Nigeria: A beleagured country enjoying holidays while others move on (Part 2)

MIKE OZEKHOME SAN, OFR

INTRODUCTION

Last week, we extensively discussed the law that established public holidays in Nigeria, which is the Public Holiday Act promulgated 1st January, 1979. Under this Act, the President has the power to declare holidays for the entire nation or any state or part of the country. Governors have the power to declare public holidays in their various states or for any part thereof. The Minister of Internal Affairs has powers to change designated holiday dates when he or she determines it necessary or appropriate to do so. With the above powers given to numerous officials by the Public Holidays Act, it has further deepened the socio-economic problems of the country. Today, we shall continue with the current list of public holidays in Nigeria.

PUBLIC HOLIDAYS IN NIGERIA: THE FULL LIST

The full list of statutory holidays, to which more are usually added by successive governments, based on their personal idiosyncrasies or political exigencies are:

January 1: New Year’s Day (Commemorates the beginning of the calendar year), February 22: Election Day/ Special Public holidays Public Holiday, April 19: Good Friday, April 22: Easter Monday, May 1: Workers’ Day (Commemorates Workers’ labour movement Internationally), May 27: Children’s Day (School holiday for Children), May 29: Presidential Inauguration Holiday, June 4: Eid el Fitr, June 5: Eid el Fitr holiday, June 12: Democracy Day (Commemorates the return to Democracy in Nigeria), August 12: Eid-el Kabir, August 13: Eid-el Kabir additional holiday, September 1: Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year), October 1: National Day (Commemorates the Independence of Nigeria from Britain), November 10: Eid-el Maulud, December 25: Christmas Day (Christian holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus), December 26: Boxing Day.

There have even been recent additions to this long list. The Federal Government of Nigeria recently declared June 12 as the country’s new “Democracy Day”. This was done in recognition of the martyr of Democracy, Chief MKO Abiola, who won the June 12, 1993, election, but was never allowed to govern. Instead, he died in Aso Villa in hazy circumstances. May 29, which was the former democracy day will, however, still be celebrated in commemoration of the beginning of the second four-year term of a President. Both days have therefore been earmarked as public holidays. I agree with June 12 as Nigeria’s “Democracy Day”. I have fought for this for well over two decades.

The power to declare any other holidays not reflected in the schedule under the Public Holidays Act is conferred on the Honourable Minister of Internal Affairs in section 3, who usually by public notice, is permitted to declare any day a public holiday when it appears to him expedient that a day other than those specifically provided for by the Act be so declared.

Section 4 of the said Act provides that no person shall be compellable to do any act on any day appointed by under the provisions of this Act to be kept as a public holiday which he would not be compellable to do on a Sunday.

Section 5 provides that: “If any day appointed as public holiday falls successively on a Friday and a Saturday, only the Friday concerned and no additional day in lieu of that Saturday shall be kept a public holiday.

b “if any day appointed to be a public holiday fall successively on a Saturday and Sunday only the Saturday and Sunday concerned and no additional day in lieu of the Saturday and Sunday shall be kept as public holiday.

c “if two days appointed as public holidays falls successively on a Sunday and a Monday, only the Monday concerned and no additional day in lieu of that Sunday shall be kept as a public holiday.

ORIGIN OF WASTEFUL PUBLIC HOLIDAYS IN NIGERIA

Analysts have carefully traced the injection of frivolity into our national life through public holidays to the early 1970s, coinciding with the first oil boom, when the country became awash with oil revenue and the then governments embarked on a mindless spending spree. The governments of the day initiated a pattern of consumption that found expression in luxurious life style for public officials and a lazy import-dependent population. A corollary to this was the love for holidays, as production gave way to simply importing goods and “enjoying” them on paid holidays. Nigerian governments took to awarding generous work-free days, to bribe a growing restless population, just as the quality of public service fell progressively, in lieu of infrastructure, social services, jobs, self-reliance and a productive, diversified economy. Successive governments awarded extra holidays anytime a scheduled public holiday fell on a weekend, at times stretching to three extra days. We took on the garb of the oxymoron of late Professor Claude Ake’s theory that Nigeria operates a “disarticulate economy”, where we produce what we do not consume and consume what we do not produce.

Worried by this trend, the then outgoing Obansanjo’s military junta, in January, 1979, made a law, now codified as the Public Holidays Act, seeking to instill common sense and discernable traction into the public holidays system. The law clearly stipulates that where two days appointed as public holidays fall successively on a Friday and a Saturday, “only the Friday concerned and no additional day in lieu of that Saturday shall be kept as a public holiday.” It further provides that “if any day appointed to be a public holiday falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, “only the Saturday or Sunday concerned and no other day in lieu of either of such days shall be kept as a public holiday.”

NOW THIS

EVILS OF WASTEFUL PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

If we could be excused for indulging in this silly, wasteful pastime in times past of oil boom and bountiful plenty, we should now be more serious in the midst of recession. The economy, rebased in 2014, briefly made Nigeria Africa’s largest economy at $510 billion. Now, it is barely $300 billion, following the exchange rate crash. In many states, where paying salaries has become a major challenge, some governments, which have even asked their higher academic institutions to fend for themselves, nevertheless, awarded holidays to mark the World Teachers’ Day and another one to mark the start of the Islamic lunar calendar. Some state governors even declare holidays for political reasons. A mere visit by Mr President closes down some states for three days. This is national madness.

Declaring impromptu holidays disrupts business activities and entrenches a regime of waste and Nigeria’s notoriety as an unattractive investment destination. To raise productivity in the wake of its economic slow-down, Portugal, with per capita GDP of $19,122, in 2012, revoked four public holidays. But no one knows how much Nigeria, with $2,758 per capita GDP, loses from its numerous rest days (including Saturdays and Sundays), calculated at about 120 days by Issa Aremu, a veteran labour unionist. But, a report said N138 billion in scheduled treasury bills auctions was lost to impromptu holidays in July this year alone. 

AND THIS

THE TASK BEFORE PRESIDENT BUHARI

The task before the Buhari government is the URGENCY OF NOW. It requires utmost seriousness. The leadership should eschew precepts and lead by example. With the economy taking a battering and all aspects of national life in tatters, the message should be that all should roll up their sleeves and get to work to revive the economy, education, health and infrastructure. You don’t foster a sense of urgency by awarding holidays and disrupting the operations of the enterprises that are withstanding the heavy winds of closures. You cannot demonstrate leadership by holidaying outside Nigeria with any and every little excuse.

We cannot necessarily have to imitate other countries that revel in long public holidays. Examples of such countries and number of public holidays are Cambodia (28); Srilanka (25); India and Kazakhstan (21 each); Columbia, the Philipp and Trinidad and Tobago (18 each). However, these countries with a high rate of public holidays have six working days out of the seven days in a week, to cover up for losses occasioned by such public holidays. We cannot afford their luxury of life style. We must act like a country in a hurry to develop – like the Asian Tigers – Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Asian Tigritude is simply primarily concerned with producing exports, educating their citizens and minimizing costs of production through cheap, low-skilled labour; government support, less rigid laws and regulations on labour, taxation and pollution, well developed infrastructures such as roads, railways and ports; reduced barriers to international trade and increased technological advancement. (The End).

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

“In order to become prosperous, a person must initially work very hard, so he or she has to sacrifice a lot of leisure time.” (Dalai Lama).

LAST LINE

I thank Nigerians for always keeping faith with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb., Ph.D, LL.D. I enjoin you to look forward to next week’s treatise.

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2 Thoughts to “Nigeria: A beleagured country enjoying holidays while others move on (Part 2)”

  1. This design is incredible! You most certainly know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Excellent job. I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  2. Folu

    I would like to thank Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, for his opinion on public holidays in Nigeria, but in as much as I do not subscribe to unnecessary declaration of public holidays that invariably have negative impact on our national economy, I would like the Senior Advocate who I know to be pro-masses to see to the plight of Nigerian workers, especially those engaged in private organizations and who are officially compelled to work long hour (8am – 6pm) everyday for six days a week, and sometimes 6am to 10pm when the organizations feel there is need for that. People working in such organizations will heartily welcome more than 30 days public holidays in a year. My appeal to you is to use the instrumentality of law to put a stop to this practice, and it is after that is done we can be talking of reducing the number of public holidays in Nigeria.
    Thanks.

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