Government should abide by the Public Holidays Act

The federal government’s decision to increase the last Eid el Fitr holiday from two to three days has continued to draw sharp criticisms from many Nigerians who felt that frequent holidays at a time the nation’s economy is so weak, and almost heading towards recession, was most inappropriate. We agree.

The government had declared July 5-6, 2016 as public holidays to mark the end of the Ramadan fast. However, when the moon was not sighted on July 4, the Sultan of Sokoto, being the leader of the Moslem faithful in Nigeria, directed that the fasting period be extended till July 5, 2016. Following this directive, the federal government also extended the holiday by one extra day.

Although under the Public Holidays Act, 1979, the Minister of Interior has the powers to make the adjustment that was made, we think that government, at all levels, needs to become more sensitive to the economy which at this time requires that every Nigerian puts in more productive man-hours to revive it from its comatose state.

The rage of many economists and business players was that the overall implication of the extension was that the entire working week was rendered work-free, the holiday having started on Tuesday. With Monday obviously used to prepare for the festivity and Friday being a conventional half working day, that week was a major loss in relation to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For an economy battling not to tumble into recession, that was not a loss to be encouraged.

We think, therefore, that the federal government needs to lead the way to ensure that the letter and spirit of the Public Holidays Act is upheld by streamlining public holidays and making them as definite as they are in other climes that are even more developed than Nigeria. We say this because there is a consistent pattern of abuse of the discretion granted the Minister of Interior and the state governors to determine and declare special holidays.

Three weeks ago, the Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, declared a week of holidays for obvious political reasons. No doubt, for businesses in that state, that was a huge financial loss. But Okezie is not alone. Governors are known to have declared impromptu holidays to commemorate largely political events without regard for the negative consequences on the economies of their states.

Even the federal government has several times been in breach of the law. For instance, the law says if any holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then only that Saturday or Sunday shall be a public holiday. Yet this year alone two public holidays, May Day and Democracy Day, had fallen on Sundays ( May 1 and May 29) and the federal government elected to declare the following Monday as public holidays. Yet when holidays are declared impromptu they disrupt long standing business and even social plans, which may take a longer time to straighten out.

Accordingly, we urge the federal government to abide strictly by the law, which has established a certain number of holidays known to all and sundry, including New Year Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Workers’ Day (May 1), National Day (October 1), Christmas Day, and such other day as the minister may declare to be for public holiday in celebration of the Muslim festivals of Eid el Fitr, Eid el Kabir, Eid el Maulud, etc.

To the extent that we cannot continue to encourage indolence and expect to grow as a nation, we urge the federal as well as state governments to put an end to frivolous holidays which impinge seriously on national productivity.