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‘Expulsion will bring untold hardship to Nigerians’

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Anthony Ogbeide Ehilebo, lawyer, journalist and publisher, Breaking Times, in Focus Nigeria, a television magazine programme on AIT monitored by Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf, speaks on the implications of Nigeria’s expulsion by the Egmont Group amongst other issues. Excerpts:

Brouhaha about possible expulsion from the Egmont group

It’s sad that it has taken an external body to help us to do what we need to do as a country to survive. It’s like the doctor tells you, you’re in a critical state, that your vital organs are bad and you need to take certain measures to address it. And it has to take maybe an uncle from Lagos to compel you to do what you need to do in Abuja. It’s sad. All the same, we must give our sincere gratitude to members of the media for staying the cause because the people that you’re dealing with are not easy to deal with. This is a Nigerian issue, as such; it’s not aimed at denigrating any agency or particular person. No. But we must speak. The consequences of the actions they take today are not necessarily immediate, they may take time and they’ll affect generations so.

Picture of what would have happened

It’s unfortunate that the people in the executive didn’t see the implications of that neither did the people in the NASS see the implications even when the Egmont group gave the reason why we were suspended, nobody bothered.

The implications of what would have happened if we were expelled would have been better imagined than explain. For instance, other global financial agencies that probably would have taken a cue from the Egmont Group are the GIABA, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the World Bank, IMF, and other agencies. These agencies look up to Egmont group to take decision. What the Egmont group simply provides is safety net. It’s important to break this down to very understandable conversation for people to know. This topic is not so complex, we’re talking about financial architecture and security. Now because the member of the Egmont group as people who do business in that country they need sources they can go to in order to guarantee the financial flows that occur within their transactions. Let’s say a businessman in Germany wants to invest in Nigeria, and he knows that Nigeria is part of the Egmont group so if he transfers money to Nigeria, his money, there is a trace of wherever the money goes to. And it is guaranteed by being a member of this organisation. Now, once you’re not a member, how can I now deal with you? You see one thing we play with is the amount of money that comes from outside Nigeria by Nigerians who are doing business abroad. Now they would not be able to do business. So many transactions you want to do overseas you must present your passport now once you present that Nigerian passport, they’ll tell you they can’t send or receive this money because it doesn’t go into an intelligence system. And the greatest harm to this whole thing is that, it is he who should be the guardian that is fighting it or was fighting it: the EFCC.

If Nigerian had been expelled, the EFCC becomes powerless because it cannot get financial information and we’re fighting to save the soul of the anti-graft agency. It helps Nigeria if we have a functional and effective EFCC, DSS, NDLEA, etc, if they’ve financial information on what people are doing with money coming from abroad and other sources.

Why were we even suspended?

From available information, I won’t go into the details for national security; it was a simple annoyance from another government that sent information to the system and Nigeria took it raw from the file and sent it to the media- it found its way to Saharareporters. This was the reason why we were suspended from the Egmont server since June 2017; it means we’ve been blind to financial information, especially STRs since June 2017. I’m very grateful this bill has been passed, but that alone cannot guarantee. I heard the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and Deputy Speaker, Lasun , commenting that the suspension would be lifted, l don’t think that would happened. This is because we have told the Egmont group so many lies in the past that they will hardly be convinced that we’ve turned a new leaf.

The thing is that the current advocacy we’re doing must not stop here and now, it has to continue. It’s the advocacy of every Nigeria. I sincerely think that the Attorney General of the Federation and the federal government need to be concerned about the kind of person that would head the NFIU.

From available information, I’m aware that they’ve reduced the agency now to a directorate to be headed by a Director.

Why Mr President may not be persuaded to sign the bill?

It has always been the position of the Presidency that the NFIU should be domiciled with the EFCC. Since it’s not domiciled there, would that be a reason? The second one may have to be the confirmation of the head of the Unit by the NASS.

In domiciling it, there’s no better place for now other than where it is. One it might be a better choice to have a centre domiciled where all financial institutions that are supposed to be regulated by it at the regulators’ domain, which is the CBN.

It was a no-brainer to put it there, so I doubt if they’ll have any issue because the Committee set up by the Vice President agreed at some point wanted it to be at the NSA but there’s the issue of legality because you don’t want it to be under the control of politicians.

For now, they’ve the head of the agency to a director. But personally, l’ll have wanted it to be a director general so that he has some measure of power. The implication of signing this bill means that it removes section 212 from the EFCC, and makes it a designated FIU. All STRs henceforth must go to the NFIU to process same for onward prosecution as the case may be.

The FIU will help with security and intelligence gathering as far as corruption is concerned. There’ll more synergy. It’s a win-win situation for all of us, especially the law enforcement agencies.

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