In view of the levity with which many public officers treat the oath of office, Nigerians say the exercise has lost its efficacy in the promotion of good governance.
In a national survey conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), respondents called for the imposition of stiff penalties on public office holders found to have violated their oath of office.
The respondents, who cut across North-East, South-West and South-South geo-political zones, also canvassed a review of the content and practice of oath-taking for the exercise to make the much needed impact.
A Bauchi-based public analyst and commentator, Mr Samuel Dankyan, observed that the content of the oath and lack of seriousness on the part of those administering it and those taking the oath had made the exercise a “mere formality.’’
“The content of the oath is outdated while those administrating and taking same view the exercise as a routine ritual.
“Most of those taking the oath neither respect nor believe in it, especially that violations of the oath in the past never attracted any severe penalties.
“There is need to review both the content and the way it is being administrated so as to achieve what it was intended to achieve.
“Again, there should be punishment for violators so that those taking oath will look at the consequences before taking it.
“Let the Ministry of Justice sponsor a bill for the review of the oath and should go further to spell out punishment for offenders,” he added.
A Legal Officer with the Federal Polytechnic, Mubi, Adamawa, Mr Mahmud Sulaiman, advised the media and the Civil Society Organisations to hold public officials who took oath accountable.
He said the media and the civil society groups have the capacity to expose public officials who breach their oath of office, noting that most public officials had breached their oath in the past and left to go scot free.
According to him, exposing erring officers will go a long way to sensitise the public to the consequences or implications of violating their oath, adding that violators should be prosecuted in high courts.
“Individuals find it difficult to petition public officials who violate oaths because they do not stand to get immediate benefits.
“Such cases are beyond the jurisdiction of magistrates’ courts and so the services of a lawyer must be sought to prosecute,’ Suleima said.
Malam Abba Gaba, a retired judicial officer, regretted that the oath of office was no longer respected.
“The oath of office is today seen as a mere ceremony for getting into public office without regard to the terms and contents of the oath.
“Public officers who abuse the oath of office should be prosecuted for abusing public trust” he suggested.
Musa Abubakar, a civil servant suggested that a law be enacted to check abuse of the oath of office
Mr Yakubu Usman, Gombe State Coordinator of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), advised that appointed and elected office holders who violated their oath of office should be punished.
“I think government can also provide punishment that should be in line with the oath that is administered,” he said.
He said enforcing punishment would go a long way in reducing violations of oaths taken, thereby reducing the tendency to abuse public trust.
Also speaking, Malam Haruna Yarma, the Secretary of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Gombe chapter, said there was a great consequence in swearing by the country’s constitution.
“Whatever religion you belong to, you are going to abide by the constitution and if you violate same, it is gross misconduct,” he said.
He noted that Nigerians tended to overlook many punishable offences so long as such do not affect them directly.
On his part, Alhaji Abdulwasiu Alfa, the Chairman of Borno chapter of NBA, called for sustained value re-orientation programme by the government to sensitise Nigerians on the evils of violating oaths.
He lamented that corruption had been entrenched in the social system to the extent that public office holders often forgot that they had taken oath of office.
“Our problem today is that our value system tends to support corruption in all ramifications.
“We celebrate thieves and looters of public fund to the extent that those who failed to steal are relegated to the background,’’ Alfa said.
He said that the administration of oath of office on public office holders was supposed to check corruption.
“The idea of administration of oath of office is to commit an elected public office holder to the fact that he has a contract to serve the people.
“However, the practice seems to have become a mere ritual as people tend to act differently in spite of the oath,” Alfa said.
Alfa commended the Buhari administration for its efforts in fighting corruption, urging Nigerians to join hand in the crusade.
The Jigawa Coordinator of Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Mr Muktar Kabo, said the essence of oath-taking was to register total submission to the laws of the land and the people.
He stated that oath taking guides the public officer to know the consequence upon any breach.
“ We have oath of allegiance and oath of office, a breach of any one is not acceptable,’’ he said.
According to him, the oath of allegiance had to do with the ground norms of the land as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).
Kabo said that oath of office on the other hand had to do with the people.
“Anybody who violates any of the above oaths invariably violated all and should be sanctioned by being charged to court,” he said.
A former Commissioner for Information,Youth, Sports and Culture in Jigawa, Alhaji Abdullahi Dogo, said that oath-taking was very important but observed that the public officers often derailed after taking it.
He advised that relevant agencies like the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission(ICPC )and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) should always prosecute those who break the oath.
In Damaturu, Alhaji Abubakar Mustapha, a Second Republic politician, said the conduct of public officers was no longer guided by the dictates of the oath of office.
“ The oath said public officers would discharge their duties without fear or favour, ill will or affection which is not the case today.
“Government businesses today are largely influenced by ethnic, religious and geo-political sentiments” he said.
Anthony Abara, a Deputy Chief Registrar at the High Court of Justice in Abeokuta, Ogun, called for the strengthening of relevant Nigerian institutions to bring offenders of oath taking to book.
He ascribed the continued abuse and non-adherence to oath taking by public office holders to the weakness of relevant institutions responsible for punishing offenders.
Abara called for true independence of the judiciary through self -funding so as to detach it from “the aprons of the executive arm of the government.”
“Public officers in Nigeria don’t take oath-taking seriously because up till now, nobody has been sanctioned for running foul of the oath they took before they assumed office.
“The law is there in this country but it is the implementation that is lacking,” he said.
In Osun, Mr Femi Ololade, a politician, said since the oath of office was to ensure that there was integrity, honesty and transparency in leadership, it should be strictly adhered to.
Ololade, however, said that many of the public office holders were not living up to the oath they took on assumption of office due to greed and corruption.
“Nigerians, especially public officers, have made the oath of office a frivolous undertaking as most of them commit crimes and embraced corruption against the state without affecting their conscience.
“This is outright perjury, but the law lacks the bite to prosecute them,’’ he said.
Ololade said there was urgent need for the review of the 1999 constitution to ensure that any public office holder who violates the oath of office should be punished severely in line with the law.
A lawyer and activist, Mr Henry Okereke, said any public office holder or elected official that deviates from the oath of office administered on him should be made relinquish such position.
Okereke said legal processes could also be filed against non-performing representatives of the people.
“ A letter can be formally written to the oath breaker about the consequences of his action to correct them.
“In a situation where the oath breaker remains adamant, the legal process could be instigated for his or her removal from office, on the basis of oath violation,’’ he said.
Another lawyer, Mr Najite Okobie, said there was an urgent need to keep all public office holders abreast of the oath taken by them.
He said such a measure would help to minimise abuse of public office.
Okobie called for special seminars and workshops by Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government on oath taking in order to remind public office holders on the need to tell the truth always.
In Kwara, a former Chairman of ICPC, Justice Mustapha Akanbi, advised public office holders to stop taking oaths that they would not abide with.
Akanbi said Nigerians should look at oath-taking from religious angle, saying that using the Qur’an or Bible to swear and not abide by it was not “good”.
According to him, to break an oath was like breaking a promise between God and the oath taker.
“Taking an oath and not abiding by it is the beginning of corruption. In my early life, I can never swear by the Quran if I cannot abide by the oath.
“If punishment was attached to oath taking, it will reduce the number of public office holders that will betray the trust of the public”, he said.
Another lawyer, Mr Tade Rotimi, said government must ensure that anybody found guilty of abusing office should serve a minimum of three years’ jail term with seizure of properties.
Rotimi suggested that the immunity clause should be denied some public office holders, saying that makes them to misbehave since they are covered.
“Oath-taking by our politicians is like when a boy friend is making empty promises to his girl friend knowing in his mind he won’t fulfil the promises.
“What is the need of oath-taking when it is rendered useless and ineffective?
“Nigeria’s oath taking is toothless and that is why I always campaign against it. It is not necessary since breaking the oath has no effect on the person that breaks it.
“Nobody is above the law, if anybody is found guilty, the person must be thoroughly punished irrespective of his status and position in the society,” he said.
Prof. Badmus Yusuf of the Department of Religions, University of Ilorin, observed that applicability of the rules contained in the Qur’an should not be difficult once people were willing and have precise understanding of the rules.
The don lamented that Qur’anic guidance had not been influencing many public office holders who are Muslims in spite of swearing on oath.
Christopher Owolabi, a cleric with Christ Apostolic Church, Ori-Oke Irapada, Omu-Aran, emphasised the need for proper spiritual counselling for elected public servants on the consequences of swearing on oath.
“Some of the elected public servants undertaking the oath are not conversant with the spiritual consequences of their action going by the incessant fraudulent practices in all sectors of governance.
“I think before any of the elected public servants undertake such oath they should first of all be subjected to proper spiritual counselling either individually or in groups by religious leaders for them to have a fore knowledge of their intended act,” he said.
Alhaji Adekola Kareem, the Vice Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ibadan branch, said oath of office taking in Nigeria only serves as guideline which many treat with levity.
He said that most officers swear to the oath of office and fail to abide by it because no punishment was being meted out .
The NBA vice chairman said that government should punish anybody who fails to abide by the oaths because they have committed an office called perjury.
He stressed that most public office holders fail to abide by the rules of oath taking because they are not punished for the crime of perjury.
The lawyer advised that those who violate their oath be prosecuted to serve as deterrent to others.
A civil servant, Mr Amos Ajibola, said the society had lost its value as oath breakers were being celebrated.
He said oath taking in the country as being practised was ineffective and called for traditional oath taking, arguing that its efficacy was not in doubt.
Mr Raymos Guanah, a former Commissioner for Lands and Survey in Delta, told NAN in Asaba that oath-taking laws should be made more impactful through relevant amendment in Nigeria.
According to him, such laws should be amended to create room for follow-up on compliance by public office holders and appointees who swore to uphold such oaths.
“Oath-taking by public officers is supposed to be a solemn declaration by the person concerned to be upright in the discharge of his or her official duties.
“Many public officers subscribe to such oaths either in public or before judicial officers like the president, governors, judges, legislators.
“However, it has become a ritual that the person subscribing to it does not take to heart as such person is ready to abuse his or her office the very next day.
“The reason for this is because the punishment is not severe and the will by government to prosecute offenders is lacking,’’ he said.
Guanah, therefore, called for proper monitoring of persons taking oath of office and declaration of their assets as well as prosecute them whenever they violate the law.
According to him, stiff punishment should be introduced to deal with all those who abuse public office no matter how high or low the person is.
“They should also be monitored so that whenever they acquire anything above their salaries, they should be investigated and punished as this will act as a deterrent to others,’’ he added.
Mr Fidelis Adaka, Second Vice President, Nigerian Statistics Association, also said that oath taking without proper monitoring had become “a ritual’’ in Nigeria.
“For the law to be effective in the country, there is every need to ensure that the law enforcement agencies do all they can to monitor implementation enforcement of the law.
“Without proper enforcement, the oath taking will continue to be meaningless to those involved in the exercise, ’’ he said.
A political analyst in Benin, Mr Neville Obakhedo, also said that the state should be strengthened to enforce compliance to oath taking.
“ Until the state has judicial power to punish or bring to justice those who violate the oath of office, the act of oath-taking should been seen as mere formality for the purpose of assuming public office in the country.
“The reason of oath of office is because of the fact that human nature has tendency to authoritarian and the best way to check it, is through oath-taking of relevance laws
“The state needed to be strengthened to enforce the law without any respect of any person.
“ The act of oath-taking is a ritual that is not supposed to be. It is so called because of the weakness of the state, ” Obakhedo said.
Similarly, Pastor David Kunle, the Pastor in-charge of the Shalom Living Church in Yola, cautioned public officials who take the oath to adhere to same or face God’s anger.
Kunle said that God would not spare anyone who took oath and breached it, citing example of many public officials whose living condition had deteriorated due to violation of the oath they took.
“Every oath taken ends with `so help me God’ and then you turn to do the opposite; God will punish you for ridiculing His name,’ Kunle said.
Alhaji Inuwa Yerima, an Islamic cleric in Yola, also advised public office holders to adhere to their oath, saying God normally gives power and such power was a mark of divine responsibility.
According to him, any misconduct is a `sin’ against God and His punishment will be so grave.