A Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki, on Tuesday declared the controversial Ebonyi Cybercrimes Law No 12 of 2021 unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect.
The Court ruling followed a suit filed by one Mr Pascal Etu, who had sued the governor of Ebonyi, Chief Dave Umahi, the state of House of Assembly, the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Commissioner of Police and others over the controversial law.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that Ebonyi government had in September 2021 enacted the controversial law in an equally controversial circumstances.
Apart from the House of Assembly members, journalists were not present when the law was enacted even as there was no proof of the law going through public hearing before being passed.
It was also quickly and secretly assented to by the governor.
The public only became aware of the existence of the law when in October, a social critic, Mr 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.
Meanwhile, 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, Mr Chika Nwoba.
The duo were remanded in custody of the Correctional Centre in Abakaliki by the state Magistrate Court pending the determination of the allegations against them.
Nwoba was later granted bail by the court following outcry and condemnations that greeted his arrest.
But, Etu still remained incarcerated 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, Etu through his lawyers, prayed the court to declare that the Ebonyi House of Assembly had no powers to make such laws.
He also argued that the law was unconstitutional, null and void as it ran contrary to the Cybercrimes Act passed by the National Assembly in 2015.
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 state government from continuing to enforce the law.
Riman 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 was applicable in all 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 could enact laws on it.
The court also set aside all steps, actions, proceedings howsoever, taken by the Ebonyi government in furtherance of or in the implementation of the said Ebonyi cybercrimes law 2021.
Reacting, Etu’s Lawyer, Mr Mike Odoh, said that the court, through the judgement had reaffirmed the constitutional right to fair hearing and freedom of expression of every individual.
He noted that people had the right to express themselves and push information to the general public within the ambit of the law.
He expressed confidence that with the judgement, the State High Court would free his client at the next adjourned date for the matter.
“The implication of the judgement is that the law abinitio never existed, no government institution or its privy can enforce the cybercrime law anywhere in the state.
“The decision of the Ebonyi government or state House of Assembly to go and enact cybercrime law was totally unconstitutional.
“Cybercrime is an item in the exclusive legislative list and only the federal government can enact laws on it,” Odoh said.