July last year, the Egmont Group, an informal network of national financial intelligence units, suspended Nigeria from the group for failure to comply with its demands for a legal framework granting autonomy to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). The group, which provides the platform for monitoring and secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence on international money laundering and terrorist activities, also threatened to expel Nigeria from the global body if by January 2018, the country has not provided for the independence of the unit. Recommendation 29 of the international standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was very clear that FIUs must be independent institutions free of interference from anybody or institution. The group specifically accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, under which the NFIU is situated, of leaking sensitive information to the media as well as blackmailing individuals with the confidential intelligence at its disposal.
Sadly, the deadline has passed without much action from the Nigerian government. Following the suspension, Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, set up an ad-hoc committee to reposition the NFIU and restore its membership. The committee, which was expected to turn in a final report by the end of August 2017, has gone silent and nothing has been heard of its recommendations since then. The National Assembly too hasn’t been without blame in the matter. Although the Senate passed the NFIU bill, which grants autonomy to the NFIU one week after it was presented to the upper legislative chamber, the House of Representative is yet to pass the bill.
Now, a proposal to permanently expel Nigeria from the Egmont Group is on the agenda of the Egmont Working Group and Heads of FIU meeting to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, between March 2 and 7.
If Nigeria is expelled, it would mean Nigeria’s financial institutions will be blacklisted internationally with all payment cards ceasing to work for international transactions. It also means Nigeria would be unable to recover stolen funds from outside the country, as it would be unable to benefit from the financial intelligence to be gained from being a part of the Egmont Group.
We recall the valiant efforts made by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration to get Nigeria removed from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) list of non-cooperating countries with respect to combating money laundering and admitted into the Egmont Group in 2007. This effectively removed Nigeria from the international credit blacklists, which had hitherto prevented Nigerian financial institutions from dealing with other global financial institutions.
But no sooner had the administration performed that feat, which is still being regarded as one of its biggest achievements, than successive administrations, in typical Nigerian fashion, began to interfere with the operations and undermine the independence of the NFIU leading to constant leakages of sensitive intelligence to the media and those being investigated contrary to the global best practices the country signed up for.
Meanwhile, rather than working harmoniously to resolve the issue of autonomy of the NFIU from the EFCC, the presidency and the Senate has been at war over the appointment of a legitimate chairman for the EFCC. Over the last two years, the EFCC, based on advice from the Department of State Security, has twice rejected the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC chairman. The president, on his part, has refused to nominate another person for the position, making Magu to serve perpetually as acting chairman of the body. A fortnight ago, a court in Abuja finally upheld the Senate’s position. Perhaps, that is why the issue of the NFIU was relegated to the background.
If the country is expelled, it will be a great tragedy equal only by the isolation of the country by the comity of nations during the dark days of the Sani Abacha dictator. This speaks volume about us as a country and the quality of our leadership.