‘Citizens should be free to come forward with cases of rights violation’
Hon. Jerry Alagbaso is a PDP chieftain and member representing Orlu/Orsu/Oru east federal constituency of Imo State. He is the current chairman, House of Representatives committee on public petitions. In this interview, he tells MSUGH ITYOKURA how his committee has resolved many issues through alternative dispute resolutions.
Yours is one of the critical committees of the National Assembly, owing to the work you do. Can you tell us how much work the committee has done to promote citizens rights?
For you to appreciate this committee, you must attend some of our sessions to see how busy we are and understand how some of these things are being taken care of, in terms of examination and investigations. I have a formidable team ranging from my secretariat where I have seasoned clerks who are in charge of documentation and other things. A visit to the secretariat will reveal to you the number of cases we have discharged in the 9th assembly. We have statistics on how these cases are documented, we have files where they are enclosed, especially those that have been discharged. The rule is that, when we discharge this cases, we present them on the floor of the House for consideration after which the overall clerk of the house will write to those whom it may concern, giving them the resolution of the National Assembly for them to implement, but where it is difficult to implement, we have what we call status compliance. You go to that place and they will also write as a way of reminder for the respondents to carry out the resolutions of the House. So, if you want to know the number of cases discharged. You go to my secretariat and the clerk will show you. But I assure you, you will be satisfied with the number of cases we have discharged as far as the 9th National Assembly is concerned.
What are the functions of your committee?
We deal with petitions all over the country and even abroad that borders on even administrative injustice, whether private or public. But we don’t deal with cases that are in court because we are talking about ADR, Alternative Dispute Resolution. What we do is to provide a platform for people to sort out their cases, settle matters and then go home, exchange banters and be happy with themselves. And during the COVID-19, a lot of people were laid off without payment and we are still resolving some matters arising from COVID-19 now that it has subsided, even though it is not yet uhuru and the victims are usually happy with how we have been carrying out our duties. We don’t deal with frivolous petitions, the petitions must stand the test of time before we handle them and that is what we have been doing
Are there challenges your committee faces while discharging its duties?
During COVID-19 it was difficult to receive and preside over cases through zoom meetings, as far as communications is concerned, that was difficult. Another thing is that, some cases were that of the 8th Assembly that were carried over into 9th and we started afresh. You see that when some of the cases are inconclusive like the ones taken over from the 8th Assembly, it lingers and time is being wasted as far as those good cases are concerned. However, they are not serious challenges as we are equal to the task. We have discharged so many cases we inherited from the 8th Assembly and even more of the new ones, so I won’t say that these are challenges. We have experienced members, we have accountants, lawyers, educationists and other experts on the committee and we discovered that we are familiar with some of the cases, so we are talking out of experience.
How do you ensure your committee’s recommendations are enforced?
We know because we usually give a plan. When your case is finished and it is remaining implementation and you are having any problem especially when the clerks of the National Assembly write and the respondents are very slow, you come back to us and we tell you what to do. We always give that advice. When you come back, we write a reminder even if it is a court case that is in your favour. What we do is to align the committee with the court case. We monitor cases and not only that we give judgement and monitor the resolutions. We don’t look back and the Speaker has never intervened in our work and that gives us satisfaction in terms of speed. The Deputy Speaker that considers the report as a matter of our standing rules also moves with speed. So we have a record of about 95 percent of implementation of judgment and recommendations.
What are some of the achievements of the 9th House Committee on Ethics, privileges and public petitions?
We have cases of those who lost their jobs and if they are 50, we have restored the dignity of about 40 of them, especially the police through alternative dispute resolutions. Sometimes, I commend the Inspector General, (IG) of police and his team, they always take the recommendations of the National Assembly serious. So in terms of achievements, I can tell you that we have conducted a lot of cases successfully. We have performed even more than our predecessors. We have speed in this 9th Assembly maybe, because of our commitment because we don’t stay up to six O clock, by two O clock we are done with our cases and this gives our clerk enough time to do his work effectively and everybody is happy. We also had a case of the police assaulting a naval officer in Delta State, but we were able to resolve it, the police apologised and the naval officer accepted and everyone was happy. We also had a situation where somebody took money to the bank like today and the next day the money vanished and we asked the bank to pay her and they paid. We have several of such cases we resolved, including extra judicial killings. Anytime we write the army, civil defence and NDLEA, they come and we seek God’s intervention to give us the right direction to handle the cases and we resolve the matter and everybody is happy.
How do you avail citizens the opportunity the committee provides for them to deal with human rights violations?
We have various media organisations that cover us especially when we have critical cases and we are always open. Our meeting room, the 429 is a popular place that has COVID-19 compliance. There are times people just come in to listen to how we handle particular cases. There are some cases that are very easy to solve, like when you are discharged from police over one thing or the other, it is not something that will take you so long, we look at the merit of the case and then judge it.
Would you need additional support from the National Assembly to ensure resolutions of your committee are complied with by respondents?
We don’t have any problem, the Speaker is doing very well for the various committees. We have enough support in terms of manpower and the finances are available for us to carry out our work. The speaker is doing very well for us so we are not complaining.