We often hear many commentaries on oaths in the country. Isn’t it interesting listening to the news on oaths? We watch our leaders and other state officials swear oaths in public before they assume responsibilities for which they are appointed or elected. We also witness people swear oaths or make affirmations in the court. Indeed, there are many other undertakings in our lives which require people to swear an oath. For instance, medical officers swear the Hippocratic oath to treat the sick to the best of their ability and keep these patients’ health information in confidentiality unless in exceptional cases.
What then is oath? Dictionary.com defines oath as a solemn appeal to a deity, or to some revered person or thing, to witness one’s determination to speak the truth, to keep a promise.” It is also explained as “a solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future action or behaviour”. The oath means deity? To help us understand the deeper meaning of oath, we need to lay a very strong foundation for it. The views of Karl Marx on religion would be very helpful in this direction. As a man of many parts, he says “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. Opium is basically a substance (drug) which has a strong medicinal effect on the nervous system (brain) and makes people drowsy.
It is worth noting that our country, Ghana recognises the diversity of religion-faith and has it enshrined in the 1992 constitution which is the supreme law governing us. Chapter five (5) of the constitution relates to the Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms. The Article 21 (1c) under this chapter states that “all persons shall have the right to freedom to practise any religion and to manifest such practice.” The report of the 2010 Population and Housing Census provided statistical information on our different religious affiliations as a nation. It revealed that (71.2) percent of the population agreed to the Christian faith, followed by Islam (17.6%). Traditional religion was (5.2%) or other people who were not affiliated with any religion were (5. 3%).
The figures, in fact, reinforce the fact that majority of us (Ghanaians) are stark religious in all respects. Based on our respective faith, we pray for many reasons and expect the results. For instance, we pray for our jobs and businesses while adopting innovative strategies for the businesses’ growth. We say and affirm that ‘the power and the effect of God’s word will never be cancelled or become void. His word will always accomplish its purpose by bringing either spiritual life to those who receive it or judgement to those who reject it.”
Religious freedom at its best! In light of this, we can acknowledge the fact that there is a sacred bond between oath (deity) and religion which has the blessing of the constitution. Religious as we are as a people, does oath; oath and oath have any spiritual and strong relationship with credit (loan) agreements? Setting the stage for the answer to this intriguing question, the case of a shrewd money lender who provides banking services in a town in the middle belt of the country which has one of the biggest market centres is worth considering.
Witnesses testify that he does not discriminate against prospective borrowers on the grounds of their ethnicity, gender, political affiliation or religion. What is of prime concern to him is the repayment ability of the borrowers he enters into credit agreements with. It is very amazing to know that borrowers are not required to provide collaterals for the loans. This, indeed, encourages a lot of people especially market women to apply for micro-loans to support their businesses. Nonetheless, the lender decided to adopt the communal religious faith of the locals (the people) as part of his customary risk management and underwriting strategy against loan defaults. The condition precedent to this lender’s loan agreements is revealing.
You must swear an oath-deity of a sort in his presence with your witness before the loan is given to you. You swear the oath in the local language or with the help of an interpreter if you do not understand the language by mentioning your names as registered on a valid ID Card. When reciting the oath, you are required to mention your day of birth to signify the seven days of the week. Borrowers are also at liberty to use Odikro, Nana, Abusuapanyin, Gyaasehema or any other title people identify them with, but cannot compromise on their names which they have on the valid cards. This oath is also a pledge to ensure that borrowers use the money prudently and repay it to the last pesewa agreed to in the agreement.
This is the made-up template of the lender’s oath: “I (name of borrower) having been granted a loan of GH¢ XYZ.00 amount from ABC Money Lender do in the name of (name of deity) that I will be faithful and true to the lender; that I agree to the terms and conditions which have been explained to me; and that I will use the loan for the purpose I requested it. I further solemnly swear that should I at any time break this oath of the loan I shall submit myself to the (name of deity) and suffer the dire consequences of it. (So, help me, God).” Dire consequences?
Can we describe this oath as the fear of God technique for credit risk management? A school of thought may suggest we call it “fear of the unknown technique”. The oath also reveals that the loan shall be used for the purpose it was granted for. It is a commonplace knowledge that there are many instances when people divert loans into other ventures which invariably negates their ability to repay them. This special and “ordained” oath is also meant to control such moral hazards.
It came to light that borrowers strictly abide by the oath (deity) and repay their loans on schedule even without the lender necessarily monitoring them by visiting their houses and places of business. The condition precedent appears to be effective. By firmly adhering to the oath, does it support Karl Marx’s claims that religion is the opium of the mind, thus, having an effect on these borrowers’ lives and causing them to honour their loan obligations? Or is this oath (deity) a mere a psychological strategy being applied by the lender to manage credit risk? The concept of transactional analysis concerning human behaviour which was postulated by Eric Berne, the father of modern psychology would be very helpful to understand the dynamics.
Transactional Analysis is a product of ‘Parent-adult-child’ theory. The findings of this theory revealed that everybody has three egos states-Parent Ego, Adult Ego and Child Ego which control their communication with other people in a society. It is being recognised that “the unit of social intercourse is called a transaction. If two or more people encounter each other sooner or later, one of them will speak or give some other indications to acknowledge the presence of their counterparts. This is called transactional stimulus. Another person will then say or do something which is in some way related to the stimulus, and that is called the transactional response”.
Hence, “transactional analysis is the interactions between individuals’ transactional stimuli and transactional response. According to Berne, the simplest transactions are between Adults’ ego states. He confirmed that the Adult Ego state is for objective and logical thinking which enables us to sort out information, make decisions and solve problems. As a result, we know when we are being objective, and we know when others are also in the same state of mind.
The strongest inference we can draw from this Transactional Analysis is that , interactions help individuals to have a common understanding with others either in their personal lives or in businesses for their mutual gains. Based on this, in my candid submission, the lender in the episode communicates by mutual consent with his customers and both agree to the condition precedent for the loans through this stimulus and response interrelationship. Therefore, we can establish the fact that the lender was able to validate the culture (problem) of loan- defaults in the area and had developed the deity mechanism to control the situation. Where do you stand in this conversation? Sacramento! Oaths! Here and there. Oaths, everywhere.
The lender’s oath is worth taking here and there once more: “I (name of borrower) having been granted a loan of GH¢XYZ.00 amount from ABC Money Lender do in the name of (name of deity) that I will be faithful and true to the lender; that I agree to the terms and conditions which have been explained to me; and that I will use the loan for the purpose I requested it. I further solemnly swear that should I at any time break this oath of the loan I shall submit myself to the (name of deity) and suffer the dire consequences of it. (So, help me, God).” The body, mind and soul resonate with a tap on the poetic rhythm of the Oaths! Here and there.
“Oaths! Here and there. Oaths, everywhere.
Oaths! Here and there. Oaths, everywhere
Religion, the opium of the mind; Oaths everywhere.
Oaths! Here and there! Oaths, everywhere”.
It is indeed Oaths! Here and there! Oaths everywhere. God Bless YOU!
The writer is a Chartered Banker