Holidays. Nigerians love and clamour for it, even for the most ridiculous reasons. The terrible and anti-productivity culture and policy has been with us for a long time. In the past, it was passed over from one regime to another, both the military and civilian administrations. Up until the present administration, the culture remains.
In fact, instead of the excesses of the policy and questionable practice to be checked, sadly, it is getting worse.
It’s very ironic that despite the policy of the Nigerian Government and the seeming preference of its citizens, which relegates productivity, Nigerians still look forward to a big, vibrant and thriving economy.
Similarly, it’s worrisome to see the Nigerian Government declaring public holidays that make no meaning to discerning minds. The holidays in question are apart from the conventional annual holidays, sick and maternity leaves, which the country’s Labour law recognises and makes provisions for. Indeed, Nigerians are so used to the holiday culture that the Government now moves holidays that fall on weekends to weekdays.
In this Editorial, we are asking: What is the sense and rationale behind moving a public holiday that falls on weekends to the next working day? There is a need for both the government and those who seem to be enjoying the needless and wasteful extended holiday to be confronted with some facts and then ask ourselves: How can the country hit a high productivity level when its precious working hours and days have been lost to needless holidays?
First, the Nigerian Labour Act, 2004 regulates terms and conditions of employment for Nigerian workers. The Act provides that Nigerian workers are entitled to an annual leave of at least six days each year. Further to the above, the law says: “An employee who has worked for at least 12 consecutive months is entitled to a minimum of six working days of annual leave with full pay. (At least 12 working days in the case of teenagers, under the age of 16 years including apprentices).” Apart from the above, the Act also provides for sick and maternity leaves.
The above again is aside from the long list of public holidays: occasions, events or dates recognised by the government and law, which authorities year-on-year declare holidays to mark. Now, when the number of days Nigerians go on public holiday, the available number of days in a fiscal year and weekends are put into consideration, the questions we’re asking are:How many days and working hours are left in 12 working months? Obviously, the result is on the deficit side. These have accounted for some unpleasant media reports on how the country has recorded huge losses to both holiday and labour unions industrial actions.
In its August 1, 2017 edition, The Guardian newspaper published a shocking trend, reporting: “Nigeria lost at least N9.74 billion in 2016 as a result of multiple public holidays observed during the year.” The title’s investigation revealed that in 2016 alone, about 15 national public holidays were observed, excluding others declared in some states.
Further to this, data from the National Bureau of Statistics for the fourth quarter (Q4 2016) showed that 81,151,885 workers spent 37.38 million hours during the period to contribute N29.29 trillion to the economy at an average productivity rate of N783.51.
The report exposed thus: “Using the same estimates, with the expectation that workers spend an average of eight hours of productivity daily, 15 days of public holidays at N783.51 productivity value, means N9.74 billion, representing 10 percent of the budgetary allocation in 19 states in 2016 when assessed on individual basis, was lost to the idle periods.”
Sadly, the lost amount as at then was estimated to be adequate to deliver a fully equipped teaching hospital to enhance the epileptic tertiary health care system we are still battling with in the country.
Has any attempt been made in the past to change the retrogressive tradition? The answer is: Yes. The Federal Government, the report recalled, on account of too many holidays in the year and the attendant economic losses was forced to make a policy during the military junta of late General Sani Abacha “prohibiting” the shifting of holidays that fell on weekends to weekdays. The policy, the publication indicated, was to test the necessity of the culture when the late Founder/Publisher of The Guardian, Dr. Alex Ibru, was the Minister of Internal Affairs from 1993 to 1995. Without repealing the policy either by promulgation or an act of parliament, the country returned to the old practice of shifting weekend holidays to weekdays, hence the over N9 billion avoidable income loss in the year under review.
Meaningless holidays are not only avenues Nigeria records losses. Organised Labour strike is another factor. For instance, an investigation published in January 2012 indicated that Nigeria lost about N158.9 billion to strike! Despite these lapses, the government and Nigerians in general still look forward to a healthy economy and good development in the country. Nigeria is a country inhabited by people with many biases. Frontline among the sentiments in the country are: religion and ethnicity.
These factors have also contributed to the challenge of reckless holiday declaration, specifically the public holidays with religious connotation. A good example here is Maulid Nabiy (marking of Prophet Muhammad birthday). In the real teaching of Islam, the event has no basis, so declaring a holiday for it is political and to calm nerves among Muslim faithful. We also know that the Christmas celebration is not marked by all Christian denominations due to certain historical, but controversial assertions.
For us, we don’t really bother about the nomenclature, but we care seriously and feel concerned about the extension of the holidays which fall on weekends to the next workday. It’s so bad that a State Governor, apart from the Federal Government holiday, declared an additional day to mark the last Maulid Nabiy.
Recall that Minister of Interior, Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo on behalf of the Federal Government had declared September 27, 2023 as a public holiday to commemorate the Maulid Nabiy celebration. However, the Jigawa State Governor, Umar Namadi, extended the holiday, declaring the following day, September 28, as an additional free working day in the state! Whatever reason (s) he has for the declaration could be rational to the Governor only, his supporters and those who make economic gains from the baseless holiday.
Again, we’re fully aware of the fact that the likes of Governor Namadi this time would be claiming that after all, we are a federating state, therefore, states are covered by law to exercise some rights! We know claims like this are made when it suits the Governors. But the same states chief security officers would cry to the rooftop about the insecurity ravaging their states. This time, the same right they could have exercised to stay on top – to nip in the bud insecurity challenge in their domains would be put on holiday. This time, they blame the Federal Government and put all their expectations at the centre. This is nonsense and hypocritical!
To put behind us this long, but backward culture, the legislature has a role to play. First, if there’s a law backing the practice, this arm of government should immediately look into it for urgent and productive amendment. But if there’s none, then we call on the National Assembly to push for a law reviewing the manner of public holidays in the country, specifically the aspect of needless extension.
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Ultimately, our desire is for the country to run a viable and sustainable economy. But we must establish and assert that if our economy should flourish, all the basic variables must be present and put into consistent action. In addition, some practices must also be jettisoned and permanently sacrificed to avoid contradictions and put our economy on a good and firm footing.
We therefore appeal to governments at all levels, especially the Federal Government, the Legislature and even the judiciary to lend their support in discarding this age long meaningless and needless public holiday extension. This culture is arguably peculiar to Nigeria. Therefore, it’s high time the authorities gave it a second and critical look for a rectification. If Nigeria must develop, how we expend our working hours and days matter a lot. Time is money, so it is said. Too much wastage won’t take us anywhere. Let this culture be given the last and final burial, while other economic indices are simultaneously and seamlessly being worked upon for a new Nigeria we all clamour and crave for.