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The Public Complaints Commission Staff Who Were Forced to Quiet for Years Now Talk About Unpaid Arrears


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    In 1974, Jerome Udoji and his panel of policymakers recommended that Nigeria establish her own ombudsman to curb corruption in the public service.

    It was a few years into the oil boom, and Nigeria had pumped a lot of money into public service and administration. However, the parastatals were underperforming; the results did not reflect the cash and asset investments. Oversight became a matter of necessity to curb administrative excesses at the time.

    In 1975, the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) — the supposed ear for the people was established. The Public Complaints Act gave it oversight powers over all government agencies and corporate bodies, save the legislature and the military. The commission would however join other MDAs in the sluggish scuffle of public service. Since its formation, the ombudsman has suffered a well-documented history of underfunding and obscurity, so much that it affects their operations.

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    As a result, the commission is not only ill-equipped, the staff members are also underpaid.

    FIJ has gathered that the prevailing economic realities have made the effects of the PCC’s underfunding more pronounced.

    What then happens when oversight is underfunded? FIJ interviewed some staff members at the PCC to document their working conditions, wage payments and complaints management.

    ‘NOBODY IN THAT OFFICE IS HAPPY’

    PCC's logo
    The PCC’s badge.

    When Chiamaka Olalere* joined the PCC in 2014, she did so out of her conviction to fight corruption in Nigeria. To her, joining the PCC would place at the forefront of fighting administrative injustice in the country.

    In 2023, nine years later, Olalere wished she had taken a different route. For her, working in the commission was a bitter irony of injustice and repression.

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    “What’s the point of fighting administrative injustice when our own working conditions are unfair?” Olalere began with a rhetorical question.

    In the interview with FIJ, Olalere narrated how working was difficult because she had not been getting her remunerations.

    “We have been protesting our minimum wage for years in the commission. A Level 8 staff at the PCC would naturally get N60,000 per month. I could have let go if they paid other remunerations. We do investigations on the go, we get a lot of cases, how much can you manage? I have been employed in the commission for nine years now and I have not got my Kilometer Allowance since. Some have spent 12 years or more and it’s the same thing,” she told FIJ on Wednesday.

    Olalere continued by explaining how staff had to take pay cuts in 2016.

    “There was even a time they were paying us salaries in percentages. It’s not like the federal government does not make this money available, those at the top just do whatever they like with it. It was in 2016. During that time, we even collected as low as 31 percent of our salary. At some other points, we were lucky to get 60 percent,” she explained.

    Oloyede Janet*, another staff of the PCC, told FIJ that she had not received her promotion arrears for 4 years.

    “We have years on unpaid arrears. Personally, I have not collected my promotion arrears for four years now. We’ve been meeting; we heard they did not include the money in the budget. We also heard promises. I just want to be able to afford a life with my pay,” Oloyede told FIJ.

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    ‘I WAS KIDNAPPED AND THE PCC DID NOT DROP A KOBO’

    In a more harrowing narration, Kasali Olujide*, another staff member at the PCC, described a case of kidnap, debt and denial that involved the PCC and a bank in Nigeria.

    “In November 2015, about a year after I joined the service, I was abducted while returning from work. I had my wife and a four-month-old child in the car with me as I drove home. Six men with heavy guns and machetes robbed everyone on the street, left them alone and took me away,” Olujide said.

    “I was with them from Monday to Sunday! With the help of my church and sibling, I was released on ransom. After I was released, I had to borrow a loan to cover the debt of the kidnap ransom. PCC Nigeria did not help me, despite the fact that I was returning from work when I was kidnapped.

    “You know what made it worse? PCC introduced a pay cut. They started paying in ridiculous percentages. I could no longer meet the payment obligations for the loan I borrowed. In a nutshell, I have been paying one debt or the other till now. I have the responsibility of my home staring into my eyes daily. To make it worse, the commission has not paid my arrears for years now.”

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    In his interview with FIJ, Olujide also told FIJ that the PCC was underfunded. He explained that allocation to the commission was not enough to cater to the demands of real-time investigations. According to him, even the PCC management couldn’t do anything about it. Olujide thinks the federal government allocates too little to the commission in the first place.

    “The management may have little to nothing they can do to make any positive change. After all, they are also civil servants. The federal government does not allocate nearly enough in the first place. But even at that, it should be better. The problem solely lies with the commissioners,” he told FIJ.

    ‘YOU COULD BE WITH THE COMMISSION, I DON’T WANT TO LOSE MY JOB’

    When FIJ first contacted Olujide, he blatantly refused to say anything about the commission. He expressed a vivid disinterest in granting an interview with an unknown person. The reason for his skepticism? Anyone could be a mole from Abuja.

    Olalere, who was FIJ’s first contact within the PCC, had warned FIJ about this. According to her, the PCC management could be vindictive and staff had been threatened with losing their jobs should they protest or cry out.

    “Most people would not want to talk to you. Every day, staff members face threats in the form of disciplinary panels or losing their jobs if they are caught talking about the commission,” she said.

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    True to her speculations, FIJ called and texted six staff members of the PCC between August 16 and August 22. Five out of the six refused to say anything about the commission. One Yemi (not real name), a staff of the PCC in Delta State, explained to FIJ that he was not willing to yield information for fear of losing his employment.

    “For all I know, you could be with the civil service. You could even be a senior staff of the commission. Look, I am a civil servant, and I am not willing to lose my job,” he retorted on a call with FIJ.

    CONLESS FOR CONPSS; THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS NOT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION

    Demands made by the Joint Union of PCC

    The demand for funding at the PCC is an age-long struggle, from what FIJ gathered.

    On November 23, 2021, the Nigerian Senate — taking cognisance of the underfunding — announced the implementation of the Consolidated Legislative Salary Structure (CONLESS) for the PCC. FIJ gathered that the PCC had operated a Consolidated Parliamentary Salary Structure (CONPASS) before then. FIJ’s findings also revealed that the CONPASS was outdated and unable to cater to the payment of PCC staff.

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    According to the Senate, the CONLESS covers funding and the remunerations necessary for PCC staff to function optimally. At the Senate sitting that implemented CONLESS, the Senate stated that funding was necessary to intensify the oversight function of the ombudsman.

    Speaking at the sitting, Senator Akinyelure, who was the chairman of the Senate committee on ethics, privileges and public petitions, described the implementation as a step to extending the anti-corruption campaign of President Buhari to the people.

    “While newly recruited university graduates in Public Complaints Commission (PCC) collect about N60,000 as monthly salary on Grade Level 8 Step 2, their counterparts in the EFCC collect far higher than that. As a way of remedying the demoralising situation, the Senate leadership has approved the upgrade of the PCC salary scale from CONPASS to CONLESS with attendant better packages,” he had said.

    However, 21 months later in July 2023, the PCC staff members shut down their offices nationwide in an industrial action over the implementation of the CONLESS.

    Speaking on CONLESS, Olujide told FIJ that the PCC payslip started reading CONLESS in 2021 but it did not reflect in the pay.

    “The struggle for CONLESS started in 2018 and sometime in 2021/22 our payslips started reading CONLESS. Apparently, we were migrated to CONLESS but on a very low percentage of about 20. In October 2022, the National Wages, Incomes and Salaries Commission gave full approval for this new salary structure and gave the commission the balance of what was needed to complement the existing budget to see that staff enjoyed the full package of CONLESS. Yet, from October 2022 till July 2023, we were not paid neither were we given the arrears. We have been going from one meeting to another,” Olujide told FIJ.

    letter from the National Salaries, income & Wages Commission to the PCC

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    Olalere had a more pungent disposition to the CONLESS issue. She believed that implementation is delayed due to the corruption of PCC commissioners.

    “Minimum wage took us protesting and locking the office before they paid. We had to appeal to the National Assembly to approve the CONLESS salary structure for us as CONPASS is too poor. God answered us and the Salary and Wages Commission approved it, to take effect in October 2022. However, we’re yet to be paid that money because the commissioners have used it to buy 36 Prados and they shared among themselves. Despite the hardship, all they have done is tell us there’s no money,” Olalere lamented.

    PCC UNWILLING TO ADDRESS THE ISSUES

    On Monday, People’s Daily reported that the staff of the PCC, under the Joint Unions of Public Complaints Commission (JUPCC), were getting ready for a demonstration over the CONLESS and unpaid remunerations.

    However, all of FIJ’s efforts to get the commission’s management to provide updates on the CONLESS and address the allegations proved abortive.

    On August 23, FIJ contacted Olumide Abodunrin, PCC Director of Public Relations, Foreign support and Interagency Publications. He, however, refused to address the issue.

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    Abodunrin insisted that FIJ write to the chief commissioner about any inquiry. Speaking to FIJ, Abodunrin said that he could not give FIJ any information without the permission of the chief commissioner. When FIJ asked for the standard response time frame, Abodunrin did not give a definite answer.

    “You know how things go in the civil service. Anything that you want to know, you write to the chief commissioner. So, I can’t answer you. Also, we’ve been holding several meetings; we even had one yesterday. So, I really cannot tell you anything,” he told FIJ.

    Staff members at the PCC told FIJ that they were still hopeful. They envisage a reality where the CONLESS will be implemented fully and the commissioners investigated.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: The names of the PCC staff in the story have been changed to protect their identities and prevent unwarranted sanctions by civil service leadership.

    Sources


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