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Monday, July 15, 2024
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Workers’ lingering strike: Matters arising

By Bola BOLAWOLE turnpot@gmail.com

Last week, I published here the first part of “One year later, what value has Tinubu added to our lives?” with a promise to publish part two here today. In the midst of that came a critical dimension to the lingering strike by Labour. With Labour still flexing muscles and the Government appearing reluctant to play ball; another nationwide strike looms. What the nation experienced the last time, especially with the shutting down of the national grid by the striking workers, must be avoided at all costs because the costs were staggering.

What you are about to read, “Workers’ strike and the disruption of critical national infrastructure: Matters arising” is an intervention by a retired Kogi State high court judge, and a visiting professor of Law at Baze University, Abuja – Andrew Alaba Omowaye-Ajileye. Justice Ajileye is Nigeria’s leading authority on electronic evidence.

Hear him: “On Monday, June 3, 2024, Nigerian workers embarked on a nationwide strike action, leading to the shutdown of the national grid. Power supply across the country was disrupted, resulting in a nationwide blackout. The strike action was called by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to demand a higher minimum wage for workers.

A respected national newspaper’s admirable reporting of the relevant aspect of the event is captured hereunder: ‘From aviation to power supply, seaport, and public healthcare, Nigeria’s bleeding economy was brought to its knees… as organized Labour embarked on a nationwide industrial action to force the government to an acceptable compromise on the ongoing minimum wage negotiation. The economy lost an estimated N113 billion to the shutdown of the national grid alone… Nigerians were plunged into darkness… as the national grid crashed to zero generation following the enforcement of industrial action by the Nigerian Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE)…

” Industry stakeholders have expressed their dismay over the shutdown and emphasized the detrimental effects on the economy and public welfare, highlighting the critical role of stable power supply in driving economic growth and development. They mentioned that the grid shutdown has caused unprecedented disruptions, impacting not just businesses but also essential services such as healthcare…

“The Executive Director, PowerUp Nigeria, Adetayo Adegbemle, said the deliberate shutdown of the grid should be a treasonable offence, noting that the Labour leadership needs to grow up and devise other means and strategies of engaging with the government instead of shutting down the national grid… What has happened to the national grid is a national security issue, he said, and (shutting it down) is disproportional and not appropriate. Whatever Labour does should be within the law; no one is above the law. (Labour) has the right to protest but other citizens should have the right to live ’

“From available updates, the Tripartite Committee set up by the federal government to address the National Minimum Wage issue reached a recommendation of N62,000 as the new monthly minimum wage for civil servants. While both the federal government and the organized private sector (OPS) have agreed to the proposed N62,000, organized Labour rejected this offer, threatening to resume the suspended strike action. The situation remains tense.

” The right of workers to embark on strikes is recognized and is hereby unquestionably conceded. It is a constitutional right. Workers have the right to strike and protest, but that right must be balanced against the need to protect the public interest and prevent harm to critical national infrastructure. The leadership of organized Labour should be sufficiently informed that using strike actions to disrupt national infrastructure is criminal. It endangers public safety, causes widespread economic harm, violates the rights of other citizens, and undermines the rule of law. Workers’ rights must be exercised responsibly, and strike actions should not be used to harm the public or disrupt critical services. By distinguishing between legitimate strike actions and criminal disruption of national infrastructure, the rights of both workers and the public interest can be protected.

“In many countries, laws and regulations prohibit strikes that disrupt essential services such as power generation, water supply, and healthcare. Workers in these critical sectors often have alternative dispute-resolution mechanisms to address their grievances without resorting to strikes that harm the public interest. In Nigeria, the Cybercrimes Act, 2015 (as amended), section 5(1) thereof, criminalizes disruption to critical national infrastructure. The law prescribes a punishment of a term of not more than 10 years without an option of a fine. The relevant provision states as follows: 5(1) Any person who with intent, commits any offence punishable under this Act against any critical national information infrastructure, designated pursuant to section 3 of this Act, shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years without an option of fine.

“As a threshold point, it is expedient to remark here that one of the core objectives of the Cybercrimes Act, 2015, as stated under Section 1(b) of the Act, is to protect critical national information infrastructure (CNII). Towards this end, the President under Section 3(1) of the Act, empowered the Order published in the Federal Gazette, and on the recommendation of the National Security Adviser, to designate certain systems, and/or networks, whether physical or virtual, considered vital to this country that the incapacity or destruction or interference with such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national or economic security, national public health and safety, or any combination of those matters as constituting Critical National Information Infrastructure.

” It is on record that the President of the Federal Republic is yet to take advantage of the provision of Section 3(1) in designating any essential system or asset as critical national infrastructure. Last week’s disruption to Nigeria’s critical infrastructure underscores the urgency for President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to take decisive action under Section 3 of the Cybercrimes Act to designate essential systems as critical infrastructure to prevent future disruptions and ensure national security in the Nation’s interests.

” Although the President has not designated critical infrastructure, the National Security Adviser has proactively identified 13 sectors as Critical Information Infrastructure sectors in the National Cybersecurity Policy 2021, effectively recognizing their importance to national security and economic resilience. In the said policy, 13 sectors have been identified as Critical Information Infrastructure Sectors. They are Power and Energy; Water; Information; Communication; Science and Technology; Banking/Finance and Insurance; Health; Public Administration; Education; Defence and Security; Transport; Food and Agriculture; Safety and Emergency Services; Industrial and Manufacturing; and Mines and Steel. There is no doubt that these critical sectors constitute a virtual life support system requiring protection.

“Let it be known that there is no universal classification or definition of what constitutes “critical infrastructure” or “critical national information infrastructure (CNII).” The meaning is elastic. It varies from one country to another. Each country defines the concept based on national needs, resources, level of development, exigencies, and priorities, among others. Accordingly, there can be as many definitions of critical national information infrastructure (CNII) as there are countries of the world, although, in substance and character, the definitions are similar.

“In general terms, critical infrastructure is understood as consisting of facilities and services that are vital to the operation of a society. They are so essential that their continued operation is required to ensure the security of a given nation, its economy, public health, and safety. They are considered “critical” because their ‘destruction would have an impact on the security, national economic security, national public health and safety of the country’.

“Going by the provision of Section 3(1) of the Cybercrimes Act, 2015 (as stated above), the type of impact contemplated under Section 58 of the Act is a debilitating one. The word ‘debilitating’ in the context of Section 58 of the Act should be understood in its ordinary grammatical sense as an act capable of causing serious impairment of strength or ability to function. Destruction of a system or asset necessarily involves annihilation, demolition, or causing havoc on such a system or asset. The destruction can be due to natural causes (earthquakes, lightning strikes, etc.) or physical destruction attributed to intentional human actions, theft, arson, or terrorist attacks).

“‘Incapacity’ of critical infrastructure, on the other hand, may not necessarily involve physical destruction. For instance, an action that changes the functionality of a given information artifact may have a devastating impact on an infrastructure. The notion of ‘interference’ with critical infrastructure is all-embracing. It refers to any unauthorized or malicious activity that disrupts, damages, or destroys critical infrastructure. It may involve physical attacks. It generally encompasses any activity that compromises the integrity, reliability, or availability of critical infrastructure. Mere disruption of operations, for instance through denial of services, will also pass as interference. Interference with critical infrastructure can have significant consequences, as the nation experienced last week.

The United States of America President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection (PCCIP) describes “critical infrastructure” as being “combinations of physical and cyber assets vital to the national economic well-being and security. The US PATRIOT Act 2011 defines critical infrastructure as “systems and assets, physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health and safety or any combination of those matters. Canada’s definition of what is critical involves “serious impact on the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians or the effective functioning of governments in Canada” Germany refers to “significant disruptions to public order or other dramatic consequences”The Netherland’s critical infrastructure policy refers to “infrastructure whose disruption would cause “major social disturbance”, “tremendous loss of life” and “economic damage”

In light of the foregoing, an asset or a system does not need to be destroyed to have a debilitating impact on the security, economy, public health, and safety of the country… Interference necessarily entails disruption. The strike action of last week that led to the shutdown of the national grid witnessed a mass disruption of economic and social activities. There was also the shutting down of banks, schools, hospitals, railways, aviation, and other essential services. Although no act of physical destruction was attributed to the striking workers against any critical infrastructure, it can rightly be said that the disruptive acts of organized Labour brought about a debilitating impact on critical infrastructure in Nigeria.

With the advent of technology, nations all over the world are now known to depend on power and telecommunication systems for many things like communications, transportation, manufacturing as well as education, financial aviation services, and national defence, among others. Power and communication systems have, therefore, become very critical to humanity and should be adequately protected. Take away electric power for a few days, the whole nation would be paralyzed; tasks and objectives may be impossible to achieve and the security of the nation may be compromised. Therefore, organized labour should never again contemplate shutting down the national grid.

Together, we can build a brighter future for ourselves and future generations. In any event, the fear of the Cybercrimes Act should, henceforth, be the beginning of wisdom for organized Labour!

* Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing director/Editor-in-Chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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