NFIU Bill: Between Senator Utazi and Honourable Babajide hangs Nigeria’s financial future

Nigeria’s legislature is a joke. A big joke. The 8th assembly led by Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara has developed a reputation of focusing on mundane issues – remember the Hameed Ali uniform debacle; at the expense of more pressing issues of national importance. And this attitude is about to affect the nation’s financial future.

The ego and incompetence of two men is set to plunge Nigeria into financial oblivion internationally. The Chairman Senate Committee on Anti-corruption, Chukwuka Utazi has alleged that the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Anti-corruption, Akinloye Babajide has failed to show up for scheduled meetings, hence hindering the progress of the passage of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Bill.

On 5 July 2017, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), an arm of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), was suspended from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units at a plenary of the Heads of FIUs in Macao.

The suspension followed Nigeria’s failure to provide the legal framework that ensures that the NFIU is autonomous. In a bid to avoid Nigeria’s expulsion by the Egmont Group, the Senate hurriedly passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA) Bill, a step towards initiating the process of liberating Nigeria’s financial intelligence unit from the EFCC. Before the bill can become law, the House of Representatives must equally pass the bill, and it must be signed into law by the president or vetoed by the legislators. The Director of the NFIU, Usani Francis insists that the legislature erred by passing a new bill when the country already had a financial intelligence unit. According to Francis, a country cannot have more than one FIU. He added that the EFCC was not against the NFIU becoming autonomous, and the Senate’s move may lead to Nigeria’s expulsion by the Egmont Group.

The Senate has had a running battle with the acting EFCC chair, Ibrahim Magu. The upper legislative arm rejected Magu’s confirmation twice following a DSS report against him. But the president has failed to adhere to the Senate’s recommendation that Magu be replaced.

But beyond the Senate’s haphazard passage of the NFIA Bill is the fact that two grown ass men have refused to meet to finetune the details of the bill. Senator Utazi while addressing the floor of the Senate last week said, “Mr. President, you may recall that in the meeting of Egmont Group of financial intelligence in Maco in July last year, Nigeria was suspended with a further threat of expulsion if before the next meeting of Egmont Group which is coming up by 11th of March, that if we don’t put our house in order, we will be finally expelled.

“The expulsion has dire consequences on this country, our financial institutions cannot do anything, our credit cards will no longer amount to anything, Nigeria will be degraded to the high-risk nation. Even the corruption perception index we are complaining about is a child’s play to what we are going to face in few days to come,” he said.

He added that “This senate being very responsive passed this bill within a record period of eight working days because of its urgency, because of what it portends for this country if we do not do so. Now, the House of Reps also took time to pass it but now a conference committee has been constituted. I have been calling my colleague in the House of Reps to come for a meeting. We called for meeting first and second time. Each time I call for this meeting, my counterpart in the House of Reps will always tell me that he is attending one meeting or the other. Today, it may be a defence and I told him that defence should not take precedence over this issue. He knows what is at stake.

“So, I am bringing this to public knowledge that the Senate is doing its job. If anything happens by next week 11th March the Egmont Group decides to expel Nigeria, it will not be as a result of the Senate not doing their duty.”

Utazi must be a joker. Nigeria was suspended nine months ago. The Senate passed the NFIA bill almost immediately after the suspension. Why is the Senate anti-corruption chairman just raising alarm one week to the deadline? What happened to the previous eight months? What has he been doing aside making phone calls and listening to his colleague’s excuses to ensure that both committees meet to finalise work on the bill? Why didn’t he inform the Senate president early enough of the development? This haphazard approach to things is unacceptable. Honourable Babajide seems not to be bothered on what Nigeria’s expulsion portend for the nation’s financial future. What on earth is difficult in attending a meeting? Both men attend plenary three times a week at the National Assembly complex, How hard is it for them to get their lazy butts down to meet on the issue?

But Nigerians should not be surprised by the actions of these men. It was always going to happen. When senators are more concerned about donating snake repellants than setting up a panel of inquiry to investigate the theft of thirty-six million naira? When a senator will rather sing, dance, and take a toothbrush to the Court of law in a case against him? We aren’t surprised by these actions, but we will not stop demanding that they do the job they receive overbloated salaries and allowances for.

These lawmakers should be bothered and do the needful because Nigeria’s expulsion from the Egmont Group will have an adverse effect not only on Nigerian banks but on Nigeria’s reputation, Nigerian businesses and the citizenry at large.

Just a quick question: Please, where is the 2018 budget?

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