NAFIU’s move on public assets declaration

Two of the three pillars of the Buhari administration, the fight against corruption and insecurity, got a major boost last week with the disclosure by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) that the assets of all
public officials and senior political office holders will soon be open for public knowledge and scrutiny.

Coming on the heels of the ongoing trial of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, over false asset declaration that culminated in his suspension and subsequent resignation from office, the move
is, no doubt, timely.

The Director of NAFIU, Modibbo Hamman-Tukur, who made the disclosure on Thursday in Abuja at a budget defence session with the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes led by Kayode Oladele (APCOgun), said it was part of the conditions for lifting the suspension on Nigeria by the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.

The director told the committee that the suspension, which was lifted in September 2018, was based on certain conditions that needed to be met by the country. He said the Egmont Group would want the NFIU to work closely
with other agencies of government in fighting terrorism, financial crimes and other related offences.

“With the lifting of the suspension, it is likely that all assets of all leaders, public officials and political office holders will be displayed. They want to see us work with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and
the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC).

“They want us to work closely with the presidency, Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). They want to see the assets of all public officials displayed publicly,” he said.

According to him, the National Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) are doing a good job. “But it will be good that the beneficiary owner database will be domiciled with the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), and we will subscribe because CCB has assets declarations of all public officers.”

He said after the suspension was lifted, they faced the task of the European Union (EU) listing, which was targeted at blacklisting Nigeria and stopping all her transactions overseas involving European countries. He added that they
were able to block the blacklisting but the EU listing subjected Nigeria to enhanced due diligence in all transactions concerning all EU countries on suspicious transactions.

The transactions, he said, would be through their own agencies within their jurisdiction. Hamman-Tukur disclosed that the concerns raised by the EU include terrorism, kidnapping and corruption On the 2018 budget, he said the NFIU had a total budget of N1.185 billion in 2018 made up of N385.310 million as personnel cost, N600 million as
overhead while N200 million was for capital cost.

According to him, the capital release to date stands at N174.946 million out of the budgeted amount of N200.1 million. He added that utilisation percentage stood at about 12 per cent while the balance stood at N154.936

On the 2019 budget, the director revealed that a total of N8.244 billion had been proposed, made up of N1.154 billion for overhead cost, N4.124 billion as capital cost while N2.865 billion for personnel cost.

He explained that in spite of the fact that the government had financial constraints due to dwindling revenue, the NFIU needed to carry out its role of monitoring financial institutions.

This, he said, was for compliance as empowered by the NFIU Act of 2018. In his welcome remarks, Mr Oladele reiterated the committee’s support for the sustenance of the war against corruption by the Muhammadu Buhari
administration and transformation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) into world-class anti-graft institution. He observed that the issue of paucity of funds had become a thing of the past.

The Egmont Group is a global body of 155 financial intelligence units across the world which facilitates the exchange of financial intelligence, expertise and capability. The intelligence units combat money laundering, terrorism financing and serious financial crimes.

The group had suspended NFIU, an arm of the EFCC, after its plenary in Macao, China, on July 2, 2017 over its lack of a legal framework and autonomy. The suspension was, however, lifted during the group’s 25th plenary in Sidney,
Australia in September 2018.

It is instructive that the public declaration of assets by public officials has been a thorny issue in Nigeria, which is riddled with high profile corruption cases. Significantly, the Nigerian constitution seeks to prevent corruption and abuse of office through its provisions on the declaration of assets by public officers. However, the lacuna in this constitutional provision is that Section 140 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, does not make public declaration of assets compulsory.

Consequently, public officers are left with the discretion to publicly declare their assets or restrict it to the Code of Code Bureau. This has resulted in many public officers with integrity deficit to short-change the system undetected for many years.

It is, therefore, our view that the new policy is not only pro-active but also necessary to curb ugly incidents like the Onnoghengate.

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