Imo State Federal Commissioner’s Message

Honourable Federal Commissioner, Imo State
Barr. Chief Willie Amadi

I assumed office as the Ombudsman immediately after our inauguration by the National Assembly on May 23rd 2018. The past few months have been exciting and challenging as well. The manpower on ground seemed adequate but not exactly efficient. I met a State Office that needed to run on all cylinders. The office building had just been renovated but the aesthetics was poor. The presence of the Commission in the State was largely obscure. So there was a lot of work to do and I had no illusions about it. There was urgency for an immediate and drastic shift from the norm to upturn the trend. I set out to create and lay the right environment and foundations on which the Commission in Imo will run for the next three years. In the proceeding paragraphs, I present a succinct overview of what we have done so far to reposition the Imo State Office. It is my hope that this, in the spirit of peer review, would inspire us as much as we welcome criticisms in the areas we need to do better.

A good start will be to give you an overview of the Public Complaints Commission. The Public Complaints Commission is the Nigerian version of the Ombudsman concept that was first practiced by the Scandinavian countries. Its etymology is firmly rooted in the idea of a public watchdog. Sweden, in 1809, was the first country to institutionalize the practice; followed by New Zealand in 1962, Tanzania in 1966, and the UK in 1967.

In Nigeria, the Public Complaints Commission is the outcome of the acceptance, by the then federal military government, of the recommendations made by the Public Service Reform Committee, headed by Chief Jerome Udorji, popularly known as the Udorji Award, which was set up to inquire into the maladies in the public service. The magnitude of discontent and low productivity in the public service had attained unacceptable levels, so the federal government set up the Udorji Panel to conduct a comprehensive examination of the public service with a view to revamping the sector. In recommending the creation of the Ombudsman, the 1974 Udorji Review Report observed that administrative injustice was endemic in the public service and most aggrieved public officials had no means to institute legal action in the law courts against very powerful bureaucrats who had emerged with the growth in size and complexity of modern organizations. For the few that could afford to seek redress through the courts, the colossal time-consuming machinery of the judiciary, strict and technical procedures, plethora of non-justice able infractions, and the difficulty employees had to confront while taking legal actions against their employers for infringements were cogent reasons for considering the Ombudsman as an alternative that is based predominantly, on equity, fairness, justice and a natural appeal to the conscience. It was believed the Ombudsman approach would be more relevant in assuaging the growing discontent, curbing administrative excesses and maladministration, creating harmonious work relations, restoring hope and even, healing the wounds of those that had suffered administrative injustice in an atmosphere of conviviality. This basically represented the modern Alternative Dispute Resolution, ADR.

It is this search for an alternative, non-adversarial, and friendly mechanism to investigate and redress complaints of administrative injustice allegedly committed by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), governments at all levels, public and private companies, and even companies deemed to have been registered under CAMA, and their officials that gave birth to Decree 31 of 1975 that established the Public Complaints Commission.

The Decree was amended by Decree 21 of 1979; and with the return to democratic rule, it was incorporated into the Constitution as CAP. 377 LFN 1990, and further amended as CAP. P.37 LFN 2004. The mandate, powers, functions, restrictions, and operations of the Commission are contained therein. Let me very quickly give you an insight into some of the salient provisions of the Public Complaints Commission Act.

The mandate of the Commission is to receive, investigate and resolve complaints lodged by individuals or aggrieved parties against any tier of government in Nigeria, government ministries, departments and agencies, corporations, incorporated private organizations and their officials. The Commission also initiates on its own, investigations into matters that affect the public, and conduct researches in ministries, departments and agencies, with the objective of preventing or stemming threatening administrative trends and proffering solutions to governance challenges. The Act grants wide powers to the Commission to investigate a wide range of alleged infractions in the administrative sphere.

With the exception of matters pending before the National Assembly, Council of State, President, courts of law; or acts committed or purported to have been done in respect of any member of the Armed Forces or the Nigeria Police pursuant to the Armed Forces Act or the Nigeria Police Act; or any act or thing done before 29th July 1975, the Public Complaints Commission is empowered to investigate the administrative conduct of every other government Ministry Department and Agency and private company operating within the shores of the country. It will interest you to know that scrutinizing the administrative actions of the law courts and judiciary also falls within the purview of the Commission, particularly in the areas of service of SUMMONS, Sheriff and Bailiffs actions, Probate Registry administration and action of court Registrars and staff.

The Act also empowers the Commission to have unfettered access to any information or material required to resolve a matter, and may summon any person who in the opinion of the Commissioner is in a position to testify on any matter before him, to give evidence in the matter. Any person who fails to appear when required to do so shall be guilty of an offence. The general practice is that only the courts of law can compel appearance or grant the power to summon on any person but the Public Complaints Commission can exercise the power to summon without recourse to any court of law.

It is also pertinent to note that the Commission does not investigate crime but if it is discovered in the discharge of its functions that a crime may have been committed, the Act mandates the Commission to refer the matter to the appropriate authority or recommend that the person be prosecuted. We expect responsible authorities to treat matters we may occasionally refer to it with the utmost sense of responsibility and duly convey the outcome of the investigations to the Commission for further necessary action.

Indeed, the powers of the Commission are enormous and we have been careful not to be confrontational in the discharge of our statutory responsibilities. It is our hope that all stakeholders will reciprocate our behind the scene efforts by freely exposing and reporting perceived administrative injustice and maladministration to the Commission for due investigation and redress.

It is expected of the Ombudsman to be impartial, fair and just in the discharge of its mandate. To guarantee the independence of the Commission, the Act provides immunity for the Commissioner. Consequently, the lawful actions of the Commissioner cannot be the subject of litigation. Although the Commission reports to the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it should be noted that in the discharge of its statutory mandate, it cannot be directed by any authority or person on how to proceed including the National Assembly.

The Commission’s investigative activities are usually concluded with a recommendation, which is the considered best option to correct or redress an administrative anomaly. It is expected that respondents will give due considerations to the recommendations. However, in the event that a respondent chooses to jettison the Commission’s recommendations without cause, the provision of the Act in Section 12 (3) is instructive and the message is better conveyed when quoted thus: “For the avoidance of doubt, the powers granted a Commissioner under this Act may be exercised by him notwithstanding the provisions of other laws which declare the finality of any administrative Act.

The Act empowers the Commission to determine the number and spread of the Commission’s offices across the country. At present, the Commission has offices in the 36 States and the FCT, with the national headquarters at Abuja. In order to bring our services closer to the grassroots, we have created three zonal offices in Imo State at Orlu, Owerri and Okigwe. We have nine (9) Area Offices situated at Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ezinihitte, Ihitte Uboma, Mbaitoli, Okigwe, Orlu and Oru West and the Federal Secretariat Complex Portharcourt Road. It is anticipated that more Area Offices would be established as the Commission widens its operational scope.

We also appointed one zonal investigation officer for each of the zones, who will take directives from, and report directly to the Honourable Federal Commissioner. The essence is to find a way round the bureaucratic red-tape that very often stifles investigation operations. Akin to the Inspector-General of Police Squad, these zonal investigation officers could deploy the resources in the zonal offices to achieve results but are not under the control of the zonal heads. We consider this an innovation that would further the course of our operations.

Novel ideas fail to achieve their goals oftentimes, due to the absence of effective monitoring, evaluation and control. To keep focus on programmes and operations, especially in the zonal and Local Government offices, a monitoring officer is charged with the responsibility of monitoring activities and timely updating the Honourable Commissioner. This will enable the Commission place a handle on issues and quickly apply fixes where necessary.

An in-house training was organized for the staff of the Commission in Imo State at the Orlu Road Secretariat, Owerri with the objective of recharging staff commitment and competence for higher productivity. The training was a worthwhile opportunity to acquire the necessary tools to further the cause of ensuring administrative justice in the State.

It is interesting to note that a number of the complaints we resolved were made possible by the effective use of the tool of SUMMONS. We observed that very many investigation activities remained inconclusive because the respondents refused to cooperate with the Commission. They simply refused to give the requested information. But this has since changed since I took over the reins. We designed a SUMMONS template and put it into use immediately. Needless to say, dead and closed files on account of the above stated reason have been re-opened and diligently concluded. Let me make it clear, that henceforth no person or body, however highly placed, will ignore the Commission’s request for information. The compliance to SUMMONS under the Act is personal and not delegatory. Persons SUMMONED must appear in person.

The services of the Commission are at no cost to the aggrieved persons or parties. It is unfortunate that many people still do not know about the Commission and therefore do not benefit from its free service delivery. A few that are aware of the Commission are not too sure of the nature of complaints that fall within our purview and how to proceed. The implication is that aggrieved persons and bodies suffer silently, with no hope of obtaining redress. Low publicity and very minimal exposure of the public to the right information about the Commission further worsen the appreciation of the sacrifices of officers and achievements of the Commission on many fronts. However, we have produced six (6) jingles in English, Pidgin English, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and Owerri dialect for mass sensitization. I crave your indulgence to play it for your listening pleasure.

In line with the dictates of the renewed mandate of the commission to uphold the objectives of the authors of the Public Complaints Commission as a formidable opponent of administrative corruption and also give the activities of the Commission reasonable publicity, the Commission has since my assumption of office a few months back, embarked on aggressive enlightenment, advocacy and publicity campaigns. The Commission has tried, as much as available funds permitted, to engage the public via publications on newspapers, interactive radio programmes and airing of jingles that were produced in different dialects to inform the public about who we are, what we do, where we can be found and how the public can benefit. We have also deployed the social media tools in our bid to reach all strata of society.

To be effective and impactful, we considered it expedient to understand the milieu within which we have to operate, especially other organizations and leaderships whose operations directly or indirectly affect the Commission’s mandate. We have paid Courtesy Visits to sister organizations such as the Nigeria Police, Nigeria Prisons Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence and Corps, DSS, Imo State Judiciary, Heartland FM, Nigeria Television Authority, Independent National Electoral Commission, Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, Caretaker Committee of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Imo State just to mention a few to announce our presence, deepen knowledge of the Commission’s activities, and also seek collaboration and support. These Visits are also a part of our strategy to beckon on specific stakeholders to join hands with us and reinforce our efforts in taking the message of hope to everyone whose administrative right has been threatened, abused or denied. The visit to the Chief Judge of Imo State coincided with the 2018 Promotion Exercise for the South-East. Consequently, the Directors and other Staff from the Commission’s headquarters, including the Honourable Commissioners of Abia and Rivers States, accompanied the Honourable Commissioner to the Chief Judge’s office. The icing on the cake was the visit to the Imo State seat of government, which was a rare opportunity to update the Executive Governor on the activities of the Commission and the progress made so far, and to show appreciation for the comprehensive renovation work carried out on the Commission’s office building. We shall continue on this trajectory until the common person freely accesses our services more frequently and governance is positively impacted by our actions.

We intend to further push the publicity frontiers of the Commission riding on the reach and depth of the mass media, which are phenomenal. The Commission counts on the unflinching participation of the media in spreading our news. Beginning from the Press Conference, convened by the Commission at Orlu Road Secretariat, Owerri on Tuesday, 25th September 2018 at 11am to mark the First 100 days in Office of the Federal Commissioner, we look forward to reading more frequently about the Commission on the pages of media publications as well as, listening to and watching our contents on air. We call on the media to please take the Commission to places we cannot reach alone. Kindly bridge this information gap in the State. Even if it is solely in fulfillment of corporate social responsibility and as a part of the mandate to give the public first-hand information about activities of government institutions, let our partnership be robust, practical and result-oriented.

Funding challenges are real and you need to know this as partners. Perhaps, you will see the need to assist the Commission more by offering free services to the Commission.

The Commission’s operations are majorly undertaken in the field requiring a steady movement of investigation officers to and fro the locus in-quo. Regrettably, logistical support is grossly inadequate. You can imagine what can be achieved under such a reality. The Commission is not connected to the public power supply. Consequently, we have been running operations solely on personal generator. With inadequate capacity to support optimal operations, the implication is grave.

Our goal is to enthrone sound administrative practice across the State. We shall hold a Town Hall meeting very soon to obtain the buy-in of relevant stakeholders. We are discussing partnership with radio and television stations to commence phone-in interactive programs that will afford the public opportunities to be better informed, engage us directly and get solutions to problems real-time.

We have scheduled a training workshop to re-tool our officers for efficiency. This took place in December 2018. After the training, we have deployed an ingenious self assessment mechanism designed to continuously track the performance, as well as contributions of each staff to the progress of the Commission and self development. We shall not slow down until we achieve our goal; and our goal shall be good enough for our successor to build on.

The Commission passionately appeals to all stakeholders to walk with us in this service to the nation and humanity.

I thank you all.

CONTACT US

State Office
Public Complaints Commission
Orlu Road Secretariat
P.M.B 1333
Owerri, Imo State

Email Address: imo@pcc.gov.ng

Tel: +2348066307337, +2348182394076

AREA OFFICES

Public Complaints Commission
Federal Secretariat Complex
Port Harcourt Road
Owerri, Imo State

Public Complaints Commission
Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Council
Ahiazu Mbaise LGA

Public Complaints Commission
Aboh Mbaise Local Government Council
Aboh Mbaise LGA

Public Complaints Commission
Ezinihitte Local Government Council
Ezinihitte Mbaise LGA

Public Complaints Commission
Ihitte Uboma Local Government Council
Ihitte Uboma LGA

Public Complaints Commission
Oru West Local Government Council
Oru West LGA

Public Complaints Commission
Mbaitoli Local Government Council
Mbaitoli LGA

Public Complaints Commission
Orlu Local Government Council
Orlu LGA

Public Complaints Commission
Okigwe Zonal Board Complex
Okigwe LGA