By Olu W. Onemola
In May 2017, there were strong indications that Nigeria’s suspension from the EGMONT Group — a united body of 159 Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) that “provides a platform for the secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing” — might lead to an outright expulsion. This was following the refusal by certain institutions tasked with fighting corruption to allow the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to become autonomous. That same month, the 8th Senate, under the leadership of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, began to take steps to ensure that Nigeria was still a part of the EGMONT Group.
By July 2017, the Senate had already drafted and introduced a Bill to make the NFIU autonomous. The Bill, sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi, was a clear example of the 8th Senate’s desire to aid the fight against corruption. The Senate introduced this Bill to ensure that through the NFIU, Nigeria could effectively track the illegal money that was going out and coming into the country. Hence, the NFIU Bill passed by the Senate in 2017, created an autonomous Financial Intelligence Agency, in accordance with international standards, that ensured that Nigeria had an institution that would serve as the central recipient agency for the analysis and dissemination of financial intelligence.
Additionally, the NFIU Bill also ensures that Nigeria’s Financial Intelligence Agency, has the operational independence and powers to deal with the information that it receives from international bodies. Since the passage of this Bill, Nigeria has since been re-admitted into the EGMONT Group, and the Senate has even been commended by the Financial Intelligence Database Agency for being responsive to the country’s needs in the anti-corruption war.
The aforementioned narrative is just one of several examples of how the outgoing Saraki-led 8th Senate, since 2015, has played a major role in Nigeria’s ongoing and pervasive fight against corruption.
Since the NFIU Bill became a law, the new agency has since hit the ground running to ensure that there is probity in the financial affairs of public officials. For example, just on Wednesday, May 8th, 2019, the Senate passed a Motion that urged financial institutions across the nation to support and adhere to the implementation of the new guidelines issued by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). The Senate, also called on the Federal Government to immediately ensure the proper funding of the Unit, so that it can earn the trust and confidence of Nigerians and its international partners.
In the same way that the NFIU Bill passed by the Senate is revolutionising how we tackle corruption in Nigeria, the Proceeds of Crime Bill that was also passed by the 8th National Assembly has paved the way for Nigeria to become a full member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Prior to the passage of this critical piece of legislation, Nigeria only had an observer status, with South Africa being the only African country on the Taskforce.
With the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Bill and the subsequent acceptance of Nigeria’s full membership into the FATF, the mutual evaluation process adopted by the FATF, has been met, and clearly, the legislative component of the evaluations process has shown that Nigeria has “implemented the recommendations and principles on fighting money laundering, terrorist financing and the proliferation” and financing of illegal weapons.
In addition to the Proceeds of Crime Bill, the Senate also passed the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, which was drafted to amend the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act of 2011 in order to create a wider legal framework that will help to restrict and prohibit the laundering of money both within and outside Nigeria. The Mutual Assistance Bill, was envisioned to help the Nigerian law enforcement agencies to receive better partnership and assistance from other government during the course of money laundering investigations by empowering our law enforcement agencies to enable the identification, tracing, freezing, restraining, recovery, forfeiture and seizure of proceeds and benefits of crime wherever they are located. In addition to this, the Mutual Assistance Bill also expands the scope of supervisory bodies that deal with financial crimes, as well as provides protection for employees who may discover or suspect cases of ‘money laundering’ and report it to the appropriate authorities.
Furthermore, the 8th Senate also passed the Federal Audit Services Commission Bill, which is aimed at empowering the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation to ensure that MDAs comply with the Fiscal Responsibility Act in the management of public funds and in the timely submission of their audited account for scrutiny. This Bill, which was borne from the Senate’s oversight discovery that over 300 MDAs have not submitted their reports to the office of the Auditor General in the past years — was aimed at ensuring that institutional corruption was tackled at the budgetary level
To strengthen the institutional mandate of Nigeria’s justice system to fight corruption, the 8th Senate introduced and passed both the Whistleblowers Protection Bill and the Witness Protection Bill to ensure that individuals who make disclosures that aid law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in criminal and/or corruption cases do not suffer reprisals, as well as create a programme in Nigeria that allows individuals — who provide important information, evidence or give assistance to law enforcement agencies during investigations, inquiries or prosecutions — to receive protection from the government, thereby encouraging the cooperation and support of witnesses.
Other anti-corruption bills passed by the Eighth Senate include the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, which seeks to ensure that individuals that are in danger of reprisals in relation to whistleblower activities are protected under the law; Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act which sought to among other things identify, trace, freeze, restrain, recover, forfeit and confiscate proceeds, property and other instrumentalities of crime; Witness Protection Bill, which is geared at encouraging witnesses of crimes, especially organized crimes, terrorism or other crimes to come forward and assist government and its agencies by offering protection to witnesses willing to provide information, and evidence for the purpose of investigations.
In the coming weeks, and months, and maybe even years, there will be a lot of appraisals of the 8th Senate. However, when the facts of the last four years are laid bare, it is clear that in the war against corruption, the Upper Chamber, led by Dr. Saraki, passed some critical pieces of legislation that are already revolutionising our nation’s institutions and strengthening our standing on the world stage and amongst international bodies.
Facts do not lie.
- Onemola is Special Assistant to Senate President.