The House of Representatives, Minister of Justice and Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and other stakeholders on Tuesday resolved to set-up a joint committee to resolve contending issues relating to the proposed autonomy for National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).
The parties reached the compromise at the public hearing on the bill which seeks to amend the Economic and Financial Crimes (Amendment) Act and a bill to amend the Money Laundering (Prohibition & Prevention) Act.
Most of the stakeholders who spoke at the public hearing also emphasized the need to expedite action in granting operational and financial autonomy to NFIU in order to avert the looming expulsion from the EGMONT Group, as it would impact negatively on the country’s rating among comity of nations.
In his opening remarks, Kayode Oladele, chairman, House Committee on Financial Crimes explained that the public hearing seeks to step up the “fight against corruption through a number of measures, namely: exemplary leadership and commitment to the highest standards of integrity; enhancement of transparency in the management of public resources, demonstration of political will to step on powerful toes in the prosecution of corruption in the oil and gas, Defence and security sectors and the adoption of fiscal guidelines to curb wastages and graft in the public sector.”
Oladele (APC-Ogun) also affirmed plans to grant EFCC Firs Line Charge in the annual Appropriation Act, as applicable to its sister agency, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) in the bid to ensure its financial autonomy and void of political interference from any quarters.
He also pledged the House resolve to give required support to anti-graft agencies in ensuring that they are well equipped in all ramifications to undertake top-notch investigation and prosecution of corruption cases.
According to him, other legislative frameworks under consideration before the House include: Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters; Proceed of Crimes; Nigerian Financial Intellignec Agency; Whistle Blowers Protection and Assets Management System bill.
He assured all the stakeholders that the NFIU bill will be passed in the next few weeks to avoid the expulsion threat from the EGMONT Group.
Representative of Department of State Security (DSS) specifically opposed the domiciliation of NFIU within EFCC argued that the operators have been having herculean task in assessing
The lawmakers however noted that the Act establishing the State Security Service did not recognize the agency as Department of State Security (DSS).
While querying the native disposition of SSS against the domiciliation of NFIU within EFCC, the lawmakers expressed concerns that the same Act which established SSS and two sister security agencies namely Department of Intelligence Agency (DIA) and National Intelligence Agency (NIA) guaranteed them autonomy without any form of interference.
Also speaking, Ashishana Okauro, Director General of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) who expressed support for EFCC’s position, noted that “as a foundation member of EFCC, I know what the EGMONT Group wants and it’s autonomy within the EFCC.
“It’s baffling that 10 years after we were registered by EGMONT Group, we’ve been suspended and we stand to lose more if we are finally expelled from the group.
“From Nigeria we may not be able to make scholarship payments and card monies may not be honored if we are finally expelled,” he observed.
In her remarks, Jummai Audi, who spoke on behalf of Nigeria Law Reform Commission (NLRC), however argued that “NFIU should be independent and an autonomous body separated from EFCC.
Audi noted that the bill was a good idea saying, “the commission recommends the establishment of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) as an independent and autonomous body separate from the EFCC as proposed” saying this will ensure that Nigeria complies with the requirements of the EGMONT Group of Financial Intelligence Units (EGMONT Group).
She explained that Nigeria was suspended from the Egmont Group for lack of autonomy in the real sense of the NFIU and this position has not been addressed by the bill. According to her, “a better approach to address the issue of autonomy of the NFIU is a bill passed by the senate on the establishment of NFIU as a unit independent of the EFCC.
“The EGMONT Group requires that the NFIU be independent and autonomous to guarantee its effectiveness in countering terrorist financing, money laundering and fighting corruption,” she stated.
The Commission also called for the appointment of EFCC chairman separate from the Executive Chairman arguing that the present composition where “the chairman/chief executive of the EFCC is also the chair of the board that ought to supervise the EFCC.
She argued that the composition eliminates checks and balances and suggested that a retired Chief Justice or Justice of a Superior Court of Record should be made Board Chairman, while the Chief Executive will be a member of the Board and head of the secretariat.
The NLRC also rejected the proposal for the retention of 7 percent of recovered confiscated asset monies from suspects and convicts because the EFCC ought to have a comprehensive budget proposal from the onset in such a way that it will not contemplate the use of any confiscated asset or money or resources for its operations
In his presentation, Okey Igbudu, ICPC Head Legal Department noted that the establishment of anti-corruption court for the entire sector would be more appropriate and recommended “a downward review of the term of imprisonment” contained in section 18 of the EFCC Act, adding that the issues of sentencing should be left to trge discretion of the Judge.”
While speaking, Emmanuel Adegboyega, EFCC Secretary argued that “giving NFIU autonomy outside EFCC will endanger it” adding that “NFIU needs a protective shield from politicians; if you leave it to survive alone it will be endangered and exposed to danger.”
He added that “In the entire universe only three tiny countries have autonomous FIUs and what EGMONT Group wants is for it to have autonomy within the EFCC.”
Adegboyega also demanded for at least 5% of the recovered funds from the proceeds of crime to cater for hazard allowances and other expenditure, as against 30% granted to similar anti-graft agency in Ghana.
While noting that the Commission has been incurring so much cost on investigation and prosecutions within and outside the country, the EFCC scribe added that the Commission has been sending its officials to UK where the trial of former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke is taking place.
The agency also informed the lawmakers that it returned over N34 million to crime suspects who were later found to be unwarranted arrests in 2017 alone and assures of its readiness to return every kobo illegally taken with interest.
KEHINDE AKINTOLA, Abuja