Nigeria, A Country In Love With Public Holidays


While we continue to luxuriate in foolhardy work lethargy, idling away in the name of needless public holidays, serious nations are ramping up production in anticipation of increases in product demand from us – the revellers.

By IKECHUKWU AMAECHI

As you read this, Nigerians are still at home ‘savouring’ the Federal Government’s ‘magnanimity’ in awarding them extra public holiday for the Eid-el-Fitr celebrations that mark the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset Ramadan fasting by the Muslim ummah.

As it is always the tradition, the Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, on Sunday, April 7, declared Tuesday and Wednesday public holidays for Eid. But that was before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia weighed in on the issue of moon sighting, announcing on Monday, April 8, that the crescent of Shawwal had not been spotted, meaning that the fasting would continue on Tuesday and the Eid celebration, the first of two canonical festivals of Islam, will take place on Wednesday, April 10.

Shortly after, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, who is the President General of Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), threw his ecclesiastical weight behind the Wednesday date, claiming that the report of the National Moon Sighting Committees across the country confirmed the non-sighting of the new moon.

A statement by the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Religious Affairs to the Sultanate Council, Prof Sambo Junaidu, said on Monday evening: “The council accepted the report and accordingly declared Wednesday, April 10, 2024, as the first day of Shawwal 1445AH.”

Then, on Tuesday, April 9, as Nigerians were already marking the first of the two-day public holidays already declared, the Federal Government approved Thursday, April 11, as an additional public holiday.

That was rather absurd but expectedly, some Nigerians, mostly public servants who would rather idle away at home than go to work are beside themselves with joy despite the dire consequences of incessant public holidays on national productivity and the overall health of the economy.

The extension, indubitably needless, raises two issues: Why didn’t the Federal Government wait for the moon to be sighted before declaring Tuesday and Wednesday public holidays? And having already made the declaration, why was an additional public holiday necessary when Wednesday, the real Sallah day, is one of the two days already declared?

In any case, a Sokoto-based Muslim cleric, Sheikh Musa Lukwa, in defiance of the Sultan’s directive on moon sighting, on Tuesday, led his followers to observe Eid prayer at about 8.30 am at his Juma’at mosque on the premise that the moon of Shawwal was sighted in neighbouring Niger Republic on Monday.

Sheikh Lukwa said: “We have a verified video clip of their council of Ulamah authenticating the report after which the country declared Tuesday as Sallah day. So it is now binding on us to observe Eid on Tuesday because this is what the teachings of the Holy Prophet says. If we can accept that of Saudi Arabia, why can’t we agree with that of Niger Republic, which is nearer to us?”

I must state here that I have zero appetite for the vexing politics of moon sighting in particular and religion generally. But we cannot avoid interrogating the rationale for the extra public holiday, knowing full well that with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday already out, the whole week, literally, is lost because even without any government pronouncement, Nigerians will extend the holidays to Friday.

In fact, Katsina State, on Tuesday, announced that Friday, April 12, 2024, will be a non-working day. Governor Dikko Radda said the additional holiday was to allow workers in the state to fully partake in the Sallah celebrations with their loved ones.

And how can a people who can hardly afford anything because of the debilitating poverty in the land, people being trampled to death while struggling for food handouts, be celebrating in the real sense?

It goes without saying that even in those states where no public announcements were made, particularly in the North, the working week started and ended on Monday. It will even be a struggle to drag some back to work on Monday next week.

Truth be told, no country desirous of productivity can afford to deliberately put her people out of work in the name of religious ceremonies as Nigeria does. The idea of unending public holidays is not only absurd but also sickening.

When it comes to no-work days, Nigeria only competes with such countries as Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Cambodia. That is not a good company to keep for a country with over 63 per cent of its population multi-dimensionally poor and 41 per cent unemployed.

The tragi-comedy has been made worse by the supremacy battle of the two dominant religions – Christianity and Islam – none of which is indigenous. 

But as bad as this picture is, it is not even the full story. In most Muslim-dominated states, Fridays have equally been appropriated as part of the weekend work-free days. Where it is not expressly so, workers at best work half-day, leaving for home after the Jumu’ah Prayer (Friday prayer).

When these ceremonies fall on weekends, the nearest weekday is quickly appropriated as a public holiday. Since it has become a convention that a minimum of two days must be used in celebration, if the ceremonies fall on a Saturday and Sunday, then Monday and Tuesday are sacrificed on the country’s hedonistic altar.

This is ridiculous particularly against the backdrop that on public holidays, major economic activities are automatically shut down – all financial institutions, schools, and government offices go on break.

The bigger tragedy is that even as many think that we already have too many work-free days in a country where, ideally, every hour of the 365 days in a year ought to be maximally utilized in productive ventures, some are still clamouring for more.

The ultra-conservative Muslim Ummah are still agitating that the beginning of the Islamic year be declared a public holiday insisting that the Gregorian calendar is a Christian creation. Thus, they clamour that every July 19, the Gregorian date for 1445 AH, the beginning of the Islamic year, be declared a public holiday. To be sure, some states are already observing it as a work-free day. Sooner than later, it will become a national holiday.

It is even worse every election year. In an era when you can hardly know that elections are being held in some countries, including here in Africa, Nigeria is entirely shut down on election days. For instance, in preparation for the 2023 elections, many state governors declared work free days to enable residents register and collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), in an election the Prof Mahmoud Yakubu-led Independent National Election Commission (INEC) disingenuously rigged beforehand.

Then, throw into the mix the fact that non-state actors like the Mazi Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the last three years declared every Monday a work-free day in the Southeast, then the absurdity of the problem stares you in the face.

So, why these many work-free days? None of the two religions – Christianity and Islam – pushing that every of the 365 days be declared a public holiday is indigenous. They are foreign religions and not even in the Arabian Peninsula and Israel where they originated are so many man hours wasted as work-free days in the name of religion.

In the developed climes of Europe and North America, no one can afford such luxury. For instance, in the United Kingdom, there are eight bank holidays (public holidays) a year in England and Wales – New Year Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, May Day, late May Bank Holiday, Summer Bank Holiday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day; nine in Scotland and ten in Northern Ireland. The United States recognizes 12 federal holidays and in Canada, there are 10 paid general holidays every year.

These incessant work-free days in Nigeria are ill-advised. The wasted man-hours are unquantifiable and the economy is worse for it. The public holidays are too many, needless and counter-productive and must be reduced if Nigerian leaders are serious about jumpstarting the economy and revving the engine of production and development. Holidays that fall on weekends should be celebrated on such days.

But am I hopeful that the government will summon the will to do the needful? Not at all. A government which will remove fuel subsidy and hike electricity tariff claiming that the state has no money but surreptitiously pays N90 billion to subsidise 2024 hajj operations will not want to offend religious sensibilities for selfish political gains.

That is why we will continue to luxuriate in foolhardy work lethargy, idling away in the name of needless public holidays while serious nations ramp up production in anticipation of increases in product demand from us – the revelers.


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