The Senate and House of Representatives have differed over the passage of the bill establishing the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit as an independent entity.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, at the plenary on Thursday, raised a point of order accusing the House of non-cooperation and warning that failure to pass the bill ahead of the next Egmont Group meeting would cause a major economic crisis for Nigeria.
Among other conditions, the Egmont Group had demanded that the NFIU should be pulled out of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Utazi recalled that Nigeria was suspended from the group at its last general meeting in July 2017, with a threat to expel the country if the unit had not been given autonomy by its next meeting holding on March 11.
He said, “The expulsion has dire consequences for this country. Our financial institutions cannot do anything. Our credit cards will no longer amount to anything. Nigeria will get on the list of high-risk nations. We will be degraded to a high-risk nation. The Corruption Perceptions Index (of the Transparency International) that we are complaining about is a child’s play to what we are going to face in few days to come.
“This Senate, being very responsive and responsible, passed this bill within a record period of eight working days, because of the urgency and what it portends for this country if we do not do so. That is the first bill that has got such a quick passage because we understand the import (of the matter).”
He added, “First of all, I came with a motion explaining the issues and the motion was in about five pages, which is unusual. I did that to explain the issues so that everybody will understand what is on the desk. And the Senate, having understood me, followed me when I came with the bill.
“Now, this bill has been passed by the Senate. The House of Representatives took time to pass it. Now, the conference committee has been constituted and I have been calling my colleagues in the House of Representatives to come for the meeting.
“The first one (meeting) was called but they said the leadership (of the National Assembly) was meeting on this issue. We called the meeting the first and second time and each time I called this meeting, my counterpart in the House of Representatives would always tell me that he was attending one meeting or the other.
“Today, he told me that he was going for the 2018 budget defence. I sent him a text message to that effect and I told him that his committee work should not take precedence over this issue if he knew what was at stake.
“So, I am bringing this issue to public knowledge that this Senate is doing this job and I am not sleeping on duty. I want to say that if anything happens by the 11th of March; if the Egmont Group decides to expel Nigeria, it will not be as a result of the Senate not carrying out its duties.”
The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who expressed surprise that the conference committee had yet to meet and harmonise the versions of the bill passed by the two chambers, said he would intervene in the matter.
He said, “This matter had been taken up at the leadership level and we directed that you hold your conference committee meeting. I am surprised that the meeting has not held. I will have an opportunity to see the Speaker (of the House) later today and remind him of the decisions we took, so that he can direct your counterpart, so that both of you can hold this meeting urgently and so that we can transmit this to Mr. President before the deadline, which is the next Egmont meeting.
“It is in the interest of this country that we do not get expelled. Your explanation is noted and we will take action accordingly.”
The Chairman, House Committee on Financial Crimes, Mr. Kayode Oladele, however, dismissed Utazi’s submissions, saying that he was feeding the Senate with lies.
Oladele told The PUNCH that Utazi was not only “economical with the truth,” but also tried to set him up by creating the impression that he was the one delaying the bill.
Oladele cited an example of an encounter between him and the senator last week to buttress his point.
He recalled how Utazi called him on the phone on a Monday to ask whether they could meet the next day (Tuesday) if he was not travelling to France for a meeting of the FATF.
Oladele said he replied that he would indeed travel to France.