 1(2)(c) of the EFCC Establishment Act which makes the EFCC the designated Financial Intelligence Unit to be amended, and create the NFIU as an autonomous unit under the EFCC.
“Contrary to the views expressed in some quarters, the Egmont Group was not asking for the creation of a separate agency removed from the EFCC, but rather a greater autonomy for the NFIU in terms of having its funds and control over its staff.
“What is happening to NFIU is not strange or peculiar to Nigeria. Germany suffered a similar fate when its FIU was placed on suspension after it was moved from the German Police where it had been domiciled, to the Custom.
“The Egmont Group is not averse to having FIUs domiciled in law enforcement organizations. Most FIUs are indeed domiciled within existing law enforcement organizations except for a few that are stand alone.
“It is noteworthy that the Egmont Group recognizes that an FIU can be located or domiciled in any larger entity, but that there must be a clear cut dichotomy of its functions and operations in the larger entity.”
The Nigerian Senate had, on Wednesday, resolved to pass a law that will make the NFIU independent of the EFCC.
Chukwuma Utazi (PDP, Enugu) who moved the motion called for a new law to empower NFIU to be independent and be able to be responsible for its personnel.
Magu inaugurates NFIU committee
On Wednesday, the acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, inaugurated a committee aimed at repositioning the NFIU as well as addressing the concerns of the Egmont Group.
The committee, with members drawn across law enforcement, financial and regulatory agencies, is chaired by Abdullahi Shehu, a former director general of the Inter-Governmental Action Against Money Laundering in West Africa.
Other members of the committe include Chidi Chukwuka of the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation; Bamanga Bello, Head of the Special Control Unit Against Money Laundering; Jamila Yusuf of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Udofia Obot, a former deputy director at CBN; and Joke Liman of the EFCC who will serve as secretary.
Speaking at the inauguration, Mr. Magu told the committee that membership of the Egmont Group was critical to Nigeria’s effort to tackle money laundering and monitoring of illicit financial flows within and outside the country.
He charged the committee to among others, address the concern of the Egmont Group, by providing the necessary frameworks needed “to coordinate the effective process of amendment of section 1(2)(c) of the EFCC Act to expressly reflect NFIU as an autonomous unit under EFCC so as to provide legal basis or clarity on its operational independence from the EFCC.
“Make recommendations with respect to the funding of the NFIU’s operations;, evelop career path for the staff of the NFIU, develop protocol for the protection of information and confidentiality, specifically as regards the status of STR information and information deriving from international exchange, and evelop procedure for the processing of information held by the NFIU either deriving from STR or from international exchange for legitimate purposes,” Mr. Magu said.
Responding on behalf of the committee, Mr. Shehu expressed delight at the opportunity given to them to serve the country.
“We see this as a call to service and we assure you that we will ensure that we carry out this task judiciously in order to reposition the NFIU, and ensure that it is autonomous as this will further strengthen the anti-corruption fight,” he said.
He assured that the committee would hit the ground running as members are familiar with the issues in the anti money laundering architecture in Nigeria.
The Committee has one month to submit its report.