The Public Complaints Commission was set up by the Federal Government to interface between individuals and organizationS in any area of disagreement. In this interview, Chief Obunike Ohaegbu, the FCT Commissioner of PCC, says about five organisations are facing prosecution. He also speaks on the efforts to decongest the FCT prisons. Excerpts:
Recently, you visited Kuje Prisons in FCT. What is your impression and what efforts are you making to ensure that things are done right?
I visited Kuje Prisons in January and discovered that the people there were more than the number that ordinarily should be there, and that something had to be done about that. So the first thing I did was to go to the then Chief Judge of FCT, I went with him to the prisons that point, he released 13 prisoners awaiting trial and then twenty something of them he gave directive for accelerated hearing.
But I thought that we still needed to do more because if you notice in other states the governors actually once in a while grant prerogative of mercy to inmates and that is not done here in the FCT because the power to do that is in the president who is more like the governor of the FCT but he has dedicated some of the functions to FCT minister. Unfortunately, however, the power to grant prerogative of mercy was not part of the powers that have been delegated to the FCT minister, so you find that the president who is busy governing the entire country, will not have time to actually visit Kuje Prisons to find out what is happening.
So, I wrote to the Attorney General of the Federation who is the Attorney General of the FCT. I requested that he should recommend to the president to establish a prerogative of mercy committee to recommend on the people who he can grant mercy within the FCT and the president has actually done that with the Attorney General of the Federal as the chairman of the Committee.
How many complaints have you received and how have you investigated them?
In June, we treated over 200 cases the ones we received and the ones we initiated. What we do here first because of this legal maxim that says the other party must be heard is to write to the other party that so so matter have been complained against you and we want you to respond. When we send that letter, you are now expected to utilise the opportunity to let your own side be heard Section 5, Subsection 7 of the Public Complaints Commission Act said that any letter written to any respondent; the respondent has 30 days to respond. That is not all because Section 8, Subsection 2, of the Act criminalizes failure to respond. So when, we write to the respondent, then, as a reminder, after 30 days, we write and remind you that you have not attended to us and you are committing an offence and give you another seven days grace.
People have this erroneous impression that the Public Complaints Commission is a toothless bulldog, so you find out that when they receive that letter, they say what will they do? But when they realise that failure to respond, they are committing an offence, most of the respondents will call us and say, ‘oh, when we got the letter, it was already late’ or, ‘we didn’t receive the letter’ or, ‘it was passed to the wrong person’ and all that.
I usually say, ‘thank God, you are the one informing me what we intend to do and it didn’t get to the wrong person. I think the response has been very wonderful and I must observe that Section 8, Subsection 2 of the Public Complaints Commission says failure to respond is a fine of N500 or imprisonment of six months or both; the Act was actually promulgated in 1975.
As at 1975, I am sure you know the value of N500, so we have now formed a very strong synergy with the Commissioner of Police of the FCT to compile the names of people we consider recalcitrant respondents, people who find it difficult to respond to us, for prosecution. Before the end of this month they are going to be arrested and prosecuted because six months imprisonment and N500 is within the jurisdiction of the magistrate court; we don’t have to go to the Attorney General or anybody; the Commissioner of Police can handle that.
I must mention at this point that we are not prosecuting people for the matters that were reported against them. The prosecution is for failure to respond to us, ignoring us feeling that nothing will happen. The matters that were reported against them are still pending before Public Complaints Commission and, once we finish with their prosecution, they will still come back to us to continue with the matter that actually led to them being arrested and being prosecuted.
How many people do you intend to prosecute?
We have five recalcitrant respondents, we just came on board after 13 years without commissioners. We try to create awareness, inform Nigerians of what we do and the possible implications of not responding to us. I believe and in the opinion of the management here in FCT that one year is enough for people to know what we do and that is the reason; we organized within one year two seminars. So we are starting with the first set of prosecution now.
Can you name the recalcitrant respondents?
What I can tell you at this point is that two heads of government agencies and three managing directors of private companies are to face trial but you will get to know them as soon as we forward the matter to the police. I am saying this so that it does not jeopardise police investigations into the matter.
What are the challenges facing your office and how have you been able to surmount them?
The first challenge is awareness, public perception iof Public Complaints Commission. We are addressing that aggressively.
The second one, I am sure you found it difficult to locate this place before now. Public Complaints Commission had two buildings in Area 1; unfortunately, a former minister of the FCT chased them out of that place because he said the place was residential area, that there shouldn’t be offices, and because we had no commissioner, there was no alternative arrangement and that was why an institution that was making use of two buildings ended up in two flats here. You can see how congested it is, but I am grateful to the management of FCTA now. They are making arrangement to find us an alternative office accommodation, the minister of FCT has actually given us land where we are going to build our permanent site.
Another issue is the general issue of funding. I am confident that something will be done about that. Even the two seminars we had, the one we organised last year and graced by the founding fathers of the Public Complaints Commission, General Yakubu Gowon and Alhaji Maitama Sule, and the Ike Oha Ndigbo, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and the one we organised this year attended by Babangida and Adams Oshiomhole, the Niger State governor and the Head of the European Union delegation, among others, were financed from my private resources and even the newsletter that we are publishing.
But the leadership of fact, the leadership of the National Assembly has assured us that things will improve.
Do you have the power to investigate financial crimes?
If you look at the Act establishing us … as a matter of fact, I just had a meeting with the head of one of the financial institutions and if a complaint has to do with crime, what we do is refer to the relevant agency.
I have referred quite a number of cases to such agencies.
At the end of the day, the complainant claims he lost N60 million as the bank fraudulently converted his money. He explained that when he complained, what the bank did was to after two years give him N20 million without any compensation and the bank was now saying that he is the one indebted.
So what I did was to refer the matter to the EFCC which wrote me back to say the matter is better treated elsewhere because it is not strictly a criminal offence. I have requested to meet with the CBN governor for him to personally intervene in the matter. If you call that economic crime or financial crime it may not be too wrong and if say we are handling it, it may not be too wrong as well.
How have you intervened on the petition by the ex-CBN workers that claimed they were unlawfully disengaged by the apex bank?
As a matter of fact, it is not as if they complained to us. I acted pursuant to the provisions of Section 5, Subsection 2 of the Public Complaints Commission Act that gives me the power as the commissioner to initiate investigation. When I learnt they were trying to demonstrate because they had not had the opportunity to be heard, I rushed to the scene and addressed them. I have written the CBN governor requesting an appointment to sit down with him and discuss the issue