LAST week, the Plateau State government declared Thursday, March 8, a work-free day to enable residents of the state to welcome President Muhammadu Buhari, who was on a one-day working visit to the state. The measure was announced by the state Head of Service, Mr. Izam Azi, after an emergency meeting of the State Executive Council. Azi said: “The holiday will afford civil servants and other citizens the opportunity to give the president a rousing welcome.” Curiously, however, the state Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mr. Yakubu Dati, announced that there would be restriction of movement during the visit, especially around areas where the president would inaugurate projects.
To be sure, the practice of decreeing needless holidays is not peculiar to Plateau State; it is a national malaise. Time and again, those in the corridors of power have declared public holidays for every ridiculous reason under the sun. Sadly, the current administration which came on a mantra of change from the old order has continued the same practice. For instance, shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari returned to the country after his medical vacation in the United Kingdom, the Kogi State government declared a public holiday to celebrate the return. Ironically, the president was at his desk on the day the people of Kogi State were supposedly celebrating his return to the country after attending to health issues abroad.
In the extant case, it is difficult to see any justifiable reason for paralysing economic activities in Plateau State just because of a few hours’ visit by the president. To all intents and purposes, last week’s holiday in Plateau State was unnecessary, frivolous and self-serving. If, for any reason, Governor Simon Lalong felt the need to stage a public demonstration of his love for the president, he should not have dragged the people of the state into his game. His action smacked of executive frivolity and should not be tolerated in a sane society.
Was the governor suggesting that the people of the state could not give the president a rousing welcome if a holiday was not declared in the state? Worse still, access to the president was restricted during the visit, ostensibly for security reasons, meaning that the ordinary people of the state could not dream of getting close to the president whom they were supposed to give a rousing welcome. To be sure, we are not opposed to the people of Plateau or any state publicly demonstrating their love or support for the president or any other political leader. What we are completely averse to is the declaration of a public holiday for such purpose. At what time did the people of Plateau State mandate Governor Lalong to declare a holiday on their behalf? Or do the people no longer matter in taking decisions of such magnitude?
It is a grievous crime to paralyse economic activities in a state just because of a president’s visit. Plateau State, like most other states in the country, is mired in economic crisis and the government certainly cannot afford to toy with the lives of the long-suffering and badly-governed populace. But the real tragedy is that the electorate keeps electing leaders without vision into public office and political misadventure apparently attracts no cost to the politician. This is why the political class keeps misbehaving. If the nation’s politicians knew that they would be made to pay for their various acts of sabotage, they would be more circumspect in their utterances and actions and would approach public office with greater decorum and civility.
It is, therefore, incumbent on stakeholders in the political process, particularly the media, the academia, civil society groups and religious institutions, to keep sensitising the people in order to ensure that politicians do not continue to take them for granted. Last week’s public holiday in Plateau State did the people of the state no good and such holidays must cease forthwith.