By Kauthar Anumba-Khaleel, Abuja
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) on Tuesday, urged the National Assembly not to grant autonomy to the Nigeria Financial intelligence Unit (NFIU) but retain it as a unit of the anti-graft agency.
This is as the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), the Nigerian Law Reform Commission (NLRC) and the civil society group rejected the proposal to retain NFIU as a unit of the EFCC.
These positions were made at a public hearing by the House of Representatives committee on financial crimes on an act to amend the EFCC (establishment ACT 2017).
In its presentation, the EFCC argued that “giving NFIU autonomy outside EFCC will endanger it given that NFIU requires a protective shield from politicians; if you leave it to survive alone it will be endangered and exposed to danger.
Secretary of agency, Mr. Emmanuel Adegboyega Aremo, explained that “In the entire universe only three tiny countries have autonomous FIUs and what Edmont Group wants is for it to have autonomy within the EFCC”.
Aremo said that the enabling Act establishing the commission should be amended to empower it to retain 5% of recoveries from proceed of crime by corrupt public officials adding that the 5% of recoveries it proposes to retain is a far cry when compared to the percentage of proceed of crimes being retained by anti-graft agencies of other neighboring African nations on similar situation.
The secretary who also informed that it returned over N34 million to crime suspects who later found to be innocent in 2017, assured of the agency’s readiness to return monies illegally stolen with interest.
Similarly, the director-general of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) Mr. Ashishana Okauro posited that the Edmont Group wants autonomy from EFCC and lamented the possibility of Nigeria’ expulsion.
“It’s baffling that ten years after we were registered by Edmont Group we’ve been suspended and we stand to lose more if we are finally expelled from the group.
“For Nigeria we may not be able to make scholarship payments and card monies may not be honored if we are finally expelled”, he stated.
However, a commissioner at the Nigeria Law Reform Commission (NLRC), Prof. Jummai Audi canvassed for NFIU to be independent and an autonomous body separate from EFCC.
Audi said, “the Nigerian Law Reform applauds the initiative but recommends the establishment of NFIU as an independent and autonomous body separate from EFCC rather than as a unit domiciled in EFCC as proposed in the bills”.
While commending the bill, NLRC said the establishment of an independent NFIU will ensure that Nigeria complies with the requirements of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units (Egmont Group).
Prof Auta 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.
“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.
NLRC also called for the appointment of a chairman for the EFCC, 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.
It argued that the composition eliminates checks and balances and suggested that a retired chief justice or justice of a superior court of record be made board chairman, while the chief executive will be a member of the board and head of the secretariat.
The commission also rejected the proposal for the retention of 5 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 the same vain, the Human Rights Environmental Development Agency (HEDA), also rejected the proposal to keep the NFIU as a unit of the EFCC while representative of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and minister of justice, Mr. Anthony Abba, informed lawmakers that a committee to harmonise the various positions of the stakeholders would be set up to by the Attorney General.
Earlier, Speaker Yakubu Dogara who was represented by the deputy whip, Hon. Pally Iriase said “no country can develop with the high level of corruption in Nigeria.
He said “despite various government efforts to enact laws to curb corruption it is fast threatening our culture in Nigeria but once these laws are passed it will clear some of these internal and external challenges.