By Ibrahim Ahmad Kala, LL.M
‘Ombudsman’ is a word of Scandinavian origin where citizen’s complaints against public officials or institutions could be heard or entertained.
There are several documented legal cases of individuals who feeling that their rights had been infringed upon have gone to the regular courts to seek justice. However, the regular courts have not been the only source of seeking redress.
From the time that Sweden appointed its first ‘Ombudsman’ in 1809, other nations including Nigeria have felt the need to create a forum (other than regular courts) where grievances of citizens against government officials or institutions could be entertained. Other countries including New Zealand, Finland, Japan, Norway, Denmark, Britain and Ghana were convinced of the merits in having a similar establishment where citizens who felt aggrieved by the actions of the agents of the government could turn to for redress.
Similarly, Nigeria formally imbibed the concept in October 1975 when the ‘Public Complaints Commission’ was established and empowered to carry out findings or investigations on the complaints of members of the public against public officers including state and federal governments’ agents. The Commission could be found under Cap P37 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, – an Act of the National Assembly. The Commission has its operational spread across all state of the Federation.
However, Kano State established its own Ombudsman in addition to that of the Federal that existed in all the states of the federation, and named it ‘Kano State Public Complaints and Anti Corruption Commission’ in 2008 vide the Kano State Law of 2008 and further amended in 2010 vide ‘Kano State Public Complaints and Anti Corruption Amendment Law (No.1) of 2010’,which was assented to by the then governor of Kano State, Mal. Ibrahim Shekarau aimed to tackle abuse of office by government officials and strengthened service delivery to the populace in the state.
The individual who feels hurts by the actions of the government or its officials has a right to approach the Commission and expect a fair hearing on his complaints with possible redress. One obvious difference or advantage over the regular courts lies in its simplicity or flexibility in system of investigation. The citizen is also not expected to pay to the Ombudsman before getting a fair hearing, which should make it more accessible to the citizens.
It’s also a common knowledge that the courts in the land are often congested with several cases pending before them. The delays are usually of great concern to citizens. The Ombudsman therefore, provides an alternative route to seeking redress in a faster forum.
In the course of the proceedings, the ‘Ombudsman’ remains free to call for relevant materials and may take evidences from all quarters before arriving at his decisions. Officials indicted and found guilty by the Commission may be reproved. Compensation for an injured person can also be sought while a wrongful dismissed official may even be reinstated. The Ombudsman, however, may not investigate cases pending before the law courts- only extra judicial cases can be entertained.
It is from all the above therefore that the Ombudsman seeks to ensure that the rights of citizens are protected and that government officials do not abuse their privileges or use their positions to oppress others. Such roles are very important in the society.
According to the current chairman of the Kano State Public Complaints and Anti Corruption Commission, Muhyi Magaji Rimin-Gado, the commission received a total of 3192 petitions and resolved 1858 cases in the state in the year 2019, adding that they recovered the sum of N256, 140,100 in the same year. He disclosed that they also recovered 126 plots of lands, 14 houses and 15 farmlands of difference sizes across the state. Muhyi observed that the figures were higher than the record of 2018, adding that in that year, they received 2,540 petitions and resolved 93. 76 of these petitions were withdrawn, 56 referred while 220 were declined due to issues of jurisdictions, he recalled.
Of recent, the activity of the Kano commission is the ongoing investigation of the finances of Kano Emirate Council which the commission disclosed is based on a petition written, adding that they have nothing personal against the Emir Sanusi of Kano. However, the Emir had gone to the Federal High Court in Kano to seek a restraining order against the commission, saying he was not given fair hearing in the investigation. The matter is still pending in court.
It is instructive to note that actions and proceedings before such Commission or administrative tribunal may be challenged by application to the appropriate high court for judicial review asking for the grant of a specific ‘order’ of common law or administrative remedies. See Orugbo v. Una (2002) 9-10 S.C. 60 at 69, and R. v. Minister of Health, Ex parte Yaffe (1930)2 K.B. 98.
Thus, the court by an order of “certiorari” remove proceedings before the commission or tribunal to the high court for review, and if bad, to be quashed. Similarly, the court by “declaration”, “injunction” and “prohibition” prevent individuals or the commission itself or its officials from carrying out intended or other acts which may violate the right of citizens or prevent the commission from exceeding its jurisdiction or infringing the rules of natural justice. The court also could by the order of “mandamus” compel the Commission to carry out specific actions or functions/investigations which had been neglected or would not otherwise have been done.
It is therefore, necessary in view of the strategic importance of the Ombudsman, that only people with proven integrity, honesty and courage be made to serve on the commission. The commission should also not be unduly tied to government’s bureaucracy. It should be given a free hand and allowed to perform.
Finally, citizens all over should be educated on the role and importance of the Ombudsman so that they can avail themselves of the opportunities and services offered by the Commission. Right now, most Nigerians seem to treat the Commission with contempt and indifference. Many Nigerians are not even aware of its existence, functions and powers in the society.
Kala Esq wrote this piece from Gombe.