Oath of Office and Swearing-in Ceremony: A Mere Dancing Party?

Introduction

Following the recently concluded 2019 elections, Nigerian politicians who were successful at the polls are all being sworn in, into various offices. It must be mentioned that there are other States of the Federation where elections had taken place prior to the 2019 elections as several events had led to the lack of uniformity in tenure across the country, especially in governorship cases. 

At the Federal level, while President Buhari and Vice-President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo were sworn in on 29 May, 2019 (by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Mohammed), Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan and Senator Obarisi Ovie Omo-Agege were both sworn in on 11 June, 2019 as the Senate President and Deputy Senate President respectively. The same process goes for their counter-parts at the House of Representatives; and for the Governors and legislators at State level.

Oath of Office  Elements

Oath of Office has been defined here as “an oath or affirmation a person takes before undertaking the duties of an office, usually a position in government or within a religious body, although such oaths are sometimes required of officers of other organisations. Such oaths are often required by the laws of the state, religious body, or other organisation before the person may actually exercise the powers of the office or any religious body.”

The swearing-in ceremonies as mentioned above are usually marked by the taking of oath of office. The requirement for the taking of oath of office is a Constitutional prescription which must be complied with. Interestingly, the taking of oath of office is not only meant for politicians but for many other public office holders including judges (Judicial Oath). So too, other entities and bodies are adopting the oath of office system as a way of swearing-in officers.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Seventh Schedule thereof, made provisions for Oath of Allegiance and Oaths of Office for the President; Governors; Vice President, Deputy Governors, Ministers, Commissioners and Special Advisers; Members of the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly; and Judicial Oath for Judges and Justices.

Beyond the elements of these Oaths which we shall highlight below, one of the legal significance of Oath of Office is that it marks the beginning of a tenure of office.*

Although these oaths are not exactly the same, they are however similarly worded as the same elements run through them all. These elements include:

  • Faithfulness and true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
  • Discharge of duties to the best of one’s abilities.
  • Discharge of duties faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of Nigeria and the law.
  • Discharge of duties always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
  • Preservation of Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as contained in the Constitution.
  • Not to allow personal interest to influence official conduct or official decisions.
  • Preservation, protection and defence of the Constitution.
  • Abiding by the Code of Conduct contained in the Constitution.
  • Doing right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.
  • Confidentiality – Non disclosure of information except as may be required for due discharge of duties. 

The Reality

In the Nigerian political space, it is doubtful if the oath of office being sworn to by many politicians means anything to them. To many, there allegiance is rather to their political god-fathers and not to Nigeria. Duties are not discharged to the best of abilities because sometimes ability is even lacking. You find square pegs in round holes. Discharge of duties often run counter to the Constitution but may be in accordance with political party agenda. The overall interest and well-being of the nation stand sidelined. Many have no idea what the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as contained in the Constitution means, not to talk of preserving it. Above all things, is there a single politician in Nigeria that can boast of working for any other interest except personal interest and gains? Personal interest has an incredible level of influence over their official conducts and decisions. How do you explain the level of poverty in a country blessed with rich human and natural resources? One top Nigerian politician may possibly feed a whole State(s) with looted funds stacked up in foreign banks. Only recently, Late Sani Abacha is reportedly still ‘blessing’ Nigeria from the grave. Why is Nigeria still largely under-developed? In perhaps one remarkable occasion – we remember Dr. Goodluck Jonathan (Nigeria’s former President) for that Telephone Call that saved the destiny of a whole nation. That is national interest over personal interest, whatever your take. Preservation, protection and defence of the Constitution still remain a struggle for many. We have seen how busy the Code of Conduct Tribunal has been in recent times when even the head of the Tribunal has questions to answer. how well are our public office holders abiding by the Code of Conduct? “Doing right to all manner of people according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will” is perhaps, nebulous. But it must entail not being partial and allowing merits to prevail. But why do we have the children of top politicians all in Central Bank of Nigeria and in juicy offices of Government? People enjoy political appointments based on their financial ‘investment’ in the political struggle (or affiliation to a god-father), thereby turning the Nigerian nation to a corporation.  

In Attorney-General of Plateau State & Ors v. Hon. Chief Anthony Goyol & Ors (2007) LPELR-12875 (CA), Akaahs, JCA (as he then was) said:

“In taking the Oath of Office of Governor of the State as spelt out in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, the Governor swore to: “…Discharge my duties to the best of my ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law that I will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria … (Italics mine for emphasis.) The Governor swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and not to mutilate it.” (P. 44, paras. A-C)

Conclusion

As Nigeria celebrates June 12, there is the urgent need to reflect. Of what relevance are these Oaths when they are largely observed in breach? Persons of questionable characters occupy top Government positions and we expect the best? Can irresponsibility beget responsibility?

In the Nigeria of our dreams, we want to see true leaders – men and women on behalf of whom we shall collectively swear to their integrity and abilities such that they need not swear to same themselves by any oath.

 

 

*See “Tenure Elongation in Nigeria: The Importance of Oaths of Allegiance and Oaths of Office in Calculation of Tenure.



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a Legal Practitioner, Consultant, Mediator and Social Entrepreneur. He is the Managing Attorney at Splendour Legal Consultants. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts. Desirous of implementing new legal solutions, he founded Stephen Legal, a firm in the business of providing innovative legal insights and easy solution in this information age. Stephen also serves as a volunteer at Prof. Pat. Utomi’s Centre for Values in Leadership in Lagos, given his passion for capacity building and leadership development.
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