…judgement has reaffirmed constitutional right to fair hearing, freedom of expression of every individual – Barr. Odo
A Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki Tuesday declared the controversial Ebonyi Cybercrimes Law No 12 of 2021 unconstitutional, null and void.
The Court ruling followed a suit by one Pascal Etu who had sued the State Governor, David Umahi over the controversial law.
The Engr. David Umahi-led administration had in September 2021 enacted the controversial law in equally controversial circumstances.
Apart from the House of Assembly members, no Journalist was present when the law was enacted even as there was no proof of the law going through public hearing before being passed into law.
The entire process was quickly and secretly accented to by the state Governor, David Umahi almost immediately.
The public only became aware of the existence of the law when in October, a social critic, Godfrey Chikwere was arrested by the Police for allegedly flouting some sections of the law.
The Police were about to charge him to court, when he suddenly slumped and was rushed to the hospital.
Earlier this year, Mr Etu was arrested for allegedly flouting the law, so also was the Spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) in the State, Chika Nwoba.
Both were remanded in prison by the State Magistrate Court pending the determination of the allegations against them.
Mr Nwoba was later granted bail by the court, following outcry and condemnations that greeted his arrest.
But Etu was not so lucky as he is still in prison custody till date with his matter suffering several adjournments.
While the case against Mr Etu was on at the State High Court, he instituted the matter against the state government and four others at the Federal High Court in Abakaliki challenging the constitutionality of the law.
In the suit FCAI/CS/6/2022, Mr Etu through his Lawyers prayed the court to declare that the Ebonyi State House of Assembly has no powers to make such laws.
He also argued that the law is unconstitutional, null and void as it runs contrary to the Cybercrimes Act passed by the National Assembly.
The respondents in the matter include Governor of Ebonyi state, Ebonyi State House of Assembly and the Attorney General of the Ebonyi state as first, second and third respondents respectively.
Others are Commissioner of Police Ebonyi State and Department of State Security Services as fourth and fifth defendants.
In his ruling, The Presiding Judge, Justice Fatun Riman granted all the prayers of the plaintiff.
The Judge while declaring the Ebonyi Cybercrimes Law 2021 unconstitutional, null and void also issued an order of injunction restraining the Ebonyi State government from continuing to enforce the law.
Justice Riman further held that the Ebonyi State House of Assembly had no constitutional powers to make such laws because the National Assembly had enacted the Cybercrimes Act in 2015 which is applicable in all the states of the federation.
The court also held that by virtue of cybercrimes being an item in the exclusive legislative list only the National Assembly can enact laws on it.
The court also set aside all steps, actions, proceedings howsoever taken by the Ebonyi State Government in furtherance of or in the implementation of the said Ebonyi Cybercrimes Law 2021.
Reacting, Mr Etu’s Lawyer, Mike Odo said that the Court, through the judgement has reaffirmed the constitutional right to fair hearing and freedom of expression of every individual.
He noted that people have the right to say what they want to say and push information to the general public within the ambit of the law.
He expressed confidence that with the judgement the State High Court will free his client at the next adjourned date for the matter.
“This judgment of today is for the masses. People are now free to express them. The law that was declared unconstitutional was draconian.”