Who dragged NFIU into Onnoghen’s trial?
Even in their desperation to pull through next month’s election at all cost, it is still relevant for the watchdogs to blow their whistles for the authorities in the nation’s capital who seem to be experiencing some darkness, to hear what the oracles are telling the desperately powerful.
Two weeks ago on this page, I looked into the seed of time and saw a desperate spirit called ‘desperation’ who would not care about losing Nigeria as long as next month’s election could be desperately won. As I was led, I delivered a caveat to the authorities for us to have peace in our fragile kingdom as expressed here: https://guardian.ng/opinion/curious-desperation-to-lose-nigeria/
But it came to pass last week that a dog, which our elders say has been marked to get lost in the wilderness would not hear the hunter’s whistle. Indeed more curiosities have emerged that have shown brazen desperation to win election at all cost. As was noted last weekend, the desperate spirit migrated from Daily Trust to Justice Walter Onnoghen. While the dust raised in Onnoghen’s temple was still raging at the weekend, the spirit called ‘desperation’ struck in Benin kingdom where a party chief priest revealed another face of desperation: that the ruling party that is desperately seeking corrupt people to denounce and devour even without trial, has been given the ‘power of attorney’ to forgive allcorrupt people, sorry all sinners who can defect to the governing party. Oh all sinners, what are you waiting for?
But while all the desperadoes including even some ministers in the Temple of Justice and the political turfs are perfecting strategies and stratagems to remain in or return to power from May 19, sorry May 29, 2019, I would like to draw the attention of all the stakeholders and indeed all of us to the following questions on a sensitive public policy issue, which has implications on international relations and, of course, the economy:
Who dragged the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit into the Onnoghen trial? When was NFIU inaugurated? Does the NFIU Director yet to be cleared by the Senate have the power to freeze the accounts of the CJN without a court order? Is there some strange desperation too to destroy the NFIU before its inauguration?
It was strange to note last week that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, AbubakarMalami had reportedly directed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU to freeze some bank accounts of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) now in the eye of the storm at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
Let’s be calm before the power of truth, the only weapon that can set us free. The country through the National Assembly has fought a good fight to get Nigeria’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), which is supposed to be (very) independent in all its ways. The EFCC fought tooth and nail to get the body to be domiciled in the Commission but the 2018 law makes it to be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). I drew attention to the complicated story of the NFIU in a piece on this page last year:
Let’s shed some light on the Egmont Group rigmarole and why the letter by the purported letter by the Attorney General to the Director of NFIU can complicate Nigeria’s woe whenever the Canada-based body meets soon. First, the NFIU is a creation of the law, an Act of National Assembly the President signed in June last year. Strangely, the President nominated an Assistant Director from the EFCC, Malam Modibbo Hamman-Tukur to the Senate to be cleared as the Director of NFIU on January 7, this year.
The nominee, reported to be a relation of the First Lady, has not been cleared for the job by the Senate. Section 5 (1) of the NFIU Act.2018 provides for the Senate approval for the top post.
Has the Director of NFIU set up an office and begun his job to be able to carry out the Attorney General’s directive? Why is the strange AGF’s directive on a petition that was written on the same day the Director, NFIU was nominated (7 January, 2019)? Why is Nigeria desperate too to flout the golden rule of the Egmont Group, independence from EFCC? Why is the country not afraid of consequences of an illegal directive to a chief executive who has not assumed duty? Why didn’t the AGF write to the EFCC to seek ways of freezing the accounts of the CJN upon procurement of a court order to do so? Why the desperation to lose the NFIU too? Why did the president nominate an Assistant Director from the EFCC the Egmont Group would not like NFIU to relate with?
Let’s shed some light on the Egmont Group’s complicated relationship with Nigeria and why we should encourage Nigeria’s leader to take urgent steps to avert Nigeria’s possible expulsion from the Egmont Group of FIU. The letter from the AGF, Malami is a toxic one that should be “denied’ to defuse possible tension (between Nigeria and Egmont Group).
As I was saying, if Nigeria is expelled, she will be listed as a high-risk jurisdiction country, with far reaching implications on financial transactions with serious countries. Nigeria was suspended from the Group in July 2017.
The suspension from the Group then was blamed on the absence of operational autonomy for the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, which was then domiciled as an administrative FIU in EFCC. Besides, the Toronto, Canada-based Group also fingered absence of confidentiality in the handling of financial intelligence by the EFCC. This is a fact file on suspension of Nigeria in July 2017, which was treated in the media as a minor story.
The Co-Chairs’ Statement at the 24th Plenary of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units said it all:
The 24th Plenary of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) was held in Macao, SAR from 2-7 July 2017. The plenary was attended by 354 participants who were representatives of 112 FIUs, 11 observer organisations, and 8 international organisations. They discussed the challenges FIUs face in combating money laundering, associated predicate offences, and terrorist financing.
The plenary was co-chaired by Mr. Sergio Espinosa, Chair of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units/Deputy Superintendent of FIU-Peru and Ms. Deborah Ng, Head of GIF, Macao, SAR. The Co-Chairs congratulated KwFIU, Kuwait and FIU Sudan, as new Egmont Group members following their endorsement by Heads of FIU. This brings the membership of the organization to a total number of 156 FIUs.
The efforts of the new members were commended highly considering that they were required to meet enhanced membership benchmarks. The Heads of FIU endorsed the new membership of the FIU Germany as the FIU in this jurisdiction was reorganized into an administrative unit under the authority of the German Central Customs Authority (Zollkriminalamt ZKA).
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 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 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”.
The concerns include absence of an Act of the National Assembly creating an independent Financial Intelligence Unit. It should be understood here that the Group does not approve of the one, (Administrative FIU) the EFCC created in 2007, which does not treat suspicious financial intelligence it gets with confidentiality.
The Group is persuaded that the EFCC uses the information it gets though the instrumentality of FIU anyhow and it discloses same to the media immediately, which is interpreted as media trial in Nigeria. To the Egmont Group, this is unethical.
It is important to understand another critical element in the politics for the soul of FIU, Nigeria: Without the Financial Intelligence Unit in EFCC, the anti-graft agency’s stature and influence will wane. Besides, the Commission may not be able to access bank records and invade privacies of the depositors as it does today without first obtaining court orders after completing intensive investigations. There are more benefits for the EFCC, in this regard.
But an Act of the National Assembly has since June 2018 separated the NFIU from the EFCC. However, with the sponsorship of an Assistant Director from the EFCC as a nominee to be Director, NFIU, where is the separation? All told, the big question is why did the AGF have to direct an independent NFIU to freeze the accounts of the CJN when he does not have the authority to do so under the law?
AGF, CCB , CCCT and Federal Character Albatross
Why is there no introspection about the preponderance of northern elements in the current prosecution of Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Walter Samuel Onnoghen who hails from Cross River State? The albatross: AGF,Abubakar Malami hails from Kebbi State; Chairman Code of Conduct Bureau, Professor Isah Mohammed (Jigawa); Chairman Code of Conduct Tribunal, Mr.Danladi Umar (Bauchi) and the Prosecuting Counsel representing the AGF) Aliyu Umar,is from Kano. And if Justice Onnoghen is removed, the possible replacement will be Justice Tanko Ibrahim (Bauchi). When ‘come comes to become’, (apology to K.O Mbadiwe) in this hot potato, won’t there be political questions about sectionalism and violation of federal character provision in the constitution too? That is why there should be deep soul searching and large heart in this epic trial. No one is saying the CJN should be above the law. He has read Lord Justice Alfred Denning who noted long ago: Be ye never so high, the law is above you’. But the political leaders and the prosecutors should be careful not to desperately destroy concomitant institutions of governance in the course of this trial that will likely trigger the ancient national question. May the God of creation direct this noble cause; direct our leaders right as our pilots have suddenly announced that we are passing through some areas of turbulence!
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