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Petition: A great tool for societal reformation

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In a democratic system of government, individuals have the right to express themselves and have the right to complain of a wrong done to such person either by another person or by government or any of its agencies. See section 39(1) and 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). Such complaints might even be in respect of public interest complaint. Lawyers are trained professionally to know how to make or lodge petitions to the appropriate quarters, especially under Administrative Laws and procedures. In my humble view, I view that considering the bad conditions of our societies and some complaints all around, if petitions are utilized as a form of non-judicial remedies for unconstitutional or administrative misuse of powers, it will be a veritable tool for societal reformation, hence, this paper. However, the ‘Petition’ considered in this paper is not of those used in commencing suits in the court of law.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, Fourth Edition (electronic copy) at page 1302, ‘Petition’ is defined thus ‘PETITION. A written address, embodying an application or prayer from the person or persons preferring it, to the power, body, or person to whom it is presented, for the exercise of his or their authority in the redress of some wrong, or the grant of some favour, privilege, or license. Enderson v. Hildenbrand, 52 N.D. 533, 204 N.W. 356; Benton Coal Mining Co. v. Industrial Commission, 321 Ill. 208, 151 N.E. 520, 522; In re L. M. Axle Co., C.C.A.Ohio, 3 F.2d 581, 582; State v. American Sugar Refining Co., 138 ‘La. 1005, 71 So. 137, 140.’ In the same vein, Ese Malemi in his book Ese Malemi, Administrative Law, Princeton Publication Co., Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria, Third Edition, 2008, at page 276, discussed Petition as a form of non-judicial remedies for unconstitutional acts thus ‘A petition is a written request to a person who is in a position of authority to grant a request, favour, or redress a wrong.’. He also posited at same page (op.cit) as follows ‘In a modern society or a democratic society, anyone who is aggrieved or has suffered a wrong has a right to petition the appropriate authority for redress or remedy.’. It is in this regard to petition that this paper contemplates. 

I have viewed that only very few numbers of petitions have been received by the authorities in charge of administrative remedies, hence, the decadence in the society. Many a time, the authority might not even be aware of any wrong being perpetrated by some persons until such complaint is formally brought to their knowledge for necessary action. This petition is an administrative remedy. It takes the position of suits filed in courts. Instead of filling a suit in court and allow the suit to lie for years, the administrative petition is likely to resolve such complaint within the shortest possible time. Also, the interest of the authority to investigate the petition will assist in getting to the root of the complaint. In other words, petitions are means of lodging complaints and could be referred to as complaints in themselves. One can imagine such vices in the societies such as bad roads, intermittent electricity power supply, lack of potable water supply, environmental pollution, violation of human rights, fraud and other financial and corrupt practices, abuse or misuse of official powers, among others. All these can be subject of the petition. The petition will also allow the authority whether private or public authorities to investigate the complaints and take an appropriate decision. Petition can be made to either private authorities or public authorities. The petition also assists government or private organisations to formulate workable policies and or regulations that benefit the public and the organisations. The challenge is that the public or government authorities might complain of lack of budgetary funds but it does not mean that such petition will not be treated. Also, I have seen to my surprise how some lawyers complain about some agencies of government that some of their officers or officials are always out of their ways including some officers of the Nigerian Police Force and some military personnel. In my humble view, with due respect, rather than complain or allow the public to seek self-help, it will be good to file a petition to the appropriate authorities for necessary action.

I have used the petition as a means of resolving a lot of my and those of my clients’ complaints and those complaints at least, like 80% or more have till date been resolved even with penalties against the person against whom a petition has been written. Panels have been set up administratively to treat the petition and I was invited and the person against whom the petition was made too was invited and we were all given fair hearing in an administrative capacity. Those petitions that related to unlawful demand of money for instance, after the hearing of my petition, the authority recovered and refunded back the illegally collected money back to me with an official letter. Also, so many public complaints have been resolved by my petitions as human rights activists which the society and of course the public are enjoying even up till the moment!

Nowadays, the petition can be made to private companies whether written or orally. Same can also be made to government authorities such as: the Public Complaints Commission, Code of Conduct Bureau, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), police or other law enforcement agencies, the Governor or the President, the Attorney-Generals of States or the Federation, etc. petition can also be made to the Nigerian Bar Association or any other non-governmental organisations. I am aware that the Nigeria Police Force has a public complaints platform to enable the public to lodge complaints against any officer of the Nigeria Police Force. The Nigeria Police Force Office of the Inspector-General of Police has created the Public Complaint Rapid Response Unit-herein after referred to as PCRRU. 

The number is also on WhatsApp and it is always in operation. I have used this petition platform to resolve several of my complaints without paying any money and without leaving my office. I must commend the initiative of the Inspector-General of Police for this wonderful initiative. It is really helpful. For instance, a few weeks ago, a client of mine who had lodged in a hotel was in debt of the periods of stay. The hotel manager refused to allow him to vacate the premises despite my client’s plea that it was because his office has not paid him two months salaries but as soon as the outstanding salaries are paid, he would pay the hotel his debts. The hotel management refused and ordered security men not to allow my client and his family to leave unless and until they pay the debts. My client travelled to even meet with someone who owed him some money so that he could pay the hotel’s bills. But, the hotel manager used his connection with the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) to arrest my client’s wife and brought her to the police station and asked her to call her husband that if he does not make undertaken as to when he would pay the debts, his wife will be detained! Then, my client was forced to concede even though the agreement was forceful on him. Later, when he could not meet up as he was not even back from his travelling, then the DPO and the IPO were calling and threatening to arrest his wife and detain her till my client returns. My client then informed me, as a human rights activist. I told my client that he should work on paying his debts and that it is not an offence to owe debt rather it is a civil matter and that the police have no power to recover debts owed by another. So, I spoke with the DPO and the Hotel manager to consider our appeal for leniency but all to no avail.

I then called the police public complaint response to lodge my complaint. My complaints were taken and I was assured that it was being worked on. Interestingly, no police either the DPO or the IPO since then ever bothered my client. The hotel manager called my client that same day or the next to inform my client to come and pack his load or tell his wife to relocate pending when my client will be back and then, they can discuss the debts when my client returns! Believe me, that was the end of the dispute! We did not go to court to file suit, but with the police IG’s Headquarters’’ intervention, the complaints were resolved amicably! I did not pay a dime and I never even stepped out of my office to complain! This is just one of several of my petitions resolved by the Police complaints response. Also, from my research, complaints can be reported to the Unit against any police officer via the following:

I also hope that the Armed Forces authorities and other security authorities too would create such a platform for petitioning against any illegal act of their officers. 

Also, the petition is a very useful tool for human rights activists and non-governmental organisations, etc. The petition is one of the tools that I use a lot that has gained me a lot of successes as a human rights activist!

Furthermore, in petitioning too, the evidence must be clear to back up the complaints and not just malicious or vexatious or to oppress the one complained against as such might amount to an offence under the criminal laws. Defamation is also there against such a person in civil. So, care must be taken!

Finally, I believe that petition remains a very great tool for reforming our societies if considered and utilized following the laid down procedures and lawyers, human rights activists, non-governmental organisations, etc. have a great role to play in using the petition to reform the societies and Nigeria as a whole.

Email: hameed_ajibola@yahoo.com

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