Labour-engineered national grid shutdown: Between protest and public interest

The recent shutdown of the national grid by Organised Labour to enforce their now suspended national industrial action has sparked expected controversies. TOPE SUNDAY in this piece takes a second look at the issue.

The recent action by the Organised Labour to shut down the national power grid during their now suspended strike, aimed to exert pressure on the government, is still generating controversies even as it has been severely kicked against.
The action of Labour is a stark reminder of the delicate balance between protest and public interest.

According to some Nigerians, while the need to address workers’ grievances is undeniable, the methods employed must not undermine national security, economic stability, and public welfare.

They contended that the Labour unions must re-evaluate their tactics, ensuring that their actions align with the broader goal of improving, rather than destabilising, the nation.

Blueprint Weekend recalls that the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) had on Monday announced that the Union shut down the national grid to plunge the country into darkness as it commenced the indefinite strike today.
TCN, in a statement issued in Abuja by its General Manager, Public Affairs, Mrs. Ndidi Mbah, announced that the blackout began at approximately 2:19am that day.

She said the incident started at 1:15am when the Benin Transmission Operator, under the Independent System Operations unit of TCN, reported that all operators were forcefully removed from the control room.

According to TCN, staff members who resisted were assaulted, resulting in several injuries. With no control or supervision, the Benin Area Control Center was completely shut down.

NASS’ concerns

Though the strike has been suspended for six days to allow for further deliberations, the Senate frowned upon what it described as ‘some excessive actions’ taken by members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) during the now suspended nationwide strike for a new minimum wage.

It specifically declared that the shutdown of the national grid was more of economic sabotage than an agitation for a new minimum wage.

It consequently declared that such a situation would not be allowed to re-occur, as laws against it would be reflected in the new National Minimum Wage Act that would be enacted soon after the submission of a bill to that effect by the executive.

Senate’s exceptions to the alleged excesses of the labour unionists came to the fore through a motion sponsored by the Chairman, Committee on Labour, Diket Plang (APC Plateau Central).

He had, in the motion, requested the Senate to call on the federal government to expedite action on the new minimum wage as a way of stopping the industrial unrest, which was, however, overtaken by sudden suspension of the strike by labour.

In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, said though it was heart-warming that the strike had been suspended, excesses made by some labour unionists need to be frowned on.

“One of such excesses was the shutdown of the national grid, which is more of an economic sabotage than agitation for a new minimum wage,” he said.

For his part, Osundiya Ola-Abiodun said the action was security and economic sabotage and asked the National Security Adviser, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, to make a decisive decision about the development to forestall its future occurrences.

He said, “NSA should be decisive on this act of security & economic sabotage. They (Organised Labour) can have their strike in peace or are they out to overthrow a democratically elected government?”

Also, another Nigerian, Femi Awosanya, accused the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, of allegedly using his advantage of being an electricity worker to frustrate Nigerians.

“The NLC president Ajaero is from the electricity sector so he is taking advantage of his base to frustrate Nigerians indirectly. It is too bad,” he said.

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a legal practitioner and power sector policy analyst, Mr. Bode Fadipe, frowned on the shutting down of the national grid by Organised Labour to exert pressure on the government during the recently suspended industrial action.

Fadipe, who is the CEO of Sage Consulting & Communications, disclosed that there is a huge risk in shutting down the national grid, saying that once it is shut down, its restoration takes a longer time to restore.

He said, “Without prejudice to the right of Labour to adopt strike as one of their weapons for negotiation, I hold the view that using the power sector the way it has been used in this fight for wage review was most inappropriate.

“What the NLC did was to leverage the strength of the constituency of the President of the NLC to push this struggle. Historically, Labour usually tarries the use of the power sector as one of its weapons for the struggle until it became obvious that the government was not ready to shift.

“The reasons for this are very clear. The 1st is that once you shut down the grid as they have done, restoration takes longer. Secondly, the financial damage to the economy can only be imagined. There is also the security risk that a shutdown of the grid engenders.

“I cannot imagine throwing a whole nation of over 200 million people into darkness for 24 hours and above. It is unimaginable. What about lives that would have been lost in medical facilities that have no alternative means of providing electricity? The implications are enormous.

“And to think that such a decision was taken at a time when we have a power sector that is under serious attack by vandals makes me wonder if the NLC President who knows everything about the power sector will allow the same sector to be used the way it has been used.”

He added, “Admittedly, a large number of Nigerians groan under the agony of a power sector that is yet to deliver on its mandate. However, there are small and medium-scale businesses that still rely on electricity from public sources. What some of them would have spent on diesel from yesterday till now can only be imagined.

“In those days, three sectors were not allowed to join the strike immediately because they are regarded as essential services.
They are health, power, and aviation. The military and paramilitary by the nature of their service are not allowed to be members of any union. They can therefore not go on strike.”

On his part, a communication expert and a lecturer at the University of Ilorin, Dr. Abdulkadir Oba La’aro, cautioned that electricity service should not be used for ambush or industrial strike tools.

“While I flow with the reason and sentiment of the NLC strike action, I think we need to rethink the place of electricity service that should not be used for ambush or industrial strike tools.

“The place of electricity supply to modern areas of our life (social, economic, health and security) -survival is too crucial. Here, we are not talking of partial or dotted disruption of services, but total shutdown.

“Electricity is the lifeblood of modern life, no doubt. Its disruption is life-threatening. A re-think on this, I think, is necessary. Again, I fully understand the condition at the negotiations table that may have compelled the option,” he said.