One week after the Senate introduced a bill to make the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) an autonomous body was read for the first time, the Red Chamber on Thursday, passed it into law.
With the passage of the bill and when signed into law, NFlU will cease to be a department of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Rather, it will be an independent body which will not be under the control of any other agency.
The bill was also passed, despite a strong opposition from the EFCC, which had pleaded that it should not be made autonomous.
Curiously however, the Senate committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, headed by Chukwuka Utazi, held a secret public hearing on Wednesday, where the EFCC made its position known.
Mr Francis Oka-Phillips Usani, director of NFIU was quoted to have said during the secret hearing that Egmont Group never asked Nigeria to set up the intelligence unit as an agency. He was said to have explained that the unit was part of anti-graft agencies across the world.
He reportedly stressed that the unit has generated intelligence information for all security agencies in Nigeria since its inception, a situation he said, made the global body to make Nigeria as mentor to other African countries.
Usani, it was learnt, raised concerns that there would be serious crisis that would prompt the group to expel Nigeria, if the Senate went ahead to create a full fledged agency.
The Senate received the report of the committee, ahead of the secret public hearing which was not announced on the floor of the Senate, as against the usual practice.
No advertorials were placed in any newspapers to call for public presentations or contributions. The secret hearing was not attended by correspondents who cover activities of the Senate.
Meanwhile, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided when the bill was considered and passed, said when signed into law, the anti-corruption war will be further strengthened.
Ekweremadu added that the international community will begin to take Nigeria seriously on issues related to anti-graft war. He also stated that with the passage, the suspension of Nigeria by Egmont Group, will be lifted.
Ekweremadu said “I like to thank all of us for making sure that we passed this bill. This is a step towards fighting corruption in Nigeria. I hope the international community will take us seriously and lift the suspension. We want to ensure that there is no undue control over the activities of NFIU. What we have done is in consonant with what is done in other parts of the world.”
Adopting a motion last Wednesday, the Senate resolved to pass a law creating a substantive and autonomous NFlU and make the unit legally and operationally autonomous with powers for the employment, reward training, promotion and discipline of its workforce independently.
Senate spokesman, Aliu Sabi, had while briefing Senate Correspondents, explained that the Senate was committed to enacting the law in good time to boost the anti-corruption fight of the Federal Government.
Sabi noted that when properly reorganised, the agencies that will benefit from the activities of the EGMONT Group will include the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigeria Immigration Service ( NIS), the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and many other relevant governmental agencies.
The Senate had equally noted that “the EGMONT Group suspended Nigeria for a number of reasons including the fact that the NFIU which is the body that represents Nigeria in the Group has not been granted operational autonomy as well as the fact the Unit is still domiciled within the EFCC, a situation the Group has objected to over the years.”
Another reason for the suspension according to the Senate, is the alleged “meddlesomeness of the Acting Chairman of the EFCC in the affairs of the NFIU by his interference in the operations and staffing of the Unit leading to the departure of many competent hands.”
Given the controversy that has trailed the process and passage of the bill, and the continued disagreements between the senate and the EFCC chairman, as well as the executive, many will wonder whether or not the act will receive presidential assent.