By Naomi Sharang
Abuja – The Senate on Thursday passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency Bill as a central body in Nigeria responsible for receiving, requesting, analysing and disseminating financial intelligence reports and other information to law enforcement agencies.
This followed the consideration of the report of the Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes presented to the Senate by its chairman, Sen. Chukwuka Utazi during plenary.
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 bill is just waiting for presidential assent to become law.
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 News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the NFIA if given the Presidential assent would act as the central body in Nigeria responsible for requesting, receiving, analysing and disseminating financial information to law enforcement agencies.
Speaking further on the Bill, Sen. Chukwuka Utazi, said the proposal sought 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.
Under the passed Bill, the NFIA would now be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and also report to the National Assembly.
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.
In his remarks, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, thanked all the Senators for ensuring they expedited the process leading to the passage of “this very important Bill.
“We believe that this is a major contribution in the fight against corruption in Nigeria and believe the international community will take us more seriously for taking the step today.
“I hope that Egmont Group will also take the decision to lift the suspension on Nigeria because of this step we have taken today.
“The fact of relocating the agency under the CBN will give other agencies sufficient access to the job of this agency in such a way that there will be no control of the NFIU that will not lead Nigeria to another round of suspension.”
He said that the Senate had taken the right step especially when it considered that they had was in consonant with what was done in other countries of the world where they had similar agencies.(NAN)