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Secret oath taking is illegal — Lawyers

By Okey Ndiribe, Ehis Osajie & James Ezema
Although political office holders are supposed to  take the oath of allegiance and oath of  office before assuming office, recent shocking disclosures of secret oaths of  loyalty taken by  members of the Ogun State House of Assembly has once again placed the controversial  issue on the front burner of public discourse.  Nigerians from different walks of life have been reacting to the phenomenon.

Politicians have no regard for oath of office — Oyebode

Prof. Akin Oyebode,former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ado-Ekiti,presently teaching law at the University of Lagos bared his mind  on the unfolding  oath-taking saga at the Ogun State House of Assembly. He spoke with  Vanguard

What is the legal implication of oaths taken by political office holders outside the oath of allegiance and oath of office as enunciated in the 1999 Constitution ?

Ozekhome
Ozekhome

Those kinds of oaths are not recognisable to the law. They are outside the law. This is because the way and manner in which such oaths are taken tend to be ritualistic, whereas the  the oath of office and oath of allegiance are taken  in the public. The type of oath members of the Ogun State House of Assembly have taken are reminiscent of the Okija Shrine type of oath which is not just esoteric, but almost byzantine.

It usually involves things like blood, concoctions and marks on the body or swearing by one’s children., property and all that. It is reminiscent of the shamanistic practices of secret orders and societies like the Ogboni Fraternity and all the lodges and what have you.

That is what is a little bit problematic about the whole thing. There is really nothing wrong about people taking traditional oath because it  is designed to ensure that people do what they have promised to do. It is not strange in the traditional society.

It is a practice that stretches all the way back to ancient Egypt. But this
type of oath you are talking about borders on the occult. These types of oaths-taking are not supposed to be part of 21st century political system. However, we know that in the universities for  instance, the so-called cults that perpetrate all manner of criminality on campuses and their members have to take similar oaths to ensure compliance.  I think what has happened in Ogun State, is a carry-over from the practices of secret societies.

Don’t you think that taking double oaths is capable of compelling the individuals involved to have divided loyalty?

Except that we have to recognise that oath-takers are adults and they acted in full knowledge of the consequences of their actions because they were sane and were of age. They should be bound by whatever they swore to. If there is a conflict between  the oath of allegiance to the state as legislators  and the traditional oath, I would argue that the oath of allegiance should prevail.

This is because many of these characters are opportunists who would stop at nothing to either get elected or appointed into public office. They don’t give a hoot about the oath taken with the Holy Bible or Holy Koran. After all both Christianity and  Islam are both foreign religions.

However, the oath administered in the usual African way would tend to be more  potent, in terms of adherence to traditional  African religion. Experience has shown that when push comes to shove, the African would go to his roots. If an African is in serious difficulty, he won’t go to the priest or imam; he would go to the babalawo or the traditional priest of his village who could engage in divination and prescribe all manner of sacrifices that have to be done in order to ward off the threat of danger or devilish influence or what they call spiritual attack with incisions on the head and all sorts of places.

Let’s face it, we are Africans.  However much we want to pretend to the contrary, we might speak very good English or wear very fine suits and embroidered agbada, but we are really primordial. We are yet to escape from the labyrinths of the 13th century.

We are not yet fully in the 21st century. We might drive the fanciest cars. People used to place amulets in their vehicles to avoid accidents. Really that is not done anymore. Maybe we are slowly but surely getting out of what the racists used to call “darkest Africa”. This is  used to express the sentiment that you can’t really change an African from his traditional belief system despite all the impact of Christianity and Islam.

Isn’t it a problem for the political system that political office holders swear to another oath apart from the oath of office especially  given the rumour that this practice is wide-spread among politicians?

I think that the practice is wide-spread among politicians. If you remember the allegations against the former Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige by Chris Uba when he claimed  that Ngige took an oath before the Okija Shrine. If you remember the allegations made against the Governor of Abia State,  Chief Theodore Orji who was captured in photographs while taking oath at the Okija Shrine. Although he disowned the photographs, not many people believed him.

It is usually done by political godfathers to rein in their political godsons, by ensuring they swear oaths of allegiance to them and not to the state. This is because it is very expensive to get into public office and if you have somebody who can help you on a proviso that you swear an oath of allegiance to him,  many political office seekers would not bat an eye to swear the oath hoping they would carry the day. Many people may now be crying havoc but it’s  only those who broke the eleventh commandment which states that “thou shall not be caught” that are condemned.

It is only those caught pants down that are now being criticised and vilified. I tend to believe that the practice of secret oath-taking is generally wide-spread just as we used to hear that you could not become a member of the student union executive unless you belonged to one secret cult or the other; that is a general feeling within Nigerian universities.

So it is the same thing that has now found resonance in the larger society. You can see that the universities themselves are a microcosm of the society and on that basis this phenomenon is not really new. If there was no dispute we would never have found out that anybody swore to an oath of allegiance to an individual.  It is something you don’t talk about.

It is like asking when last did we beat our wives?  I remember someone saying that we all do it, but we don’t admit in public. So secret oath-taking is something that  Nigerian politicians would never admit occurs.  That tells me that the political system we  have is like dressing ourselves in borrowed robes.  Our political system does not capture the reality of today’s Nigeria.

There are so many imponderables in the system. Without going through all these magic boxes and contraptions, people don’t end up in public office;  that is the truth of the matter which many political actors would not want to admit.

It is a problem in the sense that the Nigerian political system has not become mature. It tells me that the primordial sentiments tend to dominate the political space. It tells me that the Nigerian society is very many centuries behind the modern society.  Even in a society that still relishes in traditional beliefs like Japan,  I don’t think people commit harakiri anymore.

Except that we had a recent case in Korea where a disgraced President decided to take his own life. It’s a cultural heritage  which is super-imposed on an alien political system. The present political system is not indigenous to us. The traditional system of kinship and gerontocracy among the Igbos for instance an
d feudalism among northern Nigerians  are still very much alive and kicking.

We just grafted an advanced political system on a primordial foundation. We are  neither western nor really African. We are like what Prof. Ayandele called a deluded hybrid.  We are not sure of who we are politically speaking. Can we say the political system is functioning as it should?  We still have politicians carpet-crossing. We are still practicing politics of the stomach here. We are not practicing politics of values, nor ideology. So you can expect the unexpected in the contemporary Nigerian society.

Is there a legal solution to this phenomenon ?

The Electoral Act as well as the Constitution have provisions which forbid membership of secret societies for public office holders. People have said that we have had even presidents in this country who allegedly belonged to secret societies. Since that has happened, it seems we have acquiesced in the character failure of some of our public office holders.

I even heard that some Vice-Chancellors had to join secret societies in order to get their appointments. I was a Vice-Chancellor at the University of Ado-Ekiti. However, I never applied for the job. I was invited. Maybe that was why I escaped being subjected to that condition. If you talk about a legal solution, the issue  really is : who will guard the guards? ( In latin, Quis custodiet ipso custodiet?).

You know that  during the Okija Shrine debacle, there was a register of visitors to the shrine which was found and it was said that it contained many big names in the country. We were told that the names would be published. Did we ever  see any of those na
mes published? This was probably because those who were supposed to publish those names either had their own names in the register or were afraid of the consequences of publishing such a list.

It desecrates institution of governance — Ozekhome

Reacting to the double allegiance being taken by politicians , constitutional lawyer, activist and politician, Chief Mike Ozekhome said, “it is sacrilegious, immoral, ancient, primordial, unprogressive and devilish”

“It is  clearly  an ill wind, a despicable ill wind that blows no body no good.”

Commenting on its effects on governance, the human rights crusader said, “It stultifies governance, it kills transparency, it desecrates the institution of governance and stagnates moral and spiritual development.”

He stated that “anyone who takes an oath different from the provisions of the 1999 Constitution operates in the realm of satan or lucifer. Such a person is surely not a child of God.”

“It is good for all of us to pray for them, both the oath taker and the administrator, to be saved from eternal perdition and the brazen inferno of the hottest part of hell”

It’s unheard of — Asiwaju Sokan

Asiwaju Alexanda Taiwo Sokan, legal practitioner

Any oath of secrecy that is not in line with the law of the land is  illegal. But if it is in line with the law of the land, it is okay. Taking an oath of secrecy is okay if  it is  provided for in the  constitution. But if it is out of the ordinary is nefarious and I don’t think that can be justified. The recent one is very unhealthy; it is bad and should be discouraged.

It is unheard of;  it’s now they say all sorts of things. It is due to greed. When a lot of money is put at people’s disposal; money that they will not account for, money that they sit upon and nobody worries about it.  It is when they have such money  that  people misbehave. It is not a good thing, very honestly. If political office holders should be in office on temporary basis, it will save cost.

Now that there is a lot of corruption, it is only those that really want to work that would take it up on a part-time basis.  Then you know those who are ready  for the job. But as long as it is like this, well, it depends on what the people want. You know there was a time in this country when you talk of democracy; democracy is a game of number. We have  democracy if majority say  here is where we are going and we follow it.  But if it is few people that will lord it over us, it is not democracy.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.