By Olusegun Oruame
While Nigeria dithers over the Critical Infrastructure Bill, South Africa has just signed its critical infrastructure bill into law making it “illegal to enter or gain access to critical infrastructure installation without the security manager’s consent or the person in control of that critical infrastructure, damaging, endangering or disrupting a critical infrastructure installation or threaten its safety.”
The new South Africa’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Act repealed the apartheid-era National Key Points Act. The new Act creates a statutory council to oversee the provisions of the law.
Despite lobbying activities by many stakeholders, the Critical Infrastructure Bill failed to be passed by the last assembly and has remained unattended to in the current 9th Assembly.
Both the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) have persistently argued for the bill to be urgently passed into law to particularly protect Nigeria’s fledgling telecoms industry from collapse as a result of vandals and activities of unscrupulous state agents. The bill once passed into law will make telecoms facilities and other strategic infrastructures including oil pipelines and rail lines critical national infrastructure (CNI).
Also telecoms regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has severally urged the National Assembly to ensure the passage of the Critical Infrastructure Bill in order to criminalise the vandalisation and theft of telecommunication infrastructure in the industry which impacts negatively on quality of service (QoS) delivered by mobile network operators (MNOs)
“Base stations are shut down by either local government or state government without any prior notice to service provider and this usually accounts for poor quality of telecoms service in Nigeria.
When base stations are shut down willfully and telecom facilities are vandalised without bringing the culprits to book, not only quality of service is affected but investors’ confidence is eroded, said a worried president of ATCON, Olusola Teniola, recently at a public function,
Last month, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy issued a statement in Abuja asking governors of Nigeria’s 36 states to deem telecom facilities as critical national infrastructures requiring their protection. This follows reports of series of targeted attacks by agencies of some states against telecom facilities under the guise of collecting levies and consequently undermining the operation of such facilities.
Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, urged the governors, who are also the Chief Security Officers (CSOs) of their various states, to initiate actions that would end the problem.
But without the necessary laws, governors are themselves limited to statutorily protect these infrastructures even though the ministry had expressed in its statement that under “the provisions of the Cybercrime Act of 2015, Telecommunications Infrastructures are designated CNI and therefore, any acts of vandalism or deliberate obstruction of service delivery is deemed unlawful and punishable by law.”
While Section 4 of the Cybercrime Act of 2015 makes reference to Critical Telecommunications Infrastructures, it does not adequately cover criminal abuses of such infrastructures the way the bill envisages.
For Teniola, the passage of the bill into law and enforcement of the Cybercrime Act will adequately protect the industry from abuses. ALTON also believes the CNI law could end the sector’s regular nightmares from activities of some agencies across Nigeria. Facilities by telecom operators are regularly shut down by agencies of some of the states as part of punitive actions to make such operators pay levies and taxes often deemed to be illegal by the MNOs.