The Senate has set up a panel to probe the management of international grants received by the National Financial Intelligence Unit under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The legislature has also concluded plans to move the unit out of the commission and make it independent.
The move followed the adoption of a motion moved by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu-North) at the plenary on Wednesday. The motion is titled, ‘Dire implications of the suspension of Nigeria from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.’
The lawmakers unanimously granted all the prayers of the motion including the passing of a law that would create “a substantive and autonomous Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit and make the unit legally and operationally autonomous.”
The Senate Committee on Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, chaired by Utazi, was mandated to sponsor a bill to the effect within four weeks.
They also granted the prayer to empower the NFIU to exchange and relate with all countries on issues affecting its mandate at the bilateral and multi-lateral levels.
The Senate also urged “the three-line Ministries of Justice, Finance and Interior to do all within their powers to ensure that Nigeria’s suspension is immediately reversed, and ensure that all conditions specified by the Egmont Group are met to re-admit and improve Nigeria’s standing within the group, while increasing their levels of cooperation and coordination to ensure that Nigeria achieve membership of FATE.”
Another prayer was to urge the executive to include in any supplementary budget estimate that might be presented to the National Assembly before the end of the year a separate budget for the NFIU in view of the need to lift the suspension of Nigeria as soon as possible.
Utazi alleged that the EFCC had been preventing moves to make the NFIU an independent body.
Speaking extempore after moving the motion, Utazi said, “I know that fireworks will come from three places: One is the hired hand of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption led by Prof. Itse Sagay, who does not believe that anything good can come from this parliament; who believes that he is the only person who has the knowledge and understanding of law, and will turn cases upside down because he does not have good intention towards the National Assembly.
“The second is Mr. Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who will come up against these issues and the efforts we are making here to make sure that things work. But we are not going to renege. This is the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and we are going to live up to the billing of this body and ensure that we do things right.
“The third is the hired and sponsored media critics of the Senate and the National Assembly as a whole; who may be hired tomorrow to appear on television and turn this case upside down.”
He added, “What is at stake is the international funding that comes to NFIU. The EFCC does not want this unit to go away because of the funding, but we have to rise above the funding which comes there.”
Seconding the motion, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said, “I remember that there was a huge debate on this matter in the last Senate.
“Eventually, the last Attorney General of the Federation, because the EFCC reports to his office, was able to domicile it in the EFCC. The problem now, which the EGMONT Group is complaining about, is that all the (members of) staff of NFIU are all from the EFCC, and they believe that it is not right, that it is supposed to be independent.”
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his remarks, said, “Clearly, this suspension is a setback in our fight against corruption and, as such, we must move swiftly because we cannot afford to be cut off from the EDMONT Group.”