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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

NFIC: AS Senate MOVES TO BATTLE GRAFT By Emmanuel Onwubiko

There is no doubt that the entire Nigerian Nation is consumed with the patriotic flavor and passion of reestablishing lasting peace and retrieving the country from the disturbing and destabilization plots of the fifth columnists who are bent on destroying Nigeria by proxy through the active deployment of the armed Islamic terrorists.

Because of this harsh reality, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the battle weary Nigerians to give keen attention to other salient developmental strides that are evolved in the body polity and especially from the National Assembly which over the last few years has also created considerable reasons for most Nigerians to doubt the integrity of the individual members of those so-called hallowed chambers [both green and red].

This national sense of outrage against members of the national Assembly resulted from the widely held notion across board that they are only in the National Assembly to line their pockets with filthy lucre and do very little to redress the rots afflicting the nation and also that they are unwilling to make bold and courageous laws that would ensure the equitable redistribution of national wealth because right now the wealth of the nation is largely concentrated in the hands of only but less than five percent of the entire populace thereby allowing millions of Nigerians to exist in very squalid and poverty stricken conditions. There is a national and international consensus that by and large corruption and financial crimes by public office holders contribute largely in the ballooning poverty that afflicts the greater number of the populace. Corruption it is agreed is the root cause of poverty. Most scholars believe that prior to the passage of the NFIU bill,the anti graft regulatory framework is very weak and is in need of reforms necessitating the clamor for the creation of an independent unit to collate, distill and effectively deploy for use and enforcement by anti graft and anti crime agencies of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

But there seems to be an oasis of hope in the desert of despair judging by the current move by the Senate which culminated in the passage of a bill seeking to establish the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) as a separate entity with the aim of serving as intelligence think-tank for anti-graft agencies and other relevant bodies.
The journey to what may result in an Eldorado of vigorous anti graft campaign that is if the members of the  House of Representatives will not rock the boat but concur with the Senate to see to the actualization of this august body, started long time ago and incidentally one of the champions of this advocacy is a young upwardly mobile lady pioneer staff of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Ms. Juliet Ibekaku who acted as the director of the NFIU while it was domiciled within the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The nascent body when sign into law b the Nigerian President would be rightly known as Nigerian Financial Intelligence Center[NFIC].

Another staunch supporter of this revolution in seeing that an independent intelligence ombudsman is established to wage relentless battle against financial criminals is the one time Head of Service of the Federation Mr. Stephen Oronsanye who also headed the panel set up by President Good luck Jonathan to trim down the over bloated Federal government funded agencies. For the fact that these key personalities risked everything to wage this patriotic campaign to see through the passage of this bill in the National Assembly shows that when finally created Nigeria's number one problem which remains endemic corruption and economic crime would be frontally challenged because as most people have started noticing the fight against corruption by both Independent Corrupt and allied offences commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is waning to the disgust of most right thinking Nigerians. So to a lot of commentators retrieving the NFIU from the suffocating bureaucratic control of the EFCC is one of the best things to happen to Nigeria's anti graft crusade which is passing through trying times now and is giving this Federal Government serious image and branding/reputational crisis internationally.

The Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives Aminu Waziri Tambuwal who prior to his elevation to this prestigious national office was a practicing lawyer has also made tremendous impressions in the minds of Nigerians that his leadership of the Federal legislature will be remarkably eventful and will surely establish a lasting anti graft legacy. So this is the time for the Speaker and his members to display this candor and courage by concurring with the Senate so this NFIU bill is sent to President Jonathan for his a

The bill, once assented to by President Goodluck Jonathan, will separate financial intelligence unit from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and make it an autonomous department with greater capacity to effectively carry out its functions. This move will also make Nigeria move rapidly into the class of nations around the globe that have embraced the war against financial crimes with all the seriousness that this global menace demands going by the fact that financial crime is also responsible for terrorism financing.

In line with parliamentary procedures, the bill's passage last week reportedly followed the adoption of the report of the Senate Committee on Financial Crimes, Drugs and Narcotics presented by its Chairman, Senator Victor Lar. This Senator it would be recalled has had varied legislative experiences from the Federal House of Representatives for many years in the current democratic dispensation before been elected to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The move to initiate the bill followed the observation of inter-government action group against money laundering that the financial intelligence unit in Nigeria, among other countries in West Africa, has not been operating optimally.

According to report made available at the legislative session, the lack of an independent NFIU is a development that adversely affected the capacity of the country to tackle money laundering and its associated offences, a situation which is said by experts and those who should know to portend great danger to the economy and the image of the country if left unchecked.

The bill, according to these learned minds, is set out specifically to serve as a legal, institutional and regulatory framework that will ensure transparency, effective and efficient management, administration and operation of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Centre.

As covered in the Nigerian press, the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and whose late father was a reputable anti graft judge, while leading a debate on the bill during its second reading, said: “It would also help to institutionalise best practices in financial intelligence management in the country as obtainable in advanced countries as well as the establishment of an effective system to combat money laundering, terrorists financing and associated offences.
“The cardinal feature of the bill is to vest the financial intelligence centre with full independence and autonomy.
“This will insulate the centre from undue interference and manipulation by other authorities as well as strengthen its capacity to effectively deliver on its mandate."

There is a groundswell of allegations that the leadership of the EFCC has commenced active witch-hunt of the principal characters behind this innovative idea in the fight against terrorism financing because the Chairman is alleged to be thinking that the removal of the NFIU now to be known as NFIC is meant to whittle down his sphere of influence. But this is not about one individual but about the country that needs urgent surgical overhaul of the moribund anti graft regulatory framework to make the agencies much more responsive to the challenges of the twenty first century. The President and indeed the National Assembly must investigate these damaging allegations against the EFCC chairman with a view to compelling him to abide by the principle of Rule of Law and stop further molestation of the staff of NFIU and principal members of the National Assembly who are piloting the passage of this good law. If I may ask why is the Chairman of EFCC allegedly scared of letting go the Nigerian financial intelligence Unit? Why is he opposed to the passage of this new bill which will clearly empower different law enforcement agencies to go after financiers of terrorism and other grave crimes against the Nigerian state?

+ Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and      blogs;


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