An Overview Of The Public Petitions Committees In The National Assembly By Uzo Azubuike
Every society provides a medium through which people can ventilate their grievances and obtain redress. The most common of such systems are the courts. We equally have arbitration under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act. However, the National Assembly through its Committees on Public Petition presents a special platform through which people can ventilate their grievances against the conduct of any public authority charged with the responsibility of administering laws made by the National Assembly or administering monies appropriated by the National Assembly. The beauty and significance of this platform is that while the petitioner’s grievance is addressed, the lawmakers perform their task of oversight as they expose corruption, inefficiency and waste in the administration of laws within their legislative competence and disbursement of funds appropriated by it. A Public Petition therefore, is a formal request to National Assembly (Senate or House) for intervention in a matter. It can take the form of either a request for
the National Assembly to investigate a specific issue of public concern or for the redress of a grievance. The Public Petitions Committee of National Assembly affords the people an opportunity to participate in oversight. The Committee operates a flexible procedure devoid of technicalities and rigours of court room drama. As would be explained further, this wonderful platform is free, time-efficient and its sittings are conducted in a free environment that allows people opportunity to speak their minds.
Jurisdiction refers to the power or right a body has, to exercise its authority over a person, subject matter or territory. In law, any exercise or action by any authority performed without requisite jurisdiction is null and void and of no effect; no matter how wonderful such an action was. On this point I refer you to the case of Madukolu V. Nkemdilim (1962)
S.C.N.L.R 341. During the sittings of the Committee, the issue of jurisdiction always comes to the fore. Ministries, Departments and Agencies that are summoned by the Committee question the authority the Committee has over certain issues complained against them. In some cases, they suggest that such matters ought to be decided by the courts. I shall attempt to sensitize us on the powers of the Public Petitions Committees of the National Assembly.
Section 62(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that the Senate or the House of Representatives may appoint a committee of its member for such special or general purpose as in its opinion would be better regulated and managed by means of such a committee, and may by resolution, regulation or otherwise, as it thinks fit, delegate any functions exercisable by it to any such Committee. In fact, aside from the business of the Senate and House in their various floors during plenary, the lawmakers function
mainly, through various Committees. This is because only a little success would be recorded throughout the life of an Assembly if every lawmaker was to partake in every task. It is thus expedient and efficient to organize lawmakers under Committees with specific functions. For the purpose of this seminar, reference shall only be made to the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives. But be assured that the Senate has corresponding provisions.
On the strength of the above provision of the Constitution, Order 18 Rule 121 of the
Standing Orders of the House of Representatives made provisions for the establishment of Special and General Committees of the House. Due to the importance of the work of the National Assembly Committees on Public Petitions, both the House and the Senate established that Committee as Special Committees.
Rule 121 (a), (b) and (c) of the Standing Orders of the House provides that the Committee on Public Petition has jurisdiction to oversight the Public Complaint Commission(PCC), annual budget estimates and consider the subject matter of all petitions referred to it by the House. PCC is the only agency of government that is administered directly by the National Assembly. Unlike every MDA, it has no executive control. The National Assembly
Committees on Public Petition has the special task of superintending and oversighting PCC on behalf of the National Assembly. The Committee therefore works out the annual budget of PCC. For the purposes of this seminar, I believe the full details of our task under Rule 121(a) and (b) would not be of interest to us especially the Civil Society Organizations because in performing that task, we rarely interface with the masses. The Committee on Public Petition is popularly known for its function under Rule 121(c). This is the avenue where helpless Nigerians bring their grievances against government authorities. Thus our main focus would be on our task of considering public petitions.
Further to section 62(1) the Constitution, section 88(1) provides that each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the government of the federation to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into – (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws;
and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged with the duty of or responsibility of – (i) executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly and (ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated by the National Assembly.