Rene Omokri: Holidaying While Rome Burns


For a nation that has already had one quarter of negative economic growth and is in danger of having another negative quarter (which would invariably put us officially in a recession), I was shocked, like many right thinking people, when the federal government extended the Eid-el-Fitr holidays which had initially been declared for Tuesday the 5th and Wednesday the 6th of July, 2016 to now include Thursday the 7th of July.

This record three-day holiday effectively rendered the week beginning on Sunday July 3rd, 2016, a wasted week because Nigerians would naturally spend Monday the 4th preparing for the holiday and no right thinking person would expect any serious business to hold on Friday the 8th after the whole nation had been on holiday for the three days prior to that.

The economic implication of this decision is that when the Gross Domestic production of the third quarter of 2016 is being calculated, Nigeria would not be able to count on any meaningful production for one business week.
Flowing from the above, no one needs a crystal ball to predict that Nigeria is headed for another round of negative economic growth when the next quarterly GDP data is unveiled.

Yet this is the same country where 18,000 babies are born everyday and it is doubtful that up to 1,800 new jobs are created everyday. With this grim statistic, no one around the president thought it wise to advise him against making the small percentage of Nigerians who are employed to be underemployed by at least one week because of a holiday. Is it that we do not understand the economic implications of our actions and how they effect the financial and economic well being of our nation?

Nigeria should be doing everything it can to ensure that it does not have consecutive periods of negative economic growth for the simple reason that having an economy in recession would lead to our economy being further downgraded. The implication of a downgraded economy is that we will not be able to attract the level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) we need to drive growth. Further implications are that we would only be able to access credit at higher interest rates. The resultant effect of that would be loss of value in our stock exchange and a downward pressure on the value of the naira (further devaluation) and when that happens, it would mean more people out of work and a worsening of Nigeria’s Human Development Index.

The question is this — aren’t there people around President Muhammadu Buhari who can explain this to him? Should Nigeria be holidaying while Rome burns? The United States has 11 federal holidays while England has eight holidays (known as Bank Holiday). In contrast, Nigeria’s holidays are discretionary, meaning that you cannot ascertain how many days would be holidays. Holidays can be declared at the whims and caprices of the government in power, as has just been demonstrated, such that as at the first week of July when we should be entering only the second half of the year 2016, Nigeria has already had eight public holidays which is equal to the number of holidays England would have throughout 2016!

We had a holiday on January 1st for New Year’s Day. We had two days holidays on Friday, March 25 and Monday, March 28 for Good Friday and Easter. We had another holiday on May 2nd for May Day (workers day) and we had a holiday on May 30th to mark Democracy Day. And now we have just had a three-day holiday. Is it then any surprise that Nigeria’s production is seriously below par? If you quantify the lost man hours that have been frittered away in these unnecessarily long holidays, we would be talking hundreds of billions. How do I know? It is simple mathematics really.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2016 stood at N22.26 trillion. This means we averaged a daily GDP of N245 billion (when you divide N22.26 trillion by the 90 days in an average quarter). In today’s naira, N245 billion is $867 million. In essence, for every holiday Nigeria observes, we lose almost a billion dollars or to be more exact $867 million! This is a lot of money for a country that borrows to pay the salaries of its civil servants and is still sourcing for loans to finance its 2016 budget when we have already passed the middle of the year.

The other day, the federal government called for prayers for the precarious state of the economy and now the same government that wants divine intervention to help rescue the economy is itself taking actions that are at cross purposes with its own prayers. What is happening in Nigeria?

Eid-el-Fitr is an Islamic holiday. Though I am a Christian pastor, I have read the Quran. It says as follows in Quran4:29 ‘O ye who believe! Do not squander one another’s wealth in vanities, but let there be amongst you traffic and trade by mutual good will.’

As a matter of fact, in one of the hadiths of the prophet, he was asked a question about what type of earning was best for a man and he responded ‘a man’s work with his hands and every (lawful) business transaction.” Are we then good Muslims if we ignore these ecclesiastical commandments and directions in order that we may holiday and play when we ought to be at work?

Nigeria cannot afford the luxury of what we have just done. If anything at all, we should not have more than one day to observe either a Christian or Muslim holiday. If tomorrow, the naira depreciates in value, the government would blame economic sabotage, the previous administration or the slump in the price of oil and all the usual suspects. Hardly remembered will be the time when Nigeria holidayed while Rome was burning.

Religion is not a licence for laziness. Quite the contrary. Religion is the means by which man, by careful observance of the rules given us by God, lives a life that ensures his physical and spiritual wellbeing. That is the part we forgot when either missionaries or conquerors brought the two great Abrahamic faiths to Nigeria.
May God help us all.


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