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Right of Reply: Bayo Onanuga and his atavistic longing for military rule 

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By Anthony Ubani

The arrogance, Insensitivity and total lack of democratic reflex of the Tinubu administration and its eagerness to constrict civic spaces has been further evidenced by the indecorous and intolerant language used against organised labour, since negotiations for workers minimum wage increase began. Bayo Onanuga, spokesperson to President Tinubu, who has been leading the offensive against organised labour and every one who dares take a contrary position to the all-knowing Tinubu administration, raised his rhetoric to unacceptable and distasteful levels when he excoriated organised Labour for shutting down the national grid in the course of their legitimate protest for living wages. As if that was not bad enough he proudly boasted in a threatening manner that they should “be thankful that Nigeria is not under a military regime.” To be clear, I am not in support of shutting down the national grid, airports and other such critical infrastructures. But Bayo Onanuga should understand that those who make peaceful change impossible make hostile change inevitable.

Bayo Onanuga and his pay masters have had months to demonstrate empathy for the plight of Nigerian workers and come up with a policy position that is agreeable to both parties. But the Tinubu administration chose to play to the gallery until organised labour went on strike as a last resort to press home the urgency and importance of their demands. Must the government always wait until organised labour go on strike before they do what they know is the right thing to do?

To remind Labour and by extension Nigerians that they should “be thankful that we are not in a military regime” is the height of irresponsibility and provocation. Such an anti-democratic statement should not come from any public service official in a democratic setting let alone the spokesperson of the President. Is Bayo Onanuga longing for a return to the days of military dictatorship? Is he glorifying the inhuman and horrible atrocities of the military against Nigerian workers? Is Bayo Onanuga aware that the history of the struggle for democracy in Nigeria cannot be written without a generous mention of the invaluable contributions of organised Labour? Is Bayo Onanuga aware of the years of sustained repression the Nigerian labour movement endured during the military era ‘when the state took punitive measures to rein in workers’ protests and struggles for socio-economic and political justice?’ Is Bayo Onanuga aware that the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has as part of its mission to ‘lead the struggle for the transformation of Nigeria into a just, humane and democratic society?’ With all the hardship that Nigerian workers are currently undergoing, do they still have to be subjected to threatening reminders of the inhumane treatment they suffered under military dictatorship?

Bayo Onanuga should tell us: if Nigerian workers should also be thankful that they have been receiving a paltry minimum wage of N30,000 since 2019 while just 469 members of the National Assembly alone appropriate N344.9billion as their budget, as the data for 2024 shows?

If Nigerian workers also should be thankful that they now buy a bag of rice in excess of N80,000 when the same bag of rice sold for less than N8,000 a few years ago?

If Nigerian workers should also be thankful that electricity and transportation costs alone now take over 60 percent of their monthly income?

Or perhaps Nigerian workers should be thankful that at a time when extreme poverty, hunger and insecurity have them in a strangle hold, government is busy fiddling with the banal politics of a new national anthem. Should Nigerian workers continue to suffer and live in abject squalor to keep Bayo Onanuga and his ilk happy? President Bola Tinubu should call Bayo Onanuga to order. Nigerian workers are already going through more than enough suffering and hardship to be shot in the face with the saber-rattling-tongue of an over excited and misguided Presidential aide.

Nigerian workers are not a conquered people. They deserve more than a modicum of respect and civility when public service officials engage them. Disagreements over policy or political positions are invaluable for a healthy democracy. These disagreements must not however provoke disagreeable language.  Public service officials like Bayo Onanuga who are paid with taxpayers’ money should be circumspect, respectful, decorous, prudent, conciliatory and measured in their choice of words while addressing any section of the Nigerian public. That, I believe is not too much to ask for in this seamy season of monopoly democracy in Nigeria.

Anthony Ubani, Executive Director, #FixPolitics Africa, writes from Abuja.

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Opinion

Embracing hope with President Tinubu’s administration: A new era for a brighter Nigeria

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By Amb Okereke Nnamdi Henry

Nigeria recently celebrated a significant milestone – 25 years of uninterrupted democracy. This achievement is a testament to the country’s resilience and determination to deepen its democratic roots. In his Democracy Day address, President Bola Tinubu honoured the sacrifices of those who fought for Nigeria’s democratic struggle, acknowledging the challenges faced and the progress made.

President Tinubu’s speech emphasised the importance of democracy as a way of life, beyond mere elections. He highlighted the need for economic reforms to create a stronger foundation for future growth, committing to protect citizens’ rights, freedoms, and liberties. His administration’s people-oriented approach and dedication to democratic principles assure a better tomorrow for Nigeria.

Honouring the past, embracing the future

President Tinubu paid tribute to the heroes and heroines who fought for Nigeria’s democracy, including Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. He acknowledged the sacrifices of pro-democracy activists, journalists, and ordinary Nigerians who stood against military dictatorship, paving the way for the country’s democratic journey.

The President’s speech emphasised the importance of learning from the past, honouring the memories of those who fought for democracy, and embracing the future with hope and determination. He encouraged Nigerians to unite behind his administration’s vision, working together to build a brighter future.

Democracy as a way of life

President Tinubu emphasised that democracy is not just about elections but a way of life that encompasses freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He acknowledged the challenges faced by Nigerians but expressed hope for a brighter future, encouraging cooperation and unity.

The President’s commitment to democracy is evident in his administration’s people-oriented approach, which prioritises the needs and aspirations of ordinary Nigerians. His speech highlighted the importance of economic reforms, acknowledging the need for a stronger foundation for future growth.

Economic reforms for a brighter future

President Tinubu’s administration has initiated economic reforms aimed at creating a more stable and prosperous Nigeria. These reforms are designed to diversify the economy, reduce dependence on oil revenues, and create opportunities for economic growth and development.

The President acknowledged the challenges faced by Nigerians, particularly in relation to the economy. However, he expressed hope for a brighter future, encouraging Nigerians to work together to achieve economic prosperity.

Cooperation and principled compromise

President Tinubu’s speech highlighted his administration’s commitment to cooperation and principled compromise. He acknowledged the negotiations with organised labour on a new national minimum wage, demonstrating his administration’s willingness to engage in dialogue and find mutually beneficial solutions.

This approach is a testament to the President’s dedication to democratic principles and his commitment to working with all stakeholders to achieve common goals. By embracing cooperation and principled compromise, Nigeria can overcome its challenges and achieve economic prosperity.

A new era of hope and progress

President Tinubu’s speech marked a new era of hope and progress for Nigeria. His administration’s people-oriented approach, commitment to democracy, and dedication to economic reforms assure a brighter future for Nigerians.

As the President said, “The initial rays of a brighter tomorrow now appear on the early horizon.” Let us unite behind his vision, embracing this new era of hope and progress. Together, we can build a Nigeria where democracy flourishes, and economic opportunities abound.

Conclusion

President Tinubu’s Democracy Day address was a testament to his administration’s commitment to democracy, economic reforms, and the well-being of Nigerians. His speech emphasised the importance of learning from the past, honouring the memories of those who fought for democracy, and embracing the future with hope and determination.

As Nigeria moves forward, it is essential to remember the sacrifices of those who fought for democracy and to continue working towards a brighter future. President Tinubu’s administration has demonstrated its commitment to democratic principles and economic reforms, assuring a better tomorrow for Nigerians.

Let us unite behind President Tinubu’s vision, embracing this new era of hope and progress. Together, we can build a Nigeria where democracy flourishes, and economic opportunities abound. The future is bright, and with President Tinubu at the helm, Nigeria is ready to move forward.

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Opinion

Workers’ lingering strike: Matters arising

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By Bola Bolawole

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 organised 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 emphasised 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 organised private sector (OPS) have agreed to the proposed N62,000, organised 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 organised 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, criminalises 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 artefact may have a devastating impact on an infrastructure. The notion of ‘interference’ with critical infrastructure is all-embracing. It refers to any unauthorised 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 organised 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, organised 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 organised Labour!

Bolawole is a Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, public affairs analyst on radio and television. He can be reached via [email protected] 0807 552 5533

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Opinion

Tinubu’s 1st anniversary: Appraising Oyetola’s exploits in Blue Economy Ministry

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By Jimoh Olorede

Between May 29, 2023, when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu assumed office as newly elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and May 29, 2024, which marked his first year anniversary, Nigeria has not remained the same in terms of socioeconomic policy thrust of the present administration, which has always been solution-driven towards problem-solving. Tinubu’s scenario exemplifies the case of a lame man whose beholders blame for his awkward posture and position of load on his head, and who replies by saying “you’re only looking at my head, if you had taken a keen observation, you would see that my awkward position is causative of my lame legs beneath my body,” meaning the present administration is seriously grappling with maladministration problems of the previous governments, who came onboard, saw the humongous systemic-problems, and window-dressed them until the expiration of their tenure in office.

However, the President has been working very hard ‘treating the wounded (lame) legs.’ One of the best ways to assess the performance of the President is by appraising the level of adherence of his ministers and their ministries to the terms of reference of their engagements. Consequently, the writer chose not propagandist Ministers, who are professional spin-doctors and hype-makers with sensational politics of spectacles, and in lieu, chose the helmsman of the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola, a minister, who is somewhat taciturn and reserved, who always walks his talks, but hardly talks (about) his works or counts his laurels, as he believes in working and not noise making. Doing this, the piece appraises the exploits of the minister via the following yardsticks and spheres of performance, especially as Tinubu-led government gives stewardship accounts in its first anniversary.

Increasing Revenue From Maritime Services: According to the Minister, the ministry of Marine and Blue Economy generated a whooping sum of N242 billion naira in the first quarter of this year, 2024, and this represents a 92 percent increase in the ministry’s revenues compared with the previous year. The Minister, through his ministry, was able to attract more business and generate higher revenues by improving efficiency and capacity in ports, shipyards, and other maritime services.

Maritime Trade Facilitation: Some of the hindrances against efficiency and better revenue generation in the ministry, and in whatever other ministries whatsoever are bureaucracy and unnecessary administrative bottlenecks. By streamlining administrative processes and reducing bottlenecks, the ministry has been able to increase the volume of both intra-nation (within Nigeria) and international trade and revenues associated with it.

Shipbuilding and Ship Repair: Hardly would a country develop, if it has to import everything for its survival. The ministry has a department for shipbuilding and development in one of its agencies, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). With this, the country generates revenue from exports, and retains some of the funds that would have been spent on foreign importation of ships and their repairs when faulty.

Year 2023 Inland Waterways Transportation Regulation: This document which guides boat operations, regulates passengers’ conduct, and provides a framework for investors in water transportation, was gazetted under the headship of Mr. Bola Oyebamiji, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and launched by the Minister, Oyetola.

Fibre-reinforced Plastic Fast-moving Boats: These are newly built pilot scheme boats innovatively designed to replace wooden canoes with the aim of reducing accidents on waterways. Twelve of this type of boats await commissioning at NIWA by the honourable Minister this week.

Water Ambulances: Three water-built ambulances have been procured and will also be inaugurated for operation by Oyetola this week at NIWA. The purpose of the procurement of the ambulances is mainly for search and rescue operations on inland waterways.

Providing Alternative to Over Reliance on Oil: With the development of the Blue Economy, which is capable of generating trillions in revenue, the ministry provides a unique diversification of our economy. This will automatically reduce Nigeria’s reliance on oil exports and increase the contribution of the marine sector to Gross Domestic Products (GDP).

Obviously, the minister has recorded exploits given the miles he has covered in terms of records of achievement in the new ministry. Also, on his strides of performance are the modernisation of Apapa and Tin Can Ports, rehabilitation of eastern ports, dredging of inland and coastal waterways, development of Inland Dry Ports, development of fisheries and aquaculture, promotion of coastal and marine tourism, capacity building for maritime security and surveillance, upgrade of maritime infrastructure and equipment, and strengthening of maritime regulations and enforcement, among others.

Dr. Olorede, an institution Head of Strategic Communication and Media Studies Department, writes via [email protected].

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