The one-day addition to the traditional two days public holiday to mark the Eid-el-Fitr may have come as a welcome relief to most Nigerians but the cost and other even greater implications should worry the country’s leaders and followers alike. It is not just the estimated one trillion Naira loss in GNP recorded for the extra day but the fact that citizens are generally comfortable with extra holidays at a time when the national economy is on the verge of depression or negative GDP growth for two consecutive quarters.
First, how did the Federal Government end up announcing a wrong date?
The tradition was that the Interior Ministry interacted with the Sultan of Sokoto and President of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs before public holiday(s) are declared in such circumstance. Why no such consultation happened last week before the bureaucrats at the Interior Ministry exercised their discretion by unilaterally declaring July 5 and 6 as the holiday for Eid-el-Fitr should be investigated. The national embarrassment is even more unacceptable because Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the holiest Islamic sites did not declare Tuesday a national holiday. Indeed, we know no nation that committed the same blunder. The Interior Minister, Abdulrahman Dambazau should also take all necessary measures to reconnect with Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto.
On our penchant for undeserved rest, the simple truth is that in the light of Nigeria’s dwindling resources, increasing poverty rate and the state of general underdevelopment, we can no longer afford it. Another truth is that relatively prosperous nations have fewer national holidays while those with low GDPs tend to be preoccupied with vacations. In the United States and France,for instance, the total number of national holidays scheduled for 2016 is eleven days. Singapore has marked 13 days, South Africa has 15 days. Russia, Ghana and Nigeria have 16.
The material cost of an extra day off on the national economy is really incalculable. It includes the inconvenience to those least prepared for it. For instance, twice within a week, many schools had to shut down and reopen hurriedly by adjusting their calendars. Shutdowns whether for public holidays, emergencies, mourning ceremonies or labour strikes explain the growing decline in national productivity as wages, especially in the public sector, are unearned. This is partly a result of the proverbial Resource Curse whereby the Federal, States and Local Government depend on oil receipts for over 70 per cent of their funding.
For 99 percent of citizens who eke a living outside this loop, extended holidays is extra bad news. The over 70 per cent of Nigerians who live below the poverty line mostly depend on daily paid work for their most basic needs especially food and healthcare.
The individual states of the federation are not left out of the holiday jamboree. In a growing pattern across the federation, more and more state governors declare public holidays on the slightest pretexts. Perhaps, the popularity of work free days makes them effective in pacifying restive and stressed citizens. Currently, the most outstanding case is that of Abia State where Governor Okezie Ikpeazu declared three days public holiday to mourn the death of Chief Ojo Maduekwe, a former two-time Minister and an indigene of the state. Some analysts believe the embattled “governor” who was last week sacked by the Court of Appeal in Abuja added Monday and Thursday as public holidays for Abia State in a calculated attempt to shut down government machinery and forestall the installation of his rival, Uche Ogah, as new governor as directed by the court pending the determination of his own appeal.
Benue State devised the ingenious notion of declaring every Friday as a holiday to officially enable the civil servants owed arrears of salaries farm compulsorily as part of the state’s hunger management strategy and also as an unofficial concession to help them minimise the costs of transportation.
We must as a nation rethink our work ethic and reorientate the citizenry to realise that rest follows toil or toil will certainly arrest undue rest. In this regard, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture should lead a sustained campaign to return workers in the public and private sectors alike to the path of hard work and productivity.