The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to make Nigeria's Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), now under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), totally independent.
Senator Utazi had last week raised a point of order, accusing his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Kayode Oladele of frustrating efforts to expeditiously pass the bill and warned that failure to pass the bill ahead of the next Egmont Group meeting would cause a major economic crisis for the country.
Also recall that the group had threatened to expel Nigeria permanently by March 11 if the Nigerian government failed to grant the unit the autonomy required to become its member.
The EGMONT Group is a network of 152-member countries that share information relating to criminal intelligence and financial information.
The conference report was laid by the Committee Chairman, Chukwuma Utazi who said the positions of the two committees have been harmonized.
Nigeria is now on suspension from the group over the lack of autonomy for the NFIU.
Specifically, Section 2 (c) of the EFCC Act provides that the commission (EFCC) "is the designated Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) in Nigeria, which is charged with the responsibility of coordinating the various institutions involved in the fight against any money laundering and enforcement of all laws dealing with economic and financial crimes in Nigeria".
Utazzi said the bill seeks to establish a financial intelligence agency that will be autonomous from the control of the EFCC as it is at present.
"Many of you will remember that late previous year, the Senate raised the alarm over Nigeria's suspension from the EGMONT Group - based on the lack of independence of the NFIU as now established".
"I hope on the part of the Executive, they will quickly assent to this Bill and also ensure that the independence of the Financial Unit goes beyond just signing this Bill into law". While the House wanted the NFIU to remain with the EFCC, the Senate recommended its transfer to the Central Bank, which was the version adopted.
The NFIU is to be a directorate to be headed by a director to be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the minister of justice and attorney general of the federation, subject to confirmation by the senate.