It is good news that eight months after President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Act in July 2018, the NFIU is set to begin full operations, as an autonomous and independent entity, on April 1. The NFIU Act separates the NFIU from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), under which it was previously domiciled.
With the legal excision of the NFIU from the EFCC, Nigeria has been readmitted into the Egmont Group of 156 Financial Intelligence Units, from which the country had earlier been suspended, due to NFIU’s perceived lack of institutional autonomy.
Apparently reinvigorated by its enhanced organizational status, the NFIU has unfolded a number of new initiatives to enable it more vigorously tackle financial crimes, with special emphasis on money laundering and terrorism financing. These include the completion of an expanded data base on politically exposed persons being set up by the Federal Government; the impending issuance of new guidelines and advisories that will affect cash transaction processes at all levels of government, including bureau de change operations; as well as full implementation of the normal sanctions regime to all detected areas of vulnerabilities, within the country’s systems.
All of these reflect the seriousness with which Nigeria, under the Buhari administration, is combating the hydra-headed menace of corruption and financial crimes in the country and raising ethical standards in both the private and public spheres. This is certainly responsible for the reported lifting by the European Union (EU) of its listing of Nigeria as a High Risk Third Country — jurisdictions perceived to be deficient in money laundering and terrorism financing controls.
Apart from the damage to a listed country’s image, it could also have negative impact on foreign investment inflows, since such jurisdictions are perceived to be unsafe and unreliable in a globalised world, sensitive to adverse financial and security information.
The NFIU reports, however, that Nigeria’s inclusion in the High Risk Third Country list “was officially withdrawn by the Council of Europe on 5 March 2019, while giving room for the European Commission and the European Parliament to align their positions. The Nigerian government engaged the EU authorities through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reach an understanding”.
Of course, the basis for including Nigeria in the EU’s ignoble list in the first place was questionable, given the unprecedented aggressiveness with which the Nigerian state has been combating all forms of financial crimes, in the last four years particularly. This has resulted in the recovery of humongous financial and physical assets within and outside the country, the ongoing trials for corrupt enrichment of hundreds of indicted persons and the conviction and sentencing to terms of imprisonment of a number of others, despite the tortuous judicial process.
Money laundering and other financial crimes are mostly successfully carried out with the acquiescence of foreign banks, especially in advanced western countries, which are recipients of illicit capital outflows. But these western countries are never placed on any disreputable list. It is the ringing hypocrisy of the so-called international order.
Still, Nigeria must continue to vigorously pursue its current anticorruption offensive not necessarily to be in the good books of external actors, but primarily as part of its effort to drastically reduce poverty, promote accelerated socio-economic development as well as enhance her national security.
In this regard, we welcome President Buhari’s indication that members of his new Federal Executive Council will meet the highest ethical standards. We also urge that the emergent harmonious Executive-legislative relationship at the centre be maximally utilized to strengthen and improve the administration’s anticorruption legislation in its second term.
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