Aminu Gwadabe

Obinna Chima

The Association of Bureaux De Change Operators of Nigeria (ABCON) has faulted the continuous delay in granting operational autonomy to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), saying the action would derail progress in Nigeria’s financial system.

The ABCON President, Alhaji Aminu Gwadabe, in a statement wednesday explained that his association, a self-regulatory body of over 3500 Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)-licenced Bureaux De Change (BDCs) registered to sell foreign exchange to end-users is worried over the delay and controversies surrounding NFIU’s autonomy.

He said despite the looming threat of Nigeria’s expulsion from the Egmont Group, a 153-nation network of national financial intelligence units, the Senate and House Committees on Anti-Corruption have disagreed over the domiciliation of the NFIU and need to grant the body full autonomy.

The Recommendation 29 of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) permits the domiciliation of the Financial Intelligence Unit in any larger organisation as long as it has its operational and financial independence.

The bill to grant financial and operational autonomy to the unit, which has been passed by both legislative chambers, is before the conference committee of the National Assembly, which is required to harmonise the discrepancies in both versions of the legislation.

Gwadabe said the delay should be avoided as it portends dangers for the entire financial market and could lead to Nigeria’s suspension by the Egmont Group.

According to Gwadabe, should such suspension occur, Visa, MasterCard and other credit cards issued by Nigerian financial institutions would be rejected by global financial institutions. He added that such suspension could also adversely affect Nigeria’s credit rating by global financial markets.

Another adverse implication, the ABCON boss said, was that it would derail the anti-corruption war as recovery of looted funds abroad and other follow up by anti-corruption agencies will be hindered, making cooperation by sister global corruption agencies difficult.

He added that it could also affect the international ratings of Nigerian financial institutions, restricting their access to some big-ticket international transactions.

Nigeria will also no longer be able to benefit from financial intelligence shared by the other member countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

He said ABCON’s has zero tolerance for poor Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) compliance, and therefore wants the relevant parties to unite to save Nigeria’s financial institutions from an unintended vulnerabilities, threats, risks and losses that would follow suspension by Egmont Group.

The ABCON is also worried that the CBN continues to sell dollar to its members at N360/$1 while commercial banks buy at N357/$1. Gwadabe wants the CBN to address this unfair price mechanism which is working against the interest of BDCs adding that the group is also preparing to train its members on anti-money laundering compliance models that would enable them operate within regulation.

Speaking further on the NFIU autonomy, he explained that while the Senate committee recommended that the NFIU unit be moved from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the House committee has remained adamant that the autonomous unit must be retained within the EFCC, hence, delaying the transmission of the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.

Gwadabe said that if the impasse is not resolved, Nigeria, which was suspended from the group in July 2017, would be expelled at its next meeting expected to hold next month, a development which holds dire consequences for the nation’s financial sector.