THE Senate has passed the bill to establish to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency thus implementing the first step in pulling the country’s financial intelligence unit out of the control of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The bill was passed after it was read for the third time today, just the fourth legislative day since it was first initiated last Thursday.
The bill was earlier referred to the committee on anti-corruption on Tuesday. However, without the usual public hearing, organised to consider opinions of concerned parties on any public related subject, the report of the committee was presented on Wednesday and the bill passed on Thursday.
The Senate said the bill was given accelerated consideration to help Nigeria avoid expulsion from the Egmont Group of financial intelligence units, which had suspended it over the absence of a legal framework that guarantees the independence of the Nigerian unit.
For the bill to become law, it has to be passed by the House of Representatives, and signed into law by the President or vetoed by the lawmakers.
It would also be recalled that on the day the Senate made moves to separate the two entities, the acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, inaugurated a committee to ‘reposition the unit.’
Different from the Senate’s position, which is total independence, Mr. Magu prefers a financial intelligence unit that will be “expressly autonomous”, but remains within the anti-graft agency.
At the moment, the NFIU helps tackle money laundering and monitor financial flows, task eased by its membership of the Egmont Group whose members share intelligence relating to international finance and illicit flow.
But, according to the Senate, the financial intelligence outfit’s continued existence under the EFCC without separate statutory status will affect the confidentiality and utilisation of the information it receives, its operations in terms of compelling compliance from regulators; and power to task security agencies to act on intelligence it receives.
These are the concerns that formed the background of Nigeria’s suspension from the Egmont group, the Senate insists.
It expressed belief the new bill for the independence of the intelligence unit would lead to the reversal of the suspension.
The lawmakers and the EFCC chairman have had a stormy relationship over the last few weeks over the unwillingness of the presidency to relieve Mr. Magu of his job after two rejections of his confirmation by the Senators.
The lawmakers are citing unfavourable security reports for the rejection while the presidency insists Mr. Magu is the man for the job.