NFIU bill passes second reading
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The Senate yesterday passed the bill establishing the Nigerian Peace Corps (NPC), to empower and provide employment for the youths, to facilitate peace, volunteerism, community services and nation building, despite reservations expressed by its Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters.
The senators voted to adopt the conference committee report on the bill, presented by the Chairman of the Committee on Interior, Senator Bayero Nafada (Gombe North).
Its Committee on Judiciary, in its report on the bill, however stated that the major objective of the NPC bill, which is to provide employment for the youths, can be achieved by strengthening existing agencies and not necessarily creating a new one.
This, the Senator David Umaru chaired committee, is to avoid overburdening the federal government.
The committee also observed that the powers and functions of the Peace Corps call for concern, and urged that they be subjected to further examination.
â€œThat the right vested by the Bill in clause 37 (1) (a) on members of the corps to â€œaccess all records of any person or authorityâ€ is too broad in scope and to that extent constitutes an infringement on the right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution, under Section 37. This power is unnecessary, given that the corps is not an investigative agency,â€ the report stated.
â€œThat the operation of the Peace Corps is limited to social and economic development only in other jurisdictions as indicated in their mandate, pursuant to section 591 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990, in the case of Nigerian Peace Corps,â€ it added.
The reservations however did not stop the lawmakers from passing the bill.
Presiding, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the journey towards establishing the NPC has been a long one, and expressed appreciation to the committees for their work.
â€œThe long journey has finally reached the promised land,â€ Saraki said.
The NPC bill was passed in the House of Representatives in June 2016, while the same bill was passed in the Senate in November of the same year. The two chambers set up a conference committee to reconcile the areas of differences in the passed bill.
The Senate at its plenary sitting on May 2, 2017, had deliberated on the report of the conference committee, and had referred it to the Committee on Judiciary, when some knotty issues emerged.
In another development, the Senate also passed through second reading a bill seeking to grant administrative and financial autonomy to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence (NFI) Unit, and establish the NFI Agency.
The bill was passed through first reading last week.
The bill named: â€œA bill for an Act to Establish the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency as the central body in Nigeria responsible for receiving, requesting, analysing, and disseminating financial intelligence reports and other information to law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies and other relevant authorities and for related matters,â€ is sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu North).
The Senate however maintained that it does not have any ulterior motive in accelerating the decoupling of the NFIU from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), other than the quest to do the right thing for Nigeria.
Utazi, in his lead debate, said while the NFIU is currently domiciled within the EFCC, as provided by Section 1 (2) of the EFCC Act, the provision has however, been found to be inconsistent with international standards and has affected the effective functioning of the NFIU.
â€œSince the NFIU is not set up to be a law enforcement agency, this provision negates the core objectives for which the NFIU was established in the first place. The mandate of a FIU (Financial Intelligent Unit) is different from that of law enforcement: while law enforcement agencies carry out investigations and prosecution, FIUs are mostly collection, collation and analytical,â€ he said.
Utazi added that there can only be one FIU in every country, causing an awkward situation in Nigeria where the unit was created, but was not given powers to operate.
â€œPresiding, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu referred the bill to the Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes. He directed the committee to submit its report on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Senate, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, reiterated that the Senate was not fast tracking the passage of the bill, to fulfill any ulterior motives.
Briefing journalists at the end of plenary yesterday, Abdullahi said the Senateâ€™s determination is borne out of a quest to avert the explosion of Nigeria from the group, with its dire implication for the countryâ€™s financial system.
â€œPeople may insinuate that we are rushing it for any reason, there is no other reason other than doing the right thing, so that Nigerians can continue to carry out financial transactions online and in real time,â€ he said.
The NFIU, the agency which represents Nigeria in the Egmont Group, was suspended at its July 2017 meeting in China, following Nigeriaâ€™s failure to grant operational autonomy to the NFIU, a situation which the group has objected to for years. Nigeria was also accused of divulging confidential information concerning the activities of the Egmont group, a network of 154 national financial intelligence units, is the highest inter-governmental association of intelligence agencies in the world with membership by 152 countries.
The group also issued a December 2017 ultimatum to Nigeria to address the issues that caused the suspension, or be expelled, a situation which will attract international sanctions against Nigeriaâ€™s financial system.