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Before bad politics relegates good policies

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Buhari

Combined effects of bad politics within governing party (APC), president’s aloofness and strange executive procrastination appear to have stolen some thunder from two good governance policies that would have shaped good public opinion for the Buhari administration last week.

In other words, curious focus on do-or-die politics in Ekiti and the implications of incipient implosion within the governing party where some born-‘again(st) reformers’ are scrambling for new platforms seem to have taken the steam out of what would have been reported last week as the Buhari government’s special focus on building institutions for strengthening democracy and the economy.

Too bad, politics has again triumphed over governance, no thanks to the reputation managers of the administration who always prefer to speak on only political controversies.

They hardly talk to the people on public policies that drive governance issues, which enhance development.

For instance, last week, two political stories dominated the media space and indeed diminished what would have been the significance of two other governance issues.

First was the controversial Presidential Executive Order No.6, which seeks to tamper with tangible assets of some powerful people facing prosecution over some corrupt cases in court.

The controversy surrounding the Executive Order No.6, instantly took the steam out of another equally important Presidential Executive Order No.5 (PEO-5) the same president signed since February this year but was made public only last week Monday in Lagos by the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu.

On a good day, Executive Order No.5 should have been celebrated by the business community and even the political class, because the Executive Order (No.5) “for Planning and Execution of Projects, Promotion of Nigerian Content in Contracts, Science, Engineering and Technology” seeks to create an enabling environment, mobilise local investment and attract more foreign direct investment into the country, empower Nigerians to participate actively in the management of the economy.

What a coincidence, the day the PEO No.5 was unveiled to the media in Lagos was the day PDP and 38 other parties ratified alliance against President Buhari for #Project2019. Of course, the coalition-against-Buhari story would be a natural front-page lead (story).

What is more, many other events that Monday did more damage to the PEO No.5 storyline: that was the day Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) activists shut down MTN offices in protest against non-unionisation of its workers.

Besides, it was the day the killing field in Plateau state triggered a powerful visitation of E.K Clark, Chief Olu Falae, Ayo Adebanjo to the very influential T.Y Danjuma who had earlier warned about the danger of alleged collusion of the military authorities with killer herdsmen in parts of the country.

That same Monday, the NYSC authorities issued a statement on the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun’s alleged NYSC exemption certificate forgery.

What a day! The same day, former deputy governor of Ondo state, Alhaji Lasisi Oluboyo spoke on how “my daughter was used for ritual”.

That crowded Monday was also the day scores of deaf and dumb persons staged a peaceful demonstration against what they called “illegal acquisition of 20 acres from their 39 acres of land by the Oyo State government”.

That fateful day, United Kingdom “warns against rigging of Ekiti governorship election”.

That was also the day the influential NNPC “signed an agreement with Shell, Seplat, Oando, others to implement $3.7 billion worth of Gas projects”.

How could an Executive Order No.5 have survived on the front pages and prime time when it was introduced on the same day the aforementioned top political, business and human interest stories also broke?

Despite the publication of the PEO No.5, no one could remember the significant details in the Order as much as the details of PEO No.6, which has been so controversial that even the National Assembly has begun a process to shoot it down.

Yet, no one is discussing anywhere the more significant Executive Order No.5, which can create more jobs and reduce the spate of insecurity in the embattled country.

In the same vein, the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Bill the President signed into law last week too is a significant feat that political activities, especially tension-soaked Ekiti governorship election appear to have also diminished.

That the President signed the controversial Bill into law is newsworthy.

One, the EFCC authorities and their allies outside could have lobbied the President to veto it because of the fact that the soul of the Commission, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has been taken away since the law provides that the NFIU is now domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The Egmont Group, as I disclosed here the other day would not like the NFIU to be domiciled in EFCC where financial intelligence they receive in confidence from global sources could be used for political reasons.

In other words, if the President had vetoed the Bill and the National Assembly had kept quiet (without overriding the president’s veto), Nigeria could have faced expulsion from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligent Unit (EGFIUs).

As I had noted here on Sunday March 4, this year when I wrote on “Before Egmont Group Expels Nigeria” (https://guardian.ng/opinion/before-egmont-group-expels-nigeria/) “If Nigeria is expelled, she will be listed as a high-risk jurisdiction country, with far reaching implications on financial transactions with numerous countries we need”.

I also wrote then that Nigeria’s suspension from the Group in July last year was blamed on the absence of operational autonomy for the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, (NFIU) domiciled as an administrative FIU in EFCC then. Besides, the Toronto-based Group had then fingered absence of confidentiality in the EFCC’s handling of financial intelligence for the suspension.

That was a fact file on suspension of Nigeria in July last year, which was treated in the media as a minor story. Let’s extract some facts from the Co-Chairs’ Statement at the 24th Plenary of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units where Nigeria was punished.

Then at the Session, Heads of FIU decided by consensus, to suspend the membership status of the NFIU, Nigeria, according to the Group, “following repeated failures on the part of the FIU, (Nigeria) to address concerns regarding the protection of confidential information, specifically related to the status of suspicious transaction report (STR) details and information derived from international exchanges, as well as concerns on the legal basis and clarity of the NFIU’s independence from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)”.

The body noted then that, “the measure will remain in force until immediate corrective actions are implemented”.

The FIU, Nigeria is now excluded from all Egmont Group events and activities.

The Egmont Group expressed its hope that the Nigerian authorities will address these concerns to enable the Egmont Group to lift the suspension as soon as possible”.

Can we recall that the bruising battle for the control of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) within the EFCC has consumed three Heads of the Unit the EFCC authorities (past and present) had sacked in controversial circumstances including Mr. Asishana Okauru, now Director General, Nigeria Governors’ Forum?

The two other victims are in the Federal Justice Ministry and Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) respectively.

So, if the President had not signed the NFIU bill, that would have endangered Nigeria’s chances of escaping the hammer of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units-FIUs and the Financial Action task Force-FATF based in Paris.

We need to note that indeed Nigeria was downgraded at the last Inter-Governmental Action Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) Plenary, held from the 7th -11th of May, 2018 at Somone, Senegal; following the major deficiencies in the country’s Anti-money Laundering/Counter Financing of Terrorism legal framework.

These were early warning signs that there was trouble ahead, if nothing was done.

The President has done well but the battle is not over yet. Nigeria is due for a Mutual Evaluation in 2019 and if we face that without setting up the bureaucracy according to the provision of the law, it is still risky as we may face some sanctions.

Nigeria remains suspended from the Egmont Group of FIUs, meaning that the country has not been receiving external financial intelligence since July, 2017 and this will remain in force until the suspension is lifted.

Therefore, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice should get cracking today: get the President to nominate to the Senate a Director of NFIU as prescribed by the Act.

There are other concomitant Bills that need to be taken forward urgently too: they are: Proceeds of Crime (POC); Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (MACM); an amended version of the Money Laundering and Terrorism Prevention Acts (MLTPA) as well as the Whistle Blowers/Witness Protection bills.

This is therefore the highpoint of all the suggestions from 2015 that the President should work hard on building institutions that can help in preventing official corruption in public service.

It has been suggested several times here too that fighting corruption is not a tea party that media trials of a few corrupt people alone can address.

That is why it has been noted repeatedly here too that fighting corruption is a world of difference from fighting corrupt people.

When you fight a few corrupt people, you get instant accolades from supporters.

But then corruption will continue to thrive in the bureaucracies throughout the federation unless you reform institutions that corrupt state actors use to perpetrate corrupt practices.

This is the only way corruption battle can seamlessly won: reform institutions, recruit good officers who can enforce the laws and presidential executive orders without fear or favour.

It may not be clear to those who are still too young to know that the EFCC has just been reorganised in a strategic way that even the president’s men may not have recognised anyway.

NFIU was what EFCC ought to be called in 2004 when the law was enacted.

But this is not the time to tell the complicated story of how ICPC law was conceptually inadequate and Nigeria was punished because of failure to deal with financial intelligence issue within that context.

The then Presidential Committee on Financial Action Task Force (PCFATF) set up by President Olusegun Obasanjo knew the story.

Obasanjo set up the NFIU, called it EFCC, Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan failed to correct the anomaly that the Egmont Group of FIU detected and punished us for.

Behold, the National Assembly and some unappreciated stakeholders have helped President Buhari to correct a 14-year-old error. That is how institutions should be built to strengthen democracy, which politics can no longer penetrate to nurture corruption.

There is therefore one more thing needful: the President should work on how to reform the public service, which will assist in building some consensus within his ruling party, the federal legislature so that his institution building mechanisms such as joining the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2016, the Presidential Executive Order No.5 and the NFIU can be better understood and appreciated.

Besides, the president should dust up so many reports that have suggested a merger of the EFCC and ICPC.

And so he should work on an Amendment Bill to merge the two anti-graft agencies.

With the FIU out of the EFCC, there is no reason EFCC and ICPC should stay apart anymore.

Meanwhile, let’s not allow the heat being generated by Executive Order No.6, to kill the significance of Executive Order No.5, which seeks to reposition Nigeria’s economic development to be technology driven for global competitiveness.

And the gains from NFIU Act (2018) should not be allowed to wither away because of overzealousness for #Project2019.


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