By Ifeanyi Nwoko
The Senate on Thursday passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency Bill after considering the bill for only one week.
The Bill which was only read for the first time on Thursday July 20, passed second reading on Tuesday and was approved by the upper legislative chamber on Thursday, exactly one week after.
With the passage of the bill, the risk of Nigeria being expelled from the EGMONT Group, has been reduced by half as the burden now rests with the President to give assent to the Bill.
The EGMONT Group is a network of national financial intelligence units and the highest inter-governmental association of intelligence agencies in the world, with 154 member countries including Britain and the U.S.
Nigeria is currently serving a suspension from the group arising from the non-establishment of the NFIA as a unit standing autonomously.
The group accused the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu of interfering with the affairs of the unit and sharing information that should be confidential to the unit with others including the media.
The group had also threatened to expel Nigeria permanently by January 2018 if the Nigerian government failed to grant the unit the autonomy it required to be a member of the EGMONT group.
It is in a bid to save Nigeria from being expelled that the Senate gave accelerated passage to the Bill without conducting a public hearing.
The NFIA if given the Presidential assent will act as the central body in Nigeria responsible for requesting, receiving, analysing and disseminating financial and other information to all law enforcement and security agencies and other relevant authorities.
During the lead debate on Tuesday, sponsor of the bill and Chairman Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Sen. Chukwuka Utazi, said the proposal seeks to make the Unit, which is currently domiciled under the EFCC an autonomous and independent body.
He said that the unit was the backbone of the EFCC but had to be made autonomous as pre-requisite of being a full member of the EGMONT Group.
With the passage of the Bill, the NFIA will now be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and also report to the National Assembly.
If Nigeria is expelled from the group, the unit will no longer benefit from financial intelligence shared by the other 153 member countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy among others.
This will also hinder the nation’s ability to fight corruption and recovery of stolen funds since the nation will be barred from access to international transactions.
The Unit, which represents Nigeria at the global body, is charged with tackling money laundering and monitoring financial flows, a task made easy by its membership of the EGMONT Group.
The bill prescribes a fine of not less than N50million to any financial institution that makes a disclosure likely to be detrimental to a financial intelligence inquiry or falsifies, conceals, destroys documents relevant to an investigation.
It also imposes a fine of not less than N10 million or imprisonment for a term of not less than two years or both on any individual who does likewise.
The agency will be funded with grants from the Federal Government, budgetary allocation by the National Assembly as well as grants and gifts from international organisations.