SHOULD senators and House of Representatives members have their way, the Economic and Financial Crimes (Establishment Act) 2004 will be amended before the expiration of their tenure
It was learnt yesterday that the lawmakers are seeking to amend the law barely 13 days to the expiration of the Eighth National Assembly.
The amendment seeks to empower the President to appoint EFCC chairman from not below the rank of an Assistant Inspector-General (AIG) or equivalent in other security agencies.
If the amendment scales through, it will disqualify the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu from being re-presented to the Ninth National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Magu is a Commissioner of Police.
There were indications at the weekend that the bill may be passed this week. Only one day sitting is needed for the Senate to have concurrence with the House of Representatives.
The House had last Tuesday passed the EFCC Act Amendment Bill.
Another aspect of the bill makes it compulsory for the EFCC to obtain ex parte orders before seizing suspects’ assets.
The ex parte order clause will deny the EFCC the powers of invoking Interim Forfeiture Clause in its Act without recourse to the court.
However, there are fears that the National Assembly may be on a wild goose chase because it has a few legislative days left.
Besides, President Buhari may not give assent to the bill at the twilight of the Eighth Assembly.
The amendment bill has been in the works since 2015.
The Nation discovered that in the last two weeks, there has been renewed agitation to hasten work on the EFCC bill’s amendment because the Senate has the legislative power to engage in concurrence in a day.
The passage followed the adoption of the report by the House Committee on Financial Crime.
Although there were amendments to the Act, the only controversial one was Section 2, which relates to the composition of the commission.
Before the amendment, Section 2 had read: “(1) The commission shall consist of the following members: (a) a chairman, who shall (i) be the Chief Executive and Financial Officer of the commission; (ii) be a serving or retired member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police or equivalent; and (iii) possess not less than 15 years cognate experience.”
After the amendment, it reads, “(a) A Chairman, who shall (i) be a retired or serving member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of Assistant Inspector-General (AIG) of Police or an equivalent and possessing not less than 20 years cognate experience; (ii) a legal practitioner with at least 20 years post-call experience.”
The House also removed the Secretary of the EFCC from tenured offices in the leadership of the commission.
On the qualifications to be considered in the appointment of the EFCC Secretary, paragraph “e” was added to Section 8(1), which reads, “A person who is qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for not less than 10 years.”
An amendment was also made to Section 27(4), making it compulsory for the EFCC to obtain ex-parte order from court before seizing suspected assets.
Also, the House deleted Section 1(2) relating to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, which has now been domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria as demanded by the EGMONT Group, from the EFCC Act.”
A ranking member of the House said: “We have had issues in the House with the EFCC Act Amendment Bill in the last four years. The amendment used to come up each time there was any political issue between the Executive and the National Assembly.
“Since we are completing our tenure in the next 13 days, some members just renewed interest in the bill and surprisingly we passed it.
“We learnt some senators have become interested in the bill to ensure concurrence before we leave office. The truth is that some NASS members do not want Magu and any bill that can remove him is supported.”
Another member of the House said: “We warned some of our members that this is a belated amendment. To show their desperation, they even raised a Conference Committee, headed by Edward Pwajok, to harmonise the positions of the Senate and the House.
“It is a legislative aberration for Pwajok, who is the chairman of Business and Rules Committee, to head a conference committee.
“Any of the chairmen of the Financial Crimes Committees in the Senate or House of Representatives should have headed the conference committee.
“After setting up the conference committee, we realised that the Senate does not have the bill. But they want to invoke concurrence to pass the EFCC Act Amendment Bill.”
A senator confirmed that the bill was not before the Senate. He, however, pointed out that it is within the Senate’s legislative powers to have concurrence with the House and pass any bill.
“If you look at the bill, it has some merits, including the appointment of EFCC chairman from not below the rank of AIG or equivalent. Recent experiences have shown that we need mature hands to manage the anti-graft agency,” the source said, pleading not to be named.
“Left to me, we have had enough of police officers being in charge of EFCC. We need to try something new by allowing an AIG to be the chairman of the commission.
“Is it also not right to ask EFCC to approach the court for an ex-parte order before seizing any property? What we have now is a trend where EFCC operatives will swoop on your property and seize it. The lawlessness of EFCC must stop,” the source added.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Financial Crimes, Kayode Oladele, said: “We (NASS members) are not rushing it; it will be unfair to assume so. This is a bill that has been in the House of Representatives since 2015. The amendment was presented a few months after the inauguration of the Eighth National Assembly. So, it was not as if it was just initiated.
“In 2017, three other additional bills were introduced and the four amendment bills became consolidated into one, which is EFCC Amendment Bill.
“In 2018, we conducted public hearing and the report of the session was considered by the House of Representatives.”
Responding to a question, Oladele said: “It is unlikely that the EFCC Act Amendment Bill will be transmitted to the Senate for concurrence in this Eighth Assembly. We don’t have enough legislative days.”