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By Ahanonu Kingsley

“Religion is the opium of the masses”-Anonymous.

For a nation that pride itself as the most earthly nation, it is the liquor that holds even the process of governance on edge. It is in this regard that the decision of the federal government to extend the holidays declared for the Muslim festival Eid Fitri a subject of intense concern.

Nigeria, though regarded on paper as a secular state, practically happens to be one so zealously religious; the two major religions of Islam and Christianity standing out chiefly. The very reason we see these faiths given heights of space in matters of state.

Aside from the fact that we have them given lucid recognition from the state, even in what should be exclusive faith matters, we see these religions lurking around and stealing into governmental programmes. This fact has made government functions to be at crossroads with religious considerations, wherein the later prevail; with a further stirring of couched emotions.

Consequently, the recent approval and further extensive approval by the federal government of holidays in respect to the celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid fitri becomes one that strikes a profound emotion.

As has been the case in Nigeria, the prominent observances of the two big religions are always given state consideration, wherein holidays are declared to give room for such religious jamborees. The attendant consequences are that productive working days are wasted and effective governmental functions stalled.

It is thoughtful to note that over ten religious observances are staged each year by the religions of Islam and Christianity, with each of these ceremonies gulping two to three working days (alternatively, 16 to 24 productive hours). These are days and hours that would have gone into state benefits and in a country where every Saturday and Sunday are recognized free days, we must know.

Very well to speak, it is appalling to observe the overt emphasis given to religious issues over state business by the government, which supposedly is the machinery of state. It is appalling indeed how so much attention is given to the declaration of holidays, chiefly for religious celebrations. It is very absurd how we have become desireful of holidays-religious holidays that we dither not in declaring and readily extending them.

This brings me back to the subject in focus: the extension of the Eid fitri holidays. I have no contention with the federal government declaration of holidays to this regard, since it’s a national ritual to accord each religion its due of ceremonial free days. After all, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

The Eid fitr is a significant Muslim celebration that marks the end of the Ramadan Kareem. Like the Easter for the Christians, it is the climax of an eventful period of self mortification, expressed by the denial and suffering in the fast. Yes, for its significance and in line with Nigeria’s overzealousness for religious hols, they deserve one. There’s absolutely no contention here.

But where I have contention; where I find to disagree in this particular holidays is principally in the extension. A holiday or rather, holidays have been declared to last for two days, Tuesdayand Wednesday for the reason of marking the Muslim festival. The declaration as well as the reason for it was gladly accepted. Then, with the flow ongoing, the tide was extended. It came as a surprise; ordinarily, it should. Many had so programmed their minds and plans for a 2-days holidays. Why became the question.

The reason, as would be understood from government was chiefly for the”none sighting of the moon”. Ordinarily, such suggestion wouldn’t have been awkward as to stir emotions. But it was and it did stir evasive emotions. For goodness sake, what has “sighting of the moon” or “none sighting of the moon” got to do with governance. Does it matter at all and more so to those who do not hold in in any significance?

If it’s a privilege due for the Muslims to have a holiday for their religious observance-which they are entitled to in the Nigerian modus vivendi, why didn’t the people responsible have to do their homework well before coming to indicate their ‘holidays due’? The sultanate, whose duty is to sight the moon and inform of the celebration should have been definite on the proposed dates for it.

And in a case, occasioned by whatever reasons he never did have any definite indication as to such need, he shouldn’t have misled the government into hurriedly declaring what is now a botched celebration and an uncalled vacation. The implication, we know is a pilfering of government’s time to effective governance.

Very importantly, we must be guided well not to work based on emotions or what we perceive. We must do well to make a separation between governance and religion and to separate whatever religious commitment we feel we owe from matters of government. Even if we must tilt towards such, we must do that with conscious restraint.

The religious emphasis that called for the holiday is irrelevant to the process of a government and a nation that claims to be secular. And more irresponsible the extension of the public holidays declared. I suppose it would be blatant mockery of psyches to extension linger the vacation until the moon is eventually sighted.

Still, a happy Eid Mubarak to all.

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Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Urban Express

Ahanonu Kingsley writes from Owerri (conscience4net@gmail.com)

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