The recently enacted Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Act is not an automatic ticket for the lifting of Nigeria’s suspension from the Egmont Group, according to a reliable source.
The source, who is a top official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), made the clarification in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja.
Speaking anonymously, the source said the NFIU Act was just one of several requirements that Nigeria now had to fulfill for the suspension to be lifted.
President Muhammadu Buhari signed the NFIU Bill into law on July 11, a year after the Egmont Group suspended the NFIU for lack of a legal framework for its operational autonomy.
The Egmont Group is a global body of 156 Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) representing its member countries.
It provides a platform for the secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence among the member countries to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
A major implication of Nigeria’s suspension is its disconnection from the Egmont Secure Website, the financial intelligence sharing portal of the group.
Before now, the NFIU was domiciled in the EFCC, whose Acting Chairman, Mr Ibrahim Magu, was alleged to be interfering in the operations of the unit, an allegation he denied.
Mr Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), said with the Act, the NFIU had been moved from the EFCC to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Enang explained that the Unit would remain “autonomous and independent” in line with Recommendation 29 of the Financial Action Task Force Standards (FATF) and Article 14 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
However, the source who is conversant with the Egmont Group’s principles and protocols, said the change in domiciliation of the NFIU had elongated the road to lifting of the suspension.
The official noted that the Egmont Group’s demand was simply an amendment of Section 1(2)(c) of the EFCC Act to give legal framework to the NFIU’s operational autonomy, and not its removal from the EFCC.
The section says the EFCC is the country’s designated Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), but the group wants it amended to recognise the NFIU as an autonomous unit in the EFCC, according to the official.
The source explained that change in domiciliation of an FIU must follow certain procedure and protocols of the group that include inspection of infrastructure and equipment.
The official said, “It is a good thing that the President has signed the bill, which is a commitment to show to the Egmont Group and FATF that Nigeria is keen on addressing the challenges of the NFIU.
“But there is more to it in the sense that the signing of the bill is just a step toward addressing the issues; we now have processes and procedure to follow.
“The next step now is to send the NFIU Act to the Membership Support and Compliance Working Group of the Egmont Group and the FATF for review and comments.”
The official said the NFIU’s suspension would feature at the group’s next meeting in September where Nigeria is expected to defend the Act.
“If there is any deficiency in the law that has been signed, they will definitely refer it back to Nigeria for correction.
“For instance, the NFIU Bill that was transmitted to the president for assent provided for the appointment of the NFIU Director by the President subject to Senate confirmation.
“This is exposing an otherwise discreet entity that ought to be hidden in a law enforcement agency, to political interference which the Egmont Group frowns at.
Besides, the source said an Egmont Group’s inspection team would now have to visit the country for on-sight assessment of the new location.
“They now have to come to see the structure. Even if the NFIU is not moving physically, the procedure and protocols of change of domiciliation have to apply.
“They still have to come in to see the new structure and also look at the equipment to see whether they are befitting of an FIU.
“This, in my opinion is another burden that we could have avoided by simply amending Section 1(2)(c) of the EFCC Act as demanded by the group,” the official said.
The official added that the process could take up till January, 2019, to be completed.
However, the NFIU leadership has started reaching out to some friendly FIUs within Africa and the European Union to support Nigeria’s cause, another EFCC source in the know told NAN.
The aim, according to him, is to ensure that whatever procedure or processes the Egmont Group wants to subject the NFIU to are not too elaborate.
The official said the country stood a chance of being considered because the NFIU Act had addressed a major concern of the group which is provision of the legal framework for the operational autonomy of the Unit.
The second source appealed to the Federal Government to allow the current leadership of the NFIU to take it through the vetting process.
“The fact that the President has signed the NFIU Act does not mean that the staff is changing; in fact the staff remains the same, the structure too is the same.
“What the law has done is to strengthen the NFIU’s operations, and it is incumbent on us as a country to allow the structure to remain.
“Government should allow the current management or leadership of that place to remain to help address most of these issues.
“This is critical taking into consideration the fact that the current management of the NFIU has the institutional memory and the experience to effectively navigate the impending verification process.
“Bringing in fresh hands with little or no idea of how the Egmont Group works will further set the country back,” he said.
The Director of the NFIU, Mr Francis Usani, declined NAN’s request to comment on the matter, maintaining that the group’s principles forbid heads of FIUs from talking to the media.