IBEKAKU: We Need A Well Managed Financial Intelligence Unit To Track Terrorists’ Funds
Barrister Juliet Ibekaku served as an international development expert in United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She was the former National Project Coordinator on Drug and Crime (UNODC) and the Legal Advisor for the Inter-Government Action Group Against Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism in West Africa (GIABA). She was also the former Acting Director of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and anti-corruption manager for the Justice for All Program of the British Department for International Development (J4A/DFID). Her background cuts across law, development, security, intelligence, law enforcement and regulatory compliance. In this interview with JOHN OKEKE, she explained why tracking down global terrorism funds is a bit challenging.
Why do you think terrorist attacks are spreading across Africa, and indeed Nigeria?
TERRORISM as we have now come to see it is a global threat and unfortunately one that is becoming even more difficult to deal with not because the global community cannot deal with it, but because it’s obviously based on ideology in most of the places where we have seen it; sometimes often driven by religious extremism and what we have seen with ISIS clearly shows that something more needs to be done.
In the case of Nigeria, what we used to think was insurgency is indeed terrorism and this is my personal opinion.
The previous administration chose the word insurgents and insurgency. I am happy to note that President Buhari has recognised that what we are seeing in the northeast is not just insurgency but terrorism. And even though everybody says there is no common definition of terrorism, but when you look at the trends and patterns of what we have seen in the north, you will see all the hallmarks of terrorist activities as set out in various United Nations documents and conventions. The terrorist group called Boko Haram has consistently destroyed government infrastructure, including United Nations Building in Abuja. They have killed, maimed human beings, destroyed properties of innocent people, raped and almost destroyed several communities in the northeast with the sole intention of threatening the social fabrics of Nigeria and intimidating our leaders to concede to their views. These are all patterns of terrorist activities as described in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2011 as amended. So, in my view this is not just a global threat but it is a national threat to Nigeria as well.
Terrorism financing has a devastating consequence in promoting terrorism activities, which tend to affect national economies, democratic stability and abuse of human lives. Can you throw more light on the issue of terrorism financing in West Africa?
Prior to 2011, when Nigeria enacted the terrorism Act, Nigeria, and if you like, most West African countries would concede to the fact that there were already cases of financing of terrorism in Nigeria, Mali and other parts of Sahel. I was in Senegal for four years working closely with the Economic Community of West African Countries and Commonwealth Secretariat in order to develop a legal framework for countries on prevention of terrorism. One of the things we realised moving across 15 countries in West Africa was that there are supporters, there are individuals and organisations who are supporting terrorist activities for their own selfish interests.
Indeed, some of them would claim that they didn’t know they were funding acts of terrorism, but that wouldn’t be the case in all incidents. The other aspect of our findings was also that through the funding of some charity groups, inevitably, some of this charity groups move their funds to terrorist groups and so it’s often difficult to track. Now, in the case ISIS and as recently reported by the Financial Action Task-force, ISIS has taken over so many parts of Iraq, Syria and some of these communities are oil producing communities and so what they do is that they sell the crude oil from those communities in illegal markets and use the funds to fund terrorist activities in other parts of the world.
Gradually, some of these funds are moving into Africa through alliances formed with ISIS by Al-Qaida groups in Mali, Libya and potentially Boko Haram in Nigeria. We have also seen cases of kidnapping, cases of ransom being paid and people are paying huge amount of ransom and so some of the ransom money becomes available for terrorist activities.
Other sources of funding comes through armed robbery, some of the terrorists engage in armed robbery when they break and bomb banks and they go in and move money in cash to different terrorist groups for their activities. We have seen some of those incidents in Nigeria; we have seen that happening in the northeast and its very disturbing because apart from individual support and charity support to these groups they also have the capacity to bomb financial institutions and take away money, which then continues to support their activities.
What are the roles of financial institutions in preventing the financing of terrorism?
Well, the laws are very clear, we have the Money Laundering Prohibition Act in Nigeria, we have the Terrorism Prevention Act in Nigeria, both laws provide for tracking of funds and determining whether these funds are actually legitimate funds and to determine their destination. So, in case of terrorism, you can use both legitimate and illegitimate funds to fund terrorism unlike money laundering where illegitimate funds are derived from criminal activities; so when you look at both criminal activities you must be very clear in your mind as a financial institutions that the destination of the funds whether legitimate or illegitimate is not going to terrorists groups or terrorists as the case maybe or to fund terrorist activities. So, what is required of them is to submit what we call suspicious transaction report to the financial intelligence unit, currently the Financial Intelligent Unit (FIU). The Nigeria FIU, unfortunately, shouldn’t be where it is today. It is not supposed to be located in the EFCC because its mandate cuts across all law enforcement agencies and all criminal activities, including tax evasion, kidnapping, armed robbery, financing of terrorism, economic sabotage and fraud. For the NFIU to function effectively with regard to the gathering and dissemination of financial intelligence related to financing of terrorism, it must be independent and answerable only to the presidency. This is something I and other law enforcement agencies have been canvassing, for an independent law to enable it come out of EFCC and enable it work closely with other security agencies that actually need information coming out of the FIU.
Fortunately, the 7th National Assembly had passed the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Centre (NFIC) Bill to enhance the independence and the powers of the new NFIU to be know as the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Centre (NFIC) and to make it more effective in tracking terrorist funds and other funds derived from criminal activities. The Bill is currently with the President for assent and I call on him to assent to the Bill without delay, as this institution is a critical pillar that will enable him realise his commitment to fight corruption and improve security of Nigerians and businesses.
What should be the action of the international community to assist in tracking movement of funds and ammunition?
Well, at different fora and in different ways, the international community has been intervening in trying to prevent financing of terrorism and the act of terrorism itself. The United Nations (UN), for example, has negotiated an international law called the suppression of the Financing of Terrorism way back in 1999. That particular convention is operational across the world and so all UN members are required to develop a law within their country that would prevent financing of terrorism. And also part of that law is also to help in tracking of financing of terrorism and to help in giving cooperation to countries.
For example, Nigeria is required to have a framework through the NFIU and through laws and regulations, where if we identify terrorist money in Nigeria or any terrorist groups or anybody funding terrorism we are expected to report it to UN committee. There are about 4-5 UN committees dealing on different areas of global terrorism financing and the idea is that when there is a common database to which this information goes to, this common information can be disseminated across the world and countries can then take this information and give it to their financial institutions to help them track terrorist groups or terrorist activities.
When I talked about the financial intelligence unit across the world we have more than 149 FIUs (Nigeria’s FIU inclusive) across the world, part of their work is to track financing of terrorism and so the international community is doing a lot. Unfortunately, I think, in my opinion is that in some cases you find out that some countries are not cooperating fully as they ought to because you need countries to cooperate in order for information to be shared real time. You also need a functional, credible and well managed NFIU to share information to relevant security agencies because if information is not shared real time, then some of this terrorists can move from one country to the other without been apprehended.
You were once a Coordinator for United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), what were your observations about the way drug trafficking has aided crimes globally?
Drug trafficking is something that has become, again, just like terrorism a threat to international security in the sense that, when drug traffickers are able to move illegal drugs across the world and sell it to vulnerable people who then either get addicted or apart from the addiction, they also use the criminal funds from drug trafficking to destabilize the political and economic stability of their country. For example, in 1988, the UN decided to negotiate what we called the convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. The intention of the global community was to stop the illegal movement of drugs and to stop drug traffickers from moving criminal funds from one country to the other. This Convention was further strengthened with the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime, 2000. There was this story about criminal funds from drugs funding American politicians and the concern expressed by the international community is that if you allow funds from drug trafficking to continue to fund political activities, inevitably all the countries in the world would become tainted by criminal funds. This is actually how the fight against money laundering started globally, because money laundering is generally defined as the conversion of funds from illicit or criminal activities for the purpose of disguising it and making it difficult to law enforcement officers to track its criminal origin. One of the negative consequences of money laundering or laundering of funds from drug trafficking is the impact on societies and politics.
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