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Walter Duru
Consciously or unconsciously, the present National Assembly has devised a means of giving special seasons' gifts to Nigerians. Just before the 2013 Christmas celebration, the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, under the leadership of Senator Victor Lar organized a Public Hearing on the proposed Nigerian Financial Intelligence Center Bill, after it was read on the plenary for the second time. On return in the New Year, the House of Representatives released its own blessings by organizing same on the Bill, after the second reading as well.

Just before the Easter celebration, the National Assembly joint Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes organized a Retreat in Abuja to brainstorm on the implications of the anti-corruption bills being considered by the present National Assembly, with special attention on the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Center Bill.

The event was organized by the Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption-MIIVOC, a Nigerian-based Non-governmental Organisation, with interest in the war against violence, corruption, injustice and human Rights abuse; in partnership with the relevant National Assembly Committee.

The event which was powered by the 'Justice for All' of the British Council was held at the Rockview Hotel, Abuja from the 6th-8th of April, 2014. It has been severally described as a huge success.

The primary goal of the Retreat was to create a forum for interaction among the lawmakers and key stakeholders on the implications of the anti-corruption bills being considered by the present National Assembly, especially, the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Center Bill. It was meant to create an opportunity for the lawmakers to rub minds and further build their capacity on the relevant anti-corruption bills. It was also an avenue for self evaluation and assessment.

The Retreat was also geared towards supporting Nigeria to strengthen its anti-money laundering, anti-corruption and anti-terrorism programmes and legislations by promoting and encouraging increased knowledge and stakeholders' participation. The forum allowed for exchange of ideas among lawmakers from the upper and lower Chambers on the NFIA and other related anti-corruption bills, as well as the evolving issues in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.

It was meant to improve the knowledge gaps and lead to early passage of the NFIA, Mutual Legal Assistance, Proceeds of Crime and other anti-corruption related Bills being considered by the present National Assembly.

Speaking during the event, chairman, Presidential Committee on the Financial Action Task Force-FATF, Mr. Steve Oronsaye further opened the eyes of Nigerians on the risks the country is exposed to by not having relevant legal and operational framework against corruption, in compliance with international standards.

'This Retreat, which brings together members of the two houses of the National Assembly to discuss and harmonize their positions on the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Center Bill, is a step in the right direction.'

'We are aware that this 7th Assembly has taken bold and deliberate steps to address some of the strategic deficiencies identified in our Anti Money Laundering/CFT legislation. However, there are still some outstanding issues that need to be addressed. The Bill, which we shall discuss at this retreat, is one of such key outstanding issues. Other very important and relevant bills that have been submitted by the President to the National Assembly include: the Proceeds of Crime (POCA) Bill that seeks to establish a central Agency to manage the proceeds recovered from convicted criminals and the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill. We are aware that the Executive is preparing to submit the harmonized Terrorism Prevention Bill, 2014 and the amended Money Laundering Prohibition Bill, soon for your consideration. These Bills have international implications on Nigeria's rating globally. We therefore plead that you fast track consideration of these Bills.'

'As you are aware, the proposed NFIC Bill is designed to provide a sustainable and credible legal framework for the FIC, Nigeria. As is the accepted practice in other jurisdictions, this Bill seeks to provide the FIC with operational independence and autonomy, and greater ability to provide financial intelligence to all relevant competent authorities in order to strengthen anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) measures.'

'Recommendation 29 of the 40 recommendations of the FATF on combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction reads: Countries should establish an independent financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) that serves as a national Center for the receipt (and, as permitted, requesting), and analysis and dissemination of suspicious Transaction Reports (STR) and other information regarding potential money laundering or terrorist financing.'

'It is pertinent to note that since November 2013, Nigeria has been disconnected from the secured web of the Egmont group of Financial Intelligence Units..What this means is that Nigeria can neither receive nor share financial intelligence with other 139 member countries of the Egmont Group on money laundering, terrorism financing, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as other related matters. More worrisome is the fact that it is happening at a time when Nigeria needs the information most, considering the challenge of terrorism confronting the country presently.'

'We are concerned that if the legal framework is not in place by June 1, 2014, the NFIU stands the risk of being suspended from the league of Egmont Group. This also has wider implication and may hinder the decision on Nigeria's proposed membership of the Financial Action Task Force.'

Also speaking, Chairman, Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Senator Victor Lar promised that the National Assembly Joint Committee will continue to work with the Presidential Committee and indeed, the Ministry of Justice in ensuring that all observed deficiencies with the legislations on anti-money laundering and terrorism financing legislations were expeditiously passed.

Senator Lar said that there were many issues to be discussed on the Bill that was at the completion stage, pointing out that the NFIC bill had passed through the second reading and referred to his Committee for further legislative inputs.

He however noted that though the Committee was to submit its report after four weeks, there were several issues to be considered, including the desirability or otherwise of the Board, size of the Board and how differently the Board should be from that of the EFCC, among others.

According to him, the outcome of the retreat would facilitate the establishment of the Centre and therefore appealed for regular interface between legislators and stakeholders.

Adding his voice, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Hon. Jagaba Adams Jagaba noted that the efforts of the Federal government in canvassing for foreign investors in the country would not yield positive results unless the Financial Intelligence Centre is established.

He argued that foreign investors would always be interested in the protection of their investments and that presently, the country lacks such laws that could give the investors the confidence that their investments were protected.

Also speaking, Programme Manager, (anti corruption-C3) of the Justice for All, Mr. Emmanuel Uche commended the present National Assembly for what he described as their patriotic stance in strengthening the legislative framework for the war against corruption in Nigeria.

He pledged the continued support of his organisation to efforts geared towards entrenching transparency in governance, even as he charged the stakeholders not to relent in the war against corruption in Nigeria.

Executive Director, Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption and facilitator of the Retreat, Walter Duru described corruption as one of Nigeria's most-formidable challenges.

He commended the lawmakers and other stakeholders for what he described as a patriotic move and assured that MIIVOC shall continue to partner with transparent institutions in righting the wrongs in the country.

Some of the agencies that attended the Retreat were the Central Bank of Nigeria-CBN, National Insurance Commission-NAICOM, Office of the National Security Adviser, Department for State Security-DSS, Securities and Exchange Commission-SEC, Ministry of Justice, among others.

Now that we understand the issues and have June 2014 as deadline to escape the International Community's hammer, all hands must be on deck to not only fast-track the process, but ensure that a no loopholes are allowed.

The two chambers of the National Assembly must not wait any longer, but continue in their doggedness towards ensuring that the remaining legislative actions are completed.

The Presidential Committee on the Financial Action Task Force, the Ministry of Justice and other relevant stakeholders must be on stand-by to ensure that Presidential assent is not delayed after passage.

Most importantly, credible, tested, trusted, experienced and reliable persons must be appointed to head the agencies, especially, the Financial Intelligence Centre and Assets Recovery Agency, to ensure that we get results.

Civil Society organisations and the Media in the country must rise up to the challenge of ensuring that moles and stooges are not planted to head the proposed institutions, as leadership shall determine the success or otherwise of each of them. Leadership of these sensitive institutions must not be politicised, if the country must succeed in the war against corruption, money laundering and terrorism financing.

Since the Civil Society and the Media have actively participated in every stage of the process, it is most sensible that they ensure that competent and credible persons are appointed into leadership positions.

It is only when such transparent persons are in positions that they can proudly say that they have arrived; set for the next phase, which is ensuring effective service delivery of the Institutions.

June is around the corner. Let all hands be on deck!

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Chike Duru and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Chike Duru