Senate Clears the Way for Financial Intelligence Autonomy

The Senate on Wednesday joined the House of Representatives and approved the conference committee report on a bill that will grant autonomy to Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).

This followed the consideration of clauses of the harmonised report by the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, the News Agency of Nigeria reports.

Seeking the support of the senate to adopt the report, Sen. Chukwuka Utazi, Chairman, Senate Committee on Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption said that NFIU would serve as a central body responsible for receiving, requesting and analysing financial intelligence reports. It will no longer be under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

According to him, the unit will also disseminate financial intelligence reports to security enforcement and intelligence agencies and other relevant authorities.

“The Bill was passed by the senate in July 27, 2017 and in the House of Representatives in Nov. 29, 2017.

“There were differences in what the two committees passed, a conference committee was therefore constituted to reconcile and harmonise the differences.

“So the report recommends that the Senate do consider and approve this conference committee report on a Bill for an Act to establish Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit,’’ Utazi said.

Contributing, Sen. Foster Ogola, (Bayelsa-PDP) emphasised the importance of the bill and the need to expedite action on it.

He said “being a conference report I do not think we need any further debate knowing the importance of the NFIU to the economy and the well-being of Nigeria and its relationship with the global financial intelligence committee’’.

The President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki expressed concern that Nigeria’s suspension from the EGMONT Group had some consequences.

“Our suspension form the EGMONT Group has a lot of ramifications. I hope that by passing the conference report, they will have a second view and re-admit us.

“I hope on the part of the Executive, they quickly assent to this Bill and  also ensure that the independence of the Financial Unit goes beyond just signing this Bill into law. It is important that we see it being practiced — this is very important,’’ Saraki said.

The NFIU bill, if it becomes law, is aimed at removing bureaucracy impeding investigations of financial crime and was taken under international pressure on Nigeria to crack down on endemic corruption afflicting the economy and law enforcement.

The House of Representatives passed the same bill on Tuesday. Now it needs President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent to become law.

The National Assembly acted after the Egmont Group, a body of 155 Financial Intelligence Units worldwide, threatened to delist Nigeria unless its own unit gained autonomy, enabling it to deal with financial crimes more effectively.

The Egmont Group insisted that failure to make Nigeria’s unit legally independent would have subjected financial transactions from Nigeria, including funds transfers and credit cards, to special controls, banking sources said. This could mean a refusal to process tens of thousands of payments.

Banking transactions above a stipulated threshold are automatically sent to the Financial Intelligence Unit.