Public Holidays under the Nigerian Law

Everyone looks to holidays with excitement because it offers many the opportunity to rest from active work and affords them time to reconnect with family and friends. In cities (like Lagos), notorious for unceasing, heavy traffic, the holidays offer reprise to commuters who often suffer through the gridlock and gives them the opportunity to recalibrate in preparation for the daily tasks of life. In the spirit of the Christmas and New Year holidays, we thought it would be interesting to explore the provisions of the Nigerian law on public holidays.

Public holidays in Nigeria are primarily governed by the Public Holidays Act. The Act repeals all state laws on public holidays and enacts in its place a law applicable to the entire federation on public holiday matters. The authority to enact laws on public holidays is vested in the National Assembly, because public holidays is item 51 on the Exclusive Legislative List. The Exclusive Legislative List spells out matters in respect of which the National Assembly has authority to legislate on exclusively.

Section 1 of the Public Holidays Act lists 9 days which must be observed as public holidays throughout Nigeria. They are:

  1. New Year’s Day
  2. Good Friday
  3. Easter Monday
  4. Workers’ Day (1st May).
  5. National Day (1st October).
  6. Christmas Day
  7. Such day as the Minister may declare to be a public holiday in celebration of the Muslim festival of Idel Fitr.
  8. Such day as the Minister may declare to be a public holiday in celebration of the Muslim festival of Idel Kabir.
  9. Such day as the Minister may declare to be a public holiday in celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed (IdelMaulud).

Statutorily, the above days are required to be observed as public holidays across the entire federation. However, in addition to the above days, section 2 of the Act authorises the President to appoint a special day to be observed as a public holiday either throughout Nigeria or only in some parts of the country by a public notice.

This power is also conferred on the Governor of a state. The power conferred on a state Governor to declare a special day to be a public holiday, is only exercisable within his/her state. A state Governor may by a public notice declare a special day to be a public holiday, to be observed throughout the state or in some parts of the state.[1]

Any day declared to be a public holiday is a work-free day and must be so observed.[2]The idea behind a public holiday is that it permits the citizens and residents of a country to stay away from work, in order to celebrate or commemorate the event the public holiday symbolises.

It is for the reason that section 4 of the Act provides that ‘No person shall be compellable to do any act on a day appointed by or under the provisions of this Act to be kept as a public holiday which he would not be compellable to do on a Sunday’. Section 17 of the Labour Act also provides that an employer is not expected to mandate an employee to work on public holidays, except where a collective agreement provides otherwise.

Workers who provide essential services such as health care professionals, may often have to work on a public holiday, but they are usually permitted to take a day off work on another day in lieu of the public holiday forgone. Contrary to what many people think, a public holiday may not be for the entire day, it could be for just a few hours in a day.[3]

Where it is inexpedient for any of the days that were listed as statutory public holidays to be observed, the Minister of Internal Affairs is authorised by the Act to declare that such a day would not be observed and declare in its stead another day to be so observed.

[4] Where the day declared to be a public holiday for the celebration of a religious festival (such as Christmas or Eid al-Fitr)) is found not to be the actual day on which adherents of that religion celebrate the festival, the law states that it is lawful for such adherents to take time off work on that actual day for the celebration of such festival.

It will be prudent for such adherents to notify their employers prior to taking the actual day off work in order to celebrate the religious event. This provision refers to only nationally acknowledged religious festivals and not religious events that are peculiar to a particular religious group that are yet to gain national recognition.

Where a public holiday falls on a Saturday, or Sunday, that day will be observed as a public holiday and not the succeeding Monday in lieu of the weekend on which the public holiday falls. However, in practice, when a public holiday falls on a weekend, it is usually celebrated on the next working day. For example, the Ministry of Interior issued a public notice stating that Friday, 25 December, Monday 28 December (instead of Saturday 26 December, which is the actual Boxing Day) and Friday January 1, 2021 would be observed as public holidays to mark the Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year celebrations respectively.

As you enjoy your holidays, remember that your right to holidays is guaranteed and protected under the Nigerian law.

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[1] Public Holidays Act, section 2(2).

[2] Public Holidays Act, section 2(3).

[3]Public Holidays Act, section 2(3).

[4] Public Holidays Act, section 3.