Historical background of the Public Complaints Commission in Nigeria
04 Aug 2015
The post war experience of Nigerians shortly after the Civil war which spanned between 1967 and 1970 was indicative of a near collapse of constituted authority and arbitrary use of administrative powers within and outside public establishments. Government officials in position of authority wielded so much power and influence to the detriment of their junior officers and members of the public. Several atrocities were been committed on daily basis with impunity. The morale of the public servants was at its lowest ebb.
The Federal Government led by General Yakubu Gowon in a bid to arrest this ugly trend, set up the Civil Service Reform Panel headed by Late Chief Jerome Udoji. The Panel, among other things was charged with the responsibility to recommend to the Government, the solution to the near collapse of the Public Service Sector in Nigeria.
The Panel which was known as Udoji Panel recommended the establishment of a body to be called Nigeria Ombudsman as a body to check and control administrative procedures in government establishments in order to ensure that regulations and extant rules are not brazenly breached.
The recommendation of the Udoji panel was eventually accepted by the military Government and Decree 31 was promulgated, establishing the Public Complaints Commission in Nigeria.
MANDATE/POWERS OF THE COMMISSION.
The Public Complaints Commission Act Cap P37 LFN.2004 (PCC Act) in Section 5(2) states that A Commissioner shall have powers to investigate either on his own initiative or following complaints lodged before him by any other person, any administrative action taken by:
- Any department or Ministry of the Federal or any State Government.
- Any Department of any Local Government authority (however designated) set up in any state in the Federation.
- Any statutory Corporation or Public Institution set up by any Government in Nigeria.
- Any company incorporated under or pursuance to the Companies and Allied Matters Act whether owned by any Government aforesaid or by private individuals in Nigeria or otherwise howsoever; or
- Any officer or servant of any of the aforementioned bodies.
To underscore the importance of the Public Complaints Commission in Nigeria, Section 315(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states that “ Nothing in this Constitution shall invalidate the enactment of Public Complaints Commission Act, and the provisions of the Act “ shall continue to apply and have full effect in accordance with their tenor and to the like extent as any other provisions forming part of this Constitution and shall not be altered or repealed except in accordance with the provisions of Section 9(2) of this Constitution”.
The implication of this provision is that the Commission is an establishment of the Constitution and no amendment to the PCC Act could be done without going through the rigorous process of the Constitution amendment procedure.
These are deliberate steps taken to ensure the independence of the Commissioners of the Public Complaints Commission in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities. This is added to the fact that the Act unlike under Federal Commissions provides in Section 2(1) of the PCC, Act that “the Chief Commissioner and other Commissioners shall be appointed by the National Assembly”.
CHALLENGES OF THE COMMISSION
The Public Complaints Commission was established during the Military regime in Nigeria. The expectation is that with the coming on board of the Civilian regime in 1999, and the “adoption” of the PCC Act by the 1999 Constitution, that the Commission would have been better established and entrenched in Nigeria. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
No Commissioner was appointed for the Commission from 1999 until the National Assembly under the leadership of the Senate President and Chairman of the national Assembly, Senator David Mark, GCON and the Hon. Speaker of the House of Representative Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, CFR in compliance with Section 2(1) of the PCC Act inaugurated the Chief Commissioner and other Commissioners of the Commission on May 14, 2012. The inauguration is a testimony of the present harmonious relationship that exists between the two Chambers of the National Assembly in one hand and the synergy between the Executive and the Legislature. By the inauguration, the National Assembly keyed into the Transformation Agenda of the present government because, the Commission gives all Nigerians access to democratic institutions free of charge. It guarantees the Citizens of the platform to ventilate their anger at government expense.
However, due to the prolonged absence of the Chief Commissioner and other Commissioners of the Commission, there is little or no awareness about what the Commission does. The members of the Public whom the Commission is meant to serve know little or nothing about the existence of the Commission.
Also, as an institution with investigation based statutory powers, there is usually the challenge of cooperation mainly from her respondents (both private and Public Institutions) this is partly due to either the ignorance of the mandate of the Commission or total misconception of her duties and obligations. The Commission is a partner in the transformation agenda of the government and never a “fault finding” Institution.
THE COMMISSION IN FCT
As I pointed out earlier, the activities of the Commission were hardly known to the public that it was meant to serve thereby denying them the opportunity to access its services.
In this vein, on assumption of duties as the Honourable Commissioner FCT, the Commission has embarked on massive awareness campaigns informing all residents of FCT what the commission has been established to do. In furtherance of this mission, a seminar was organised on November 20, 2012 at the Merit House, Maitama, Abuja. The Seminar which was declared open by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, CFR and chaired by the Former President, General Yakubu Gowon while Alhaji Maitama Sule delivered the keynote address.
In order to continue to create more platforms for promoting public knowledge and understanding of the Ombudsman concept in Nigeria and for a deeper appreciation of its integral role in good governance, we decided to make it an annual event. Today, we are all gathered for the second edition of the annual seminar . I must observe that the present situation where a Commissioner funds programme of this magnitude from his personal resources is certainly not sustainable. I believe that we deserve the support of the relevant government institutions and the private sector to ensure the sustainability of this programme.
However, the Annual Seminar is only an aspect of the sensitization campaign. Other methods which included one-on-one contact with relevant stakeholders have been consciously pursued in the last one year. The Commission has taken this initiative to the various Markets within the FCT, Private Organisations, Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Others included; Area Council Authorities and traditional rulers within the FCT.
We have also maintained good partnerships with reputable media establishments notable among are African Independent Television (AIT), Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) ,Hot FM, Crowder Love FM, Radio Nigeria, Wazobia/Cool FM, Trust Media Ltd, Publishers of Daily Trust Newspaper, Leadership Newspaper, Sun News and Publishing Company, etc in renewed efforts to raise public consciousness.
In line with contemporary trends, the Commission has devised electronic ways of receiving complaints. In conjunction with Visafone Communications Limited, the Commission now has complaints hotline. Complainants can now access proper directives on how to file complaints and other inquiries over the phone. Our presence on popular social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter has enabled many Nigerians utilise the Commission’s services. Complaints are now received through these mediums.
Today, I am proud to inform you that these efforts have started yielding fruitful results as volume of complaints received at the Commission has continued to soar.From January to June,we received a total of 530 cases and 358 of the cases have been successfully resolved and closed. I must observe that 283 out of the 530 were received in the month of June. I am sure the number will continue to increase.
This figure represents our modest achievement in FCT where residents also have opportunity of reporting the cases to our National Headquarters. Nigerians are beginning to appreciate the importance of the Commission in the FCT and its roles in addressing administrative injustice.
Nonetheless, while there is a surge in the number of complaints lodged at the Commission, the challenges confronting the Commission have attracted little or no significant attention. Some of these pressing challenges included;
On assumption of office as the Commissioner, Public Complaints Commission FCT, I was shocked to discover that the Commission has no befitting office within the FCT. The office of the Commission as at today is still at an obscured location at a Commercial plaza in Area 3, Garki, Abuja.
I was made to understand that the FCT office was originally located in a building in Area 1, section 2 owned by the Federal Capital Development Authority until 2006 when the Commission was forced out by then Minister of the FCT and the property was sold out on the basis that the building is located in a residential area and against the provision of the Abuja Master plan. The Commission in desperate move to secure accommodation for the FCT office within the short notice hurriedly moved into a plaza. The office is hardly accessible to the people we are meant to serve.
At this junction, I must commend the assistance of the present Hon. Minister of the FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed. I paid him a courtesy visit on July 3, 2012 and appealed for his intervention in our accommodation challenges. The Hon. Minister graciously allocated almost 8000m2 of land for the construction of our proposed permanent office. We hope that construction work would start on the land soonest. As an interim measure, we anticipate that an office would be allocated to us on temporary basis pending the construction of our permanent office. I must observe that we have enjoyed a warm relationship with the Hon. Minister of FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed (Kauran Bauchi). Although, a good number of the petitions we received have the various Departments and Agencies of he FCTA as respondents but the Hon. Minister has always related with us as partners in achieving the transformation agenda of Mr. President .
TRAINING OF THE STAFF OF THE COMMISSION IN FCT
The 13 years absence of the Chief Commissioner and other Commissioners has negatively impacted on the Commission as an institution especially in the area of capacity building. Our job is quasi-judicial and investigation based. The need for constant training and re-training of our officers to equip them with contemporary complaints handling techniques cannot be over-emphasized. Efforts taken by the PCC FCT to train her staff was limited by lack of funds. It was on record that we had training agreement with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. We equally approached the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC as well as the Centre for Management Development Centre for various training programmes. We also identified core areas of training that would enhance our performance on the job and better service delivery to include the followings; inter-personal relations, modern investigation techniques, contemporary ways of writing report and record keeping. ICT, Statement taking, etc.
The Commission within the FCT equally realized the relevance of emotional and psychological stability of her staff to service delivery. Considering the status of the FCT as the nation’s capital and the economic realities as it affects shelter and transportation, the Commission as an institution has initiated steps towards acquisition of mass land for staff quarters and approached some agencies of government, corporate bodies and high net worth individuals for assistance in the area of staff bus.
Our desire for staff bus would serve dual purpose. It would facilitate the movement of our staff from the various satellite towns and villages to and fro our office. It would also assist us in meeting transport needs during office hours in the course of investigating complaints.
We are desirous of achieving our core mandate within the FCT. It is essential to note that Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion, race etc are all residents within the FCT, thus the Commission’s service within the FCT is service to Nigerians and even foreigners resident in FCT.
Conclusively, it is my heartfelt pleasure to express joy and gratitude to our distinguished guests,from the Chairman to our various paper presenters including His Excellencies, the Executive Governors, members of the National Assembly, Honourable Commissioners of the PCC and our valued stakeholders who were invited and have honoured us with their presence. I am greatly indebted to you in gratitude . You are enjoined to kindly relax and enjoy the seminar as it progresses.
God bless you all
God bless Public Complaints Commission (PCC)
God bless Nigeria
Obunike Ohaegbu, LLM