Tonie Iredia

The economic principle of diminishing returns refers to a point in time when a worker, irrespective of incentives, cannot produce at the same rate, volume or quality. Thus, workers occasionally need some rest hence governments often declare public holidays for them. In 2010, we had many in Nigeria.

For the ember months alone, our Ministry of Interior declared a holiday on September 9 and 10, another on November 16 and 17 and yet another on December 27 and 28. Whereas Independence Day-October 1- as a holiday makes sense, it is certainly not so with the declaration of its eve, September 30, as a half-day public sector holiday “to enable Nigerians to prepare for a memorable Golden Jubilee celebration.” Which Nigerians?

The large unemployed population or the Police band that would play the National Anthem or the team of comedians that would entertain people or the security outfit that would forestall negative occurrences like bomb blasts? Whatever the answers, it is obvious that our Minister of Interior, Captain Emmanuel Ihenacho, requires an increased workload beyond the declaration of public holidays. But, we cannot blame him much because that is how his ministry has always performed to the applause of an idle nation.

Of course, we are a sleeping giant whose national productivity efforts have continuously dwindled over the years. According to Mazi Ohuabunwa, President of the Nigerian Economic Summit, we have for too long underperformed as a nation which poorly manages its economy, poorly implements its plans and poorly utilises its resources.  It could not have been otherwise with our numerous holidays.

In fact, the states observe multiple holidays in addition to the federal ones. For example, in 2010, Bayelsa State had a holiday on August 22 ‘to mark the day peace returned to the state.’ Then, another on October 22, which Chief Gideon Ekeuwei, the Secretary to the State Government, said was to mark President Jonathan‘s visit to the state. Gombe State observed April 6 which the state’s Head of Service, Ibrahim Biri, said was to honour two of their senators who died.

Ogun State observed June 14 and July 7 to mark the anniversary of June 12 and the death of Chief M.K.O Abiola respectively. Sentiments apart, the holidays only make for low productivity. And, this is not just a public sector problem. The situation is no less problematic in the so-called efficient private sector. All our airlines which are now private businesses are run to the discomfort of everyone.

On a public holiday, they are, in fact, more notorious for constant failures that are always ‘due to operational reasons.’ In a nation which works, service institutions like banks work late on the eve of a long holiday and operate skeletal services during the holidays. It is not so with us. Oceanic, UBA and First Bank, that is, our big banks without notice to customers observed a half-day work in Abuja on December 24 despite the fact that they would not open for the next four days of December 25, 26, 27 and 28.

Of what benefit to the nation were the holidays of December 27 and 28 which were meant to compensate Christmas and Boxing days which fell on weekends? After celebrating the birth of Christ on Saturday, December 25, what exactly was anyone including fervent Christians to celebrate on the holiday of Monday December 27? Earlier, Democracy Day, May 29, which fell on Saturday was similarly moved to Monday, May 3. If Saturday is not appropriate as Democracy Day why is it in order as our Election Day?

A nation which is anxious to overcome its gigantic development challenges, cannot afford our type of frivolous holidays. The United Arab Emirate, for example, has a law which provides that public holidays shall not be transferred or compensated if they fall on weekends or other public holidays. We used to have a law like that too.

According to Section 5(c) of the Public Holidays Act Chapter 378 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, “if two days appointed as public holidays fall successively on a Saturday and Sunday, only the Saturday and Sunday concerned and no additional day or days in lieu of the Saturday and Sunday shall be kept as public holidays.” Unfortunately, it is not easy to know whether or not this law still exists considering that the all-important law of the moment- the Electoral Act is still in its bathroom.

It is true, however, that many countries move some holidays that fall on weekends but they do so constructively with the nation’s interest in mind. In Chile, weekend holidays are moved to the following Monday to allow employees enjoy a three-day work-free period only because long weekends favour tourism which yields considerable revenue for the nation.

In addition, many nations give value to holidays by ensuring that they come only after hard work. They also create a conducive atmosphere for high productivity and above all, their reward system recognises hard work.  Compare this with what happens in Nigeria. While civil servants in the country work for only eight  hours a day and five days a week, public broadcasters work round the clock daily and throughout the week. Yet, the remuneration package for both categories is the same which is based on the grade level system.

This offends the principle of equal pay for equal work and is capable of dissuading broadcasters from high productivity. Indeed, in 2005 and 2006, our public broadcasters had to embark on strike actions to draw attention to the failure of government to include them in the payment of monetisation benefits which other categories of public officers had enjoyed as of right two years earlier.

Meanwhile, there are people who get paid for no work and they hardly lose their jobs. Most of them are sycophants who think the best way to keep a job is to do other things but the job; to be a good guy by looking the other way when those under you abdicate from duty; to agree with both sides to any conflict in a workplace and also not to forget to greet the over-all boss several times daily.

But, because this can keep a nation’s productivity too low for any meaningful progress, we must avoid it and learn to appreciate our good workers. El-Rufai may not have allocated lands to some of us but we know he did a good job, so did Ribadu, who in his anti-corruption drive, may have dealt with only our friends and relations. Governor Fashola may not be a ‘good’ politician who materially empowers party supporters but he has changed Lagos for good. These are the type of citizens to be applauded by a nation which desires high productivity.

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