Wednesday, December 17, 2014 1:28 pm
Lawyer and Commissioner for the Public Complaints Commission, PCC, Lagos State Office, Funso Olukoga, tells HENRY OJELU some of the challenges faced by the commission and measures being put in place to reposition the commission
What informed your visit to our office?
Our decision to visit your organisation is in continuation of our media awareness campaign. Since the Public Complaints Commission, PCC, was fully inaugurated, we have not been able to reach out to media organisations as well as sensitise Nigerians. A lot of people still don’t know that Public Complaint Commission even exists talk less of knowing that it is an avenue where they could actually vent their grievances, especially against government or corporate organisations.
Can you give us a little background about your commission?
There was a time in 1975 when the administration of General Yakubu Gowon set up a committee called the Udoji Commission. The commission was known mostly among the civil servants. As a matter of fact, part of the recommendation of that committee was that an organisation should be set up to replicate what was happening in other parts of the world. It was recommended that the organisation should serve the purpose of an ombudsman. At that time, the institution of the ombudsman was only known in advanced countries. The institution as at that time, investigated administrative injustice. That was actually based on the notion that those who act on behalf of government, sometimes becomes overzealous and trample on the rights of the citizenry. This was also limited not just to government, but also corporate organisations that had the power and resources to exploit the ordinary citizen. So when there were cases of exploitation of citizens, it was the ombudsman office that intervened to investigate the cases and make recommendations. That was what the commission decided to recommend to the federal government. Ironically, it was a military administration that was in place then and what was happening was that they decided to be benevolent and ensure that in spite of the fact that there was not a democratic institution, they still wanted the rights of the citizens to be protected. That was why they agreed that that particular recommendation be implemented. When the implementation of the recommendation came, it came during the administration of General Murtala Muhammed and General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1975 and became a decree know as Public Compliants Commission decree.
Now, there has been a metamorphosis culminating in what we now know as Public Complaints Commission Act 37, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. In-between 1975 and 1999 when this current constitution came in place, one would say that in spite of the fact the military put this commission in place, they were not so friendly with the commission. They didn’t want to promote a commission that would work against them all the time. But a bit of credit should be given to them.
The commission since inception has been privileged to have men of intergrity as head. The first Chief Commissioner of the commission was Alhaji Maitama Sule, followed by Kano Mohammed and Edokpai. These were persons with intergrity and they on their own projected the image of Public Complaints Commission. I would say that it was their own image that the people saw. People didn’t really see thet image of the organisation. But they did very well.
From the outset, PCC was actually set up to be the ear and the voiceof the people. The usefulness behind the law setting up the commission was to ensure that no citizens would go without remedy, especially where there are cases of oppression or clear injustice against them from any level of government or corporate organisations. The law is also entrenched in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Between 1999 when the constitution was put in place and 2012, commissioners for PCC were not appointed. This was because the commission was under the presidency and there were no democratic institutions in place then. We had the judiciary in place then but there was no legislature. Under the 1999 Constitution, the new idea was to locate PCC under the National Assembly to guarantee its independence.
It was clear that if the PCC was to remain under the executive, it would be very difficult for the operatives of PCC to criticise or investigate successfully the activities of government. So that was what informed the action of the draftsmen to locate the commission under the National Assembly. Now, what we call the statutory transfer between the presidency and the National Assembly became a bit difficult because, the executive arm of government didn’t want to let go of an institution that would work against them. Secondly, I believe the executive wanted to be in charge of the appointments. Precisely in 2012, the National Assembly decided to take the bull by the horn by being in charge of the appointment of commissioners for the commission. So from then on, 37 commissioner were appointed – one for each state and the Federal Capital Territory. One of them was now appointed the chief commissioner who now stays at the headquarters of the PCC in Abuja.
From then on, one could say that the commission became properly constituted. Commissioners were inuguarated and since then, they have been working. Immediately after this time, we set an objective for ourselves to ensure that the commission was repositioned to be able to serve the purpose for which it was set up. One of the things we did was to sensitise various institutions, both private and public, about the existence of PCC and also visit the media. We recognise that when we are counting on media organisations, PM News and TheNEWS have been in the forefront of the protection of the citizens. When it comes to choosing which side to belong on any issue, these two organisations have often been on the side of the people. I believe that it is such an organisation that one should be relating with because we are on the side of the people as well.
Internal reorganisation is also one of the restructuring processes we embarked on. Actual investigation of cases was also one of the things we undertook to do. This is why today the number of cases generated every year is on the rise. The number of cases we have today is much greater than what we used to have before. As far as I am concerned, I am satisfied with the level of achievement we have made so far. This is not to say that we have arrived where we want to be. But as for now, we have made significant progress.
Are you into partnership with other organisations in carrying our your functions?
Currently we are partnering with Lagos State agencies that often clash with the people such as LAWMA, LASTMA, KAI etc. We have met with their heads and we set up desk officers to relate with them so that we don’t have to start writing several times to them before getting responses to some complaints we have against them.
What are the current limitations of the commission?
When I was talking about the commission and the enabling laws, obviously, there are limitations. For instance, we cannot handle matters that go back beyond one year. We are hoping that the law would be amended soon to make it two years. Another limitation is we cannot interfere in internal matters within the armed forces. We are not allow to dabble into court martial issues. When a matter is before the court, we are not allowed by law to interfere. What we now do is that we look at the nature of the issue before us, and then decide. Once we know that it is a matter over which we have jurisdiction, the next thing we do is to invite the parties. Usually the complainant is on hand, so what we do is to invite the person or the agency which the complaint is against. We do our best to resolve the matter amicably by employing all methods such as mediation, arbitration, reconciliation and any other way possible to make the parties come together and agree.
Sometimes situations arise when the respondent is probably recalcitrant. The law allows us to summon such respondent. As a matter of fact, if a respondent does not respond, that is a criminal offence. Where the respondent is summoned and he or she does not appear, that is another offence. So in such matter, the police could be called to get them arrested and tried. But when they come on their own, then there is no issue of inviting the police. As a matter of fact, the office of the ombudsman is encouraged to settle matters through persuasion without necessary recourse to legal process.
When we resolve matters, sometimes we find ourselves writing recommendations. If there is the need to change a particular law that we feel is oppressive, we write a formal recommendation to any of the legislative houses that such laws be amended. If there is a matter involving an agency on which they have oversight function, we write them to caution such as agency. If it is a matter that we discover that a crime has been committed, we are duty bound to report such matter to the law enforcement agency to take up the matter from there.
How binding in the decision of PCC on parties?
I believe that when two people come together to resolve an issue, whatever decision reached between them should be binding. I believe that any court in the country should be able to accept the decision reached by both parties. But where technical matters are involved, let us say for instance that on a particular contract there is an arbitration clause that we believe should be subject to arbitration, we can recommend to the parties to appoint an arbitration body and then refer them to multi-door courthouse. We actually relate with the Lagos Multi-door Court House on such issues. We refer such matters to them. Although we discourage litigation but if we believe that ligitation is the best option for any complaint, we refer such issue to the Citizens Mediation Centre or the office of the Attorney-General of Lagos
How many cases has the commission been able to resolve so far?
Last year, we had 315 cases but this year alone, we have already handled 719 cases. This is a reflection that people are getting to know us more. I can assure you that with the awareness measures we are putting in place now, there is likely to be an explosion of cases next year.
Does you commission handle issues or complaints by ordinary Nigerians against military officers?
A complaint by an ordinary citizens against a military officer is not an internal military matter, so we handle such matters. What we regard as a clear military matter is mutiny. Mutiny is a pure military matter and so PCC cannot dabble into that. As matter of fact, when you look at what happened recently in Lagos when the military went on rampage, we had to arrange a meeting with the General Officer Commanding 81 Division, just to let them know that we were monitoring what was happening. We advised them appropriately to talk to their men and call them to order.
Which areas do complaints to your commission come from most?
Most of the complaints actually come from employer/employee relationships. Of recent, we are beginning to see cases of bad roads, LAWMA, LASTMA and KAI. Electricity consumers are also topping our complaint list. We don’t publish all the cases we handle all the time to ensure the confidentiality of the parties. We are also chasing the airlines. We hope to put complaint boxes at the airports so that people can lodge their complaint. We may resort to publishing the names of culprits but for now, we will continue to warn them with the hope that they will change. We are also trying to meet NURTW officers because the action of their members is becoming a serious menace to the people of Lagos State.
Are there any particular criteria for choosing your officers?
I just happened to be a lawyer. Though sometimes it is good to have operatives with knowledge of the law, that is not a prerequisite for employing our officers. Integrity is our major consideration and that is why virtually all men that have led the commission are men of integrity. Boldness is also a major consideration in employing our officers. One has to be bold to be able to confront organisations and tell them that what they are doing is wrong. When we send summons, we insist that key officers of the company concerned must appear before us. I must also point out that the appointment of ombudsmen is by the resolution of both the Senate and House of Representatives and nobody can remove them except by the resolution of both houses. This is to guarantee the security of appointment of the ombudsmen.