ADDRESS BY SENATOR CHUKWUKA UTAZI, CHAIRMAN, SENATE COMMITTEE ON ANTI-CORRUPTION AND FINANCIAL CRIMES DURING THE ONE-DAY STRATEGIC RETREAT ON TRACKING THE PROGRESS OF ANTI-CORRUPTION BILLS IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY HOLDING AT THE BON HOTEL STRATTON ON TUESDAY 28TH NOVEMBER, 2017
It gives me great pleasure to welcome the President of the Senate, His Excellency Dr. BukolaSaraki, other dignitaries, representatives of international Organisations, my Colleagues – Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the House of Representatives,to this Strategic Retreat on Tracking the Progress of Anti-Corruption Bills in the National Assembly.
It is imperative to provide a background to the importance of this Retreat.
Nigeria’s struggle against entrenched corruption is a global concern. In July 2017, the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units suspended Nigeria from the activities of the Group with a threat to expel the Country if certain regulatory and legal measures were not taken to clarify Nigeria’s status. In its statement on the suspension of Nigeria, the Egmont Group observed:
“The Heads of the FIU made a decision, by consensus, to suspend the membership status of the NFIU, Nigeria, following repeated failures on the part of the FIU to address concerns regarding the protection of confidential information, specifically related to the status of suspicious transaction report (STR) details and information derived from international exchanges, as well as concerns on the legal basis and clarity of the NFIU’s independence from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The measure will remain in force until immediate corrective actions are implemented. The NFIU, Nigeria is now excluded from all Egmont Group events and activities. The Egmont Group expressed its hope that the Nigerian authorities will address these concerns to enable the Egmont Group lift the suspension as soon as possible.”
The fact that the EGMONT Group gave Nigeria up to December 2017 to comply with its standards on financial intelligence or risk expulsion from the Group by January 2018 necessitates urgent action to forestall the threatened expulsion. The question will naturally arise, what is the importance of Nigeria’s membership of the Egmont Group?
The Egmont Group is a global body that facilitates international cooperation in the fight against money laundering and financing of terrorism and tracks the movement of illicit funds deployed for financing these activities. Nigeria’s suspension from the Group, therefore, has dire consequences for Nigeria on many fronts.
The suspension activated the immediate shutdown of the EGMONT Secure Web, ESW, against Nigeria with the implication that Nigeria can no longer exchange sensitive information with about 172 other Member countries in order to carry out investigative and regulatory responsibilities as they affect local and international investigations on matters of corruption and terrorism financing. This has dreadful consequences on sharing criminal intelligence and financial information bothering on money laundering, terrorism financing, proliferation of arms, corruption, financial crimes, economic crimes and such-like offences geared towards the support of local and international investigations, prosecutions and asset recovery. Other implications of the non-participation of Nigeria in Egmont Group activities include the reduced visibility of West Africa regional FIUs at the global level and the setback that will occur to the application of the FIUs of Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Gambia, which Nigeria is sponsoring as members. These are in addition to other security and confidentiality of information, economic (which may include advisories against Nigerian businesses) and political implications. At a time Nigeria has made anti-corruption a cardinal policy of government, the suspension greatly impedes the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
As we all know, many agencies of government, like the DSS, Nigeria Police Force, the Nigeria Customs Service, the ICPC, the EFCC, the Nigeria Immigration Service, NAPTIP, NDLEA, DMI, NIA, Federal Ministries of Justice, Finance and Interior, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, and other financial regulators such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Securities and Exchange Commission, National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) and many others, including the facilitation of the oversight responsibilities of the National Assembly, depend on the activities of the NFIU and its membership of the Group for many of their activities.
In the same vein, Nigeria’s application for membership of the Financial Action Task Force, FATF, is pending. The FATF is the global body that sets standards, monitor and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combatting money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.
Membership of FATF is very selective and comes with an array of benefits for member-countries. So far, only South Africa represents the whole Africa continent in this influential global body. Having passed through series of engagement with the FATF in the past and given the eagerness of the FATF to accept Nigeria as its member, it is in the interest of Nigeria to tidy up the loose ends in order to become a full member of this body. Indeed, the FATF Secretariat has recommended Nigeria as a potential member because it considers Nigeria a very strategic partner in Africa. A high-powered FAFT delegation scheduled to visit Nigeria to appraise our preparedness has been affected by Nigeria’s suspension by the Egmont Group.
Part of the regulatory and legal framework both the FATF and the Egmont Group would want to see in place and which will be decisive in the consideration for membership, is the status of certain strategic laws including a clarification of the operational autonomy of the NFIU as domiciled in the EFCC, to signal political commitment to the Anti-money Laundering/Combatting of Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regime. The bills include the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters bill, the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) bill, the Proceeds of Crime bill which incorporates Asset management provisions, the Public Interest Disclosure and Witness Protection (Otherwise known as the Whistle Blowers) bill, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency bill and the Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) bill.
This Retreat, therefore, is for the relevant Committees of the National Assembly to appreciate the delicate position of Nigeria in the global anti-corruption layout, appraise the progress of these important bills, and work out a matrix of action to guide the two Houses of the National Assembly towards the expeditious passage of the bills.
Apart from the Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill which has not been presented by the Executive and which we may have to work out a plan of action, the bills are making progress in various stages in the two Houses. But January 2018 is fast approaching. And the FATF visit is also on the cards. The Retreat, therefore, is intended to be an in-house, self-examination session by the relevant Committees to measure the responsibilities of each and harmonise the efforts of all. Concertedly, this Retreat will need to identify the challenges the Committees have, and chart a way forward in order to leave no doubt as to the commitment of the National Assembly to meeting global standards on anti-corruption and terrorism financing.
I therefore welcome all of us to this Strategic Retreat and request that we discuss frankly and openly about the issues intended to be addressed during the Retreat. I thank the Open Government Partnership, OGP, of the Federal Ministry of Justice for collaborating in organizing the Retreat.