The Advent of the Nigerian Ombudsman

In modern times, the idea of the Public Complaints Commission was first mooted in 1952 in the Federal House of Representatives. The Western Region also called for its establishment in 1968/69, when the people agitated against unreasonable taxation. On both occasions it was turned down. Nevertheless, Kaduna went ahead and founded the Public Complaints Bureau in 1973.

During the oil boom of the 1970s, the government’s desire to improve the standard of living of the generality of Nigerians was evident when it commissioned a group of eminent Nigerians led by Chief Jerome Udoji to study the situation of things generally in the country and report back to it. The committee, Inter-alia, recommended that the Public Complaints Commission be established in 1974.

The committee’s recommendation was to ensure that the “little man” who could not go to court could have a credible avenue for redress. The three arms of government had become so high up, it would seem, to the extent that the generality of the people were left behind or forgotten.

Therefore government bought the idea and approved the recommendation. It set up a body which was independent but which could on its own, investigate cases of maladministration against government officials in the performance of their duties.

However the recommendation remained in the cooler until the Murtala Muhammed administration enacted decree 31 of 16th October 1975. It is preserved in Section 315 (5b) of the 1999 constitution which is now referred to as CAP P37 LFN 2004.Its importance is underscored by the fact that it is one of the Commissions inserted in section 315(5) of the 1999 Constitution.

Since inception, the Commission had five Honourable Chief Commissioners, starting from Alhaji Maitama Sule in 1976 to Mr. Jackson I Edokpa in 1999. Thereafter, the Commission existed without leadership until 14th May, 2012, when the current Chief Commissioner, Hon. Justice George I. Uloko and 37 other Commissioners were inaugurated by the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark. Today, the Commission’s leadership is headed by Honourable Barrister Chille Wenge Igbawua as the Chief Commissioner. He and his team of 37 other Commissioners were inaugurated by the eighth National Assembly on the 23rd May, 2018.

The mandate of the Commission is reflected in the introductory part of the enabling Act. It states “An Act to establish the Public Complaints Commission with wide powers to inquire into complaints by members of the public concerning the administrative actions of any public authority and companies or their officials, and other matters ancillary thereto”.

Therefore the Commission is empowered to initiate or inquire into a wide variety of complaints lodged before it by members of the public pertaining to any inappropriate and misdirected administrative or other actions taken by the Federal, State or Local government, Public Institutions and Companies incorporated under or pursuant to the Companies and Allied Matters Act, (whether in the Public or Private Sectors) or any officer or servant of any of the aforementioned bodies.

As is the practice in most countries where the Ombudsman exists, the Commission is also empowered to inquire into inappropriate and misdirected administrative procedures of any court of law.

The Ombudsman is a body established in the world at large and Nigeria in particular to help check maladministration, corruption and abuse of office in both the private and public sector. It is an institution that dates back to the 18th century as a mechanism to strengthen the supervisory role of the legislature over the executive, as such it was empowered to act on its own, investigating and issues reports on its findings.

The Public Complaints Commission is one of the fore most anti corruption agencies established in the country; it is mandated as the sole agency under the National Assembly to address all administrative injustice at federal, state and local levels.

The Commission is citizens oriented and structured to reach all aggrieved complaints and respondents at all level and to always create suitable grounds for mediation. Alternative dispute resolution and mediation has been the mode of operation in the Commission since its inception, it has allowed the Commission to resolve cases without expensive incurred by anyone. The Commission’s open door policy in all its offices in all the 36 states, the FCT and the headquarters has allowed for quick and easy to access to amiable staff of the Commission who advise and investigated the check for administrative mal-practices and subsequently proffer the steps to redress the case accordingly.

The Public Complaints Commission is the machinery for the control of administrative excesses (non- adherence to procedures or abuse of law). It is an organ of the government set up to redress complaints lodged by aggrieved citizens or residents in Nigeria against administrative injustice.