By Linus Akeke
The high level of insecurity in the country has been traced to corruption by stakeholders, in this exclusive interview with Linus Aleke an anti graft crusader and public relation and communication consultant Mr. Walter Duru noted that corruption and terrorism financing is responsible for the high level of insecurity in the country. He also spoke on the important of the NFIA in the fight against graft in the country and the need to support the initiative. His excerpt;
What is the significance of the civil society round table on the proposed establishment of Nigerian financial intelligence agency currently before the national assembly?
This one day civil society organizations roundtable is organized to brainstorm on the merit or otherwise of the bill at the national assembly which just passed through a second reading, it is called the Nigerian financial intelligence agency. It is a bill that pushes for an Act for the establishment of Nigerian financial intelligence agency as a central body responsible for collation, analyzing and of course distribution of information, intelligence reports on crime, especially financial crimes, terrorism financing, money laundering and other related offences. Now this is in conformity with the prescription of the international community, the international treaties that Nigeria had signed, we have the oncar convention which is the united nation’s convention against corruption, we have Edmond group of FIDs which is the global watch dog, the global body that regulate the activities of financial institution across the globe. Nigeria is signatory to it, there are 139 members of Edmund group. We have a financial action task force which is also a global regulatory body that handles money laundering and terrorism financing. At this critical stage of our nation where we have myriad of security challenges especially the boko haram menace. However the greatest challenges we have is the issue of money laundering because it is through money laundering that people arms and finance terrorism. Now to check the menace of money laundering we said that there are no sufficient enabling laws to regulate money laundering activities in this country and we now came up with Nigerian financial intelligence agency. The main fight is presently domiciled in EFCC as an independent unit but it is not independent. As I speak to you Nigeria has been sanctioned by the Edmond group of FIDs for non compliance with international standard. So part of the reason for this bill is to see how we could come to page with international expectation and requirement and we hope to see how we can check money laundering, terrorism financing and reduce corruption in this country.
By way of advocacy, what have you done to sensitize Nigerians on the need and important of having such agency?
In the last one month, we have had intensive advocacies in the internet of course I am going to show you some publications, there is hardly any week you will not see seven to nine different publication on this bill. In the last one month it has been consistent, recently senator Lar the senate chairman on narcotics, drugs and financial crime was on air life on AIT program and he spoke extensively on this bill. We have done a lot in terms of advocacy and the results are coming. You can see that there are better understandings of the situation. The bill had scaled the first and second reading and after the committee stage it will go to the third reading and there are plans to organize a special retreat for the law makers, it is been put together so that they will get better understanding of the bill. All the relevant stakeholders will come together to brainstorm so that the law makers will have an in-depth knowledge of not just the significance but the benefit of this bill to the country considering our indebtedness to international community.
Government over the years had made frantic effort to reduce recurrent expenditure in the budget with view to bringing it at pall with capital expenditure to stimulate rapid development. Will pushing for the creation of another government agency not compound the existing imbalance by pushing recurrent expenditure further higher than the capital?
The truth is that we are not actually talking about an entirely new arrangement the Nigerian financial intelligence agency is already in existence. As I talk with you it has about 70 staff strength so it has a functional office, therefore it is not going to be another additional burden to the federal government it will rather help strengthen the system. If I tell you how much Nigeria looses every year to money laundering annually you will astonished that is in addition to the image of the country that is been battered abroad. This agency will help to reduce corruption for the country, redeem the image of the country abroad, and help the country to conform to international standard, help other agencies to function more effectively and of course help to reduce the cost of operation. Corruption is costing the country so much, so when you are able to address all this things, you are even saving cost for the country, making the nation’s image brighter, giving us mileage in the anti corruption war, giving us better understanding of the entire system and of course moving the country forward.
Considering the fact that we already have multiple agencies charged with the responsibility of combating graft in the country. If this bill scale all the hurdles of law making and the agency is establish, will that not amount to duplication of functions among the agencies of government saddle with the statutory responsibility of fighting corruption in Nigeria?
The truth is that it is not an anti corruption agency per se, it is an agency that will be saddled with the responsibility of intelligence gathering. It is going to serve all other agencies including the anti corruption agencies, it shall also serve the security agencies and the armed forces. This will include EFCC, ICPC, CCB, NAFDAC, NAPTIP, DSS, CBN, SEC, among other agencies, therefore it is not like any of those agencies, it is to serve other agencies that feed them with financial intelligence to enable them function more effectively.
You noted earlier that the agency had been in existence with over 70 staff strength, who is heading the organization now?
Before now Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku Esq. was the acting director of NFIA, in the last eight years of the existence of the agency EFCC had forcefully removed about four different director of NFIA and if you say this agency is independent will EFCC has the powers to remove indiscriminately, remove them at will, when they do not play along with your bidding then you say you have removed the person and you do this thing forcefully. So the truth is that without autonomy the entire objective of setting up the NFIA cannot be achieved. The NFIA has been a unit under the EFCC and come to think of it, EFCC is an interested party, the agency is suppose to serve EFCC, DSS, CBN, SEC, NAFDAC and host of others. And this unit is domiciled in EFCC, what it means is that there is no autonomy and transparency and the information they have should enjoy some high level of confidentiality. Information made for DSS or NDLEA should not be made available to EFCC and that is not possible in the current arrangement because they even use the same data base and ICT. Therefore without autonomy, the whole gist about anti corruption and money laundering in Nigeria is a fluke.
What had they been able to achieve in the past eight years of its existence that will warrant the ongoing legislation to support it existence?
Frankly speaking, over time it has not been able to achieve much simply because there had not been an enabling environment to do that but let me also tell you, in recent time, it has distinguished itself. One of the reasons that led to the recent crisis was because the agency has to do its work in line with international regulations and expectations and that created some issues. So what that mean is that this agency must be free, it must be autonomous, it must be independent and it must have the freedom to be able to perform optimally and effectively and anything short of that is a waste of time.
Are you assuring Nigerians that when this agency finally comes on stream, it will help reduce corruption to the barest minimum in the country?
The anti corruption war is not something that could be won overnight you need to put relevant institution, legislation, structures and processes in place. Before you begin to address them little by little, interestingly, if you address the problem of money laundering, you have checked corruption because if people steal money in billions for instance they cannot pay it into their account because NFIA will unravel it and questions will be asked on the sources of the fund. And even when you go and invest them, NFIA will get you because they have sufficient financial intelligence and that will discourage people from stealing public fund and living above their means. That is one very formidable and fundamental step toward checking corruption in Nigeria. Even the issue of terrorism financing; you can see the issue of boko haram and bomb blast everywhere. Therefore if you check money laundering, you have succeeded in checking terrorism to a very large extend due to the fact that it is through money laundering that terrorism activities are financed.
As a major stakeholder and supporter of the bill, what in your own assessment are the major challenges or hurdle impeding the progress of the bill?
There is no extraordinary thing, basically the greatest challenges is the intrusion of EFCC and the effort to make them understand the fact that it is not all about them. As an interested agency there is need for confidentiality, for the agency to be able to serve other agencies effectively. It must have some level of operational and financial autonomy. So it is not about EFCC and they have refused to understand it, the truth is that they are not going to take away the job of EFCC. They are going to do the job the international community expect them to do in accordance with provisions of the law and the international treaties Nigeria had signed over time. And I tell you that our refusal to do these things will paint the nation in a bad light.