Holiday as new opium for recession – By Louis Odion, FNGE

President Muhammadu Buhari

 Who or what misled the Federal Government into
announcing a wrong date for the Sallah holiday that just ended?

 A rather disturbing account circulated
midweek. It was whispered that the monumental embarrassment could have been
saved had there not been a chasm between the Buhari people and the Sokoto
sultanate. The tradition was that the Interior Ministry interacted with the
Sultan as the head of the nation’s Muslim community before public holiday(s)
was declared in the circumstance.

 As the story goes, as has become the fashion
in Abuja nowadays, no such consultation happened last week before the
bureaucrats at the Interior ministry were said to have exercised their
discretion by unilaterally declaring July 5 and 6 as holiday for Eid-el-Fitr.
And when the much-awaited moon had still not been sighted by Monday midnight,
it became crystal clear the gamble had failed. Much to the nation’s
discomfiture, a “supplementary day” had to be added Tuesday, bringing
the new tally to three days.

Louis Odion

 Trust ingenious Nigerians, the controversy was
parlayed to an opportunity to invent an assortment of jokes about the
“missing moon” in the social media. The most hilarious perhaps being
either the allusion to INEC characteristically declaring that “The
sighting of the moon was inconclusive” or the usually conniving Abuja High
Court ruling that “The sighting of the moon has been adjourned to
tomorrow” or the phantom report categorically quoting the EFCC as saying
that “Those responsible for the missing moon will soon be apprehended and
charged accordingly. We have evidence.”

 To be sure, one is not in a position to confirm
the veracity of the aforementioned conspiracy theory yet. But given the
creeping culture of silence in Abuja today, the inquisitive are condemned to
continue to sift through the grapevine in the days ahead in case they are still
desirous of reaching the bottom of the matter.

 Nonetheless, the concomitant shame on the
nation is better appreciated given that Saudi Arabia, the acclaimed spiritual
pathfinder and indeed the custodian of the holiest sites of the Islamic faith,
did not declare Tuesday a national holiday.

 The scandal was compounded by what seemed a
poor lexical facility. The wording of the statement announcing the
“supplementary holiday” was most inelegant, further casting Abuja in
sordid lights. It may indeed sound diffident for the Permanent Secretary who
signed the circular on behalf of the Interior Minister, Abdulrahman Dambazau,
to state that the extension became necessary after “the directive by the
President General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Alhaji Sa’ad
Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, to the effect that the Ramadan fast
continues today (Tuesday) as a result of the non-sighting of the moon.”

Abdulrahman Dambazau

 But grave damage is inadvertently done to the
mystique and indeed institutional integrity of the Federal Government to so
rationalize. At least, nowhere in the current 1999 constitution is it indicated
that the federation is now a theocracy.

 Ideally, someone ought to be sanctioned for
such egregious error of judgement in Abuja.

 In material terms, the cost of a day off duty
to the national economy is incalculable. To say nothing about the inconvenience
to those least prepared for it. For instance, twice within a week, schools
earlier scheduled to shut down had to hurriedly adjust their calendar. It is
doubly tragic considering that the nation is officially now in recession,
having chalked up negative growth for two consecutive quarters.

Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar

 But no one in Abuja and elsewhere seems
sufficiently perturbed or thoughtful enough to link the craze for public
holiday to the growing decline in national productivity as wage is mostly
earned in the public sector without having to even break a single sweat in the
indulgent assurance that the proverbial cake will always be available on the
table to share whenever the Finance minister and her counterparts in the 36
federating states regroup in Abuja at the third week of every month insofar oil
money continues to flow in.

 It is no coincidence therefore that relatively
prosperous nations have lesser national holidays while those with beggarly GDP
tend to be the ones obsessed with vacations. In the United States, for
instance, the total number of national holidays scheduled for 2016 is eleven
days. Ditto France. Singapore will tolerate 13 days. Whereas South Africa has
15 days, Russia, Ghana and Nigeria tally at 16.

 But the 16 officially announced by Nigeria
does not cover days lost to the whimsicality of labour strikes often over the
most jejune of grievances. Nor the man-hour lost at gas stations when workers
queue up for petrol when they should be at their desks. When all of these
disruptions are consolidated, we are actually looking at a significant portion
of the calendar year mindlessly incinerated.

 Of course, extended holiday will be bad news
for those whose daily survival depends on their toil for the day. Or the
hard-nosed employer who views every moment of the downtime as lost opportunity
to create more wealth. And all those whose peculiar vocations simply make no
room for the proverbial lotus-eating. Like the journalist who, willy-nilly, has
to write the first draft of history.

 Expectedly, only the slothful ones would have
rejoiced at the addition of Thursday as holiday. Among them must have been
salaried public servants whose next pay cheque is already assured on the
guarantied receipt of oil money. In fact, to such category of wage-earners, the
remaining working day of the week (Friday) would simply be taken as gratis.
Anyone in doubt should conduct a roll-call at most public offices today;
attendance will certainly be very low.

 But Abuja is not alone is freely doling out
holiday; it fits into what seems a growing pattern across the federation.
Stretched to the limits of their creativity in the season of recession, it
would appear more and more governments think the only way to comfort or pacify
the people is give them more holiday.

 In Benue, for instance, every Friday was
recently declared holiday not only to officially enable the civil servants owed
arrears of salaries farm compulsorily as part of the state’s ingenious hunger
management strategy, but also as unofficial concession to help them minimize
the costs of transportation.

Okezie Victor Ikpeazu

 As you read this, workers of Abia State should
still be savoring a bouquet of additional holiday unilaterally announced by its
embattled “governor” after having the gubernatorial rug pulled
suddenly from under his feet last week by an Abuja court. Following the initial
declaration of Tuesday and Wednesday as holiday by the Federal Government,
Okezie Ikpeazu added Monday and Thursday for Abia in what was clearly seen as a
calculated attempt to shut down government machinery and forestall the
installation of his rival, Uche Ogah, as new governor as directed by the court
pending the determination of his own appeal.

 Holiday-obsessed Ikpeazu earlier declared June
30 as work-free in Abia in honour of Ojo Maduekwe, an illustrious citizen who
recently passed on. Similarly, when in February the Supreme Court had affirmed
his victory, Ikpeazu did not think twice before pronouncing the 15th day of
that month holiday.

 As the crusader-in-chief, President Buhari
ought to realize that the promise of change should not be about anti-corruption
alone, but the work ethic as well. It is on record that twice within his first
year in office, Buhari himself had gone on official leave – worst of all –
abroad. Now, everyone seems in a hurry to break his record.


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