Historically and perhaps conventionally public holidays are work-free days set apart to commemorate an event of significance in the history of a nation, a people, or the world. As a result there are regional or local public holidays just as there are national and cross-border public holidays.
A state government could declare a public holiday to honour an icon or to celebrate a historical event in its cultural and political territory. The motive is not just to ask citizens to stay off work; it is essentially to draw attention to the historical event. Thus whether the date falls on a weekday or a weekend the event is remembered by the very act of remembering. But in Nigeria, it would seem that except we stay off work, a day cannot be said to be a public holiday!
In Nigeria we have too many worthless public holidays. Added to this is the competition between religions in claiming superiority or parity over the number of public holidays marked in deference to their religion. Some have contended that equal numbers of holidays should be ascribed to days marking events in the major religions in the country.
It is true that citizens are already stressed by the economic and political events in the country. Ordinarily a public holiday should provide an avenue for relaxation, for going away and leaving the routine or humdrum of everyday life. However, in our environment, it is not so. The public holiday carries a burden with it. It simply shuts down business and prevents certain important actions from taking place.
As a people our work ethic seems to suggest that everyday ought to be a public holiday. In the public sector it is almost routine to come late to work, even on a Monday. For example, a Permanent Secretary in a Ministry hardly gets to work by 8 a.m. Commissioners and Ministers are guilty of this too. As the boss, the subtext is that one is allowed to live above the regulation. Other workers straggle in from 8.30 a.m. As a result no Nigerian Ministry is really functional before 9 a.m; in some it extends to 10am. By 3.30 p.m. they begin to look at the wall clock. The day is over. The message is that the job is meant to provide an income from the coffers of government; it is not to create wealth or create opportunities. As a result the attitude to work is poor, slow and laissez faire. In the private sector punctuality to work is taken more seriously.
The difference is clear in the organised private sector for many reasons. In the private sector ‘Time is Money’. It is an unwritten slogan, a law. How can you sell a product when the officials are not present in the office? For coming late to work therefore, a worker could get a query; he could be sacked after three consecutive times. ‘You are fired’, is what it takes for the job to end.
This is the case in Lagos where middle level staffers are usually housed far away from the highbrow areas of big companies. That a worker lives in Ikorodu or Iyana Ipaja does not mean that they are allowed to get to their Victoria Island office for 9am. If 8am is resumption time so be it. The banks handle this better than most firms. This is because the banks are service providers who have to be open for customers to make transactions as early as possible.
The informal sector dominates the economy of the Nigerian State. This sector depends on every day movement to provide the next meal. As a result anytime a public holiday is declared they are hard hit. The bukateria near the office is shut down. The bus driver has fewer passengers to move. Petty traders lose income. The banks are shut down from daily operations. Have you noticed that sometimes on public holidays certain essential services are withdrawn? Doctors are not in the hospitals, particularly government hospitals.
In some cases even the so-called ‘vulcanizers’ are not at their duty posts. What about schools and other educational institutions? They never stick to their original calendar that would guarantee stability and development – because they have to respect the laws of the land and shut down the school for a day or two. The net effect is that revenues are reduced and quality is undermined.
It is my considered view that holidays which fall on weekends should not have work days added for workers to stay away from work. If Christmas falls on a Sunday let Monday not be declared a public holiday. Indeed the principle should apply to all the holidays. We need to work hard to get the economy out of the woods. This is particularly true in our country that depends on government business to drive the economy. Any day government shuts its door to business a lot of things suffer. Discussions are stalled. Payments are stalled. Money does not flow. It is sad but that is the reality of our situation. I do hope a day will come when major players in the business sector would have the capacity to drive the economy without depending on largesse from the Government of the day.
Our national economy requires a state of emergency declaration. Millions of people who otherwise have no business with Government are compelled to depend on the whims and caprices of the ruling government. I should make it clear that all over the world Government spending is crucial to the survival of the economy. The point is that the government should rise above the level of frivolity in declaring public holidays and how they should be marked. In sum, no work day should be declared a public holiday if the original date falls on a weekend. We did it before and we can do it again as part of the desired change in our country!