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In Nigeria, the ombudsman is known as the Public Complaints Commission or the ombudsman In general, an ombudsman is a state official appointed to provide a check on government activity in the interests of the citizen, and to oversee the investigation of complaints of improper government activity against the citizen.

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Modern variations of this term include "ombud," "ombuds," "ombudsperson," or "ombudswoman," and the conventional English plural is ombudsmen.In the Danish Law of Jutland from 1241, the term is umbozman and means a royal civil servant in a hundred.From 1552, it is also used in the other Scandinavian languages such as the both Icelandic and Faroese umboðsmaður, the Norwegian ombudsmann/ombodsmann and the Swedish ombudsman.In some jurisdictions an ombudsman charged with handling concerns about national government is more formally referred to as the "Parliamentary Commissioner" (e.g.the United Kingdom Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and the Western Australian state Ombudsman).In some cases, there is a more restricted mandate, for example with particular sectors of society.

More recent developments have included the creation of specialized Children's Ombudsman and Information Commissioner agencies.

If they did not do so, the Supreme Ombudsman had the right to prosecute them for negligence.

In 1719 the Swedish Office of Supreme Ombudsman became the Chancellor of Justice.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman was established in 1809 by the Swedish Riksdag, as a parallel institution to the still-present Chancellor of Justice, reflecting the concept of separation of powers as developed by Montesquieu.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman is the institution that the Scandinavian countries subsequently developed into its contemporary form, and which subsequently has been adopted in many other parts of the world.

Ombudsmen sometimes also aim to identify systematic issues leading to poor service or breaches of people's rights.