The Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in the Diaspora (AESID) has faulted the state governor, David Umahi, for implementing Cybercrime Prohibition Law in the state without a public hearing.
The group also demanded the immediate release of a Radio presenter, Godfrey Chikwere, arrested and detained over a Facebook post on the order of the state government.
In a statement released to journalists, on Wednesday, in Abuja, AESID’s President, Amb. Paschal Oluchukwu, gave Ebonyi State government 24 hours ultimatum to release the said journalist from detention and apologise to him for violation of his fundamental human rights.
“We at the Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in the Diaspora, (AESID) received with stern reservations and downright condemnation, the assent recently given to a so-termed controversial; Cybercrime Prohibition Law Number 012 2021 by the Governor and Chief Executive of the State, Engr. David Nweze Umahi.
“The said law which we believe must have been surreptitiously signed into law without the traditional public debates especially at the legislative arm and involving the people’s inputs claims it genuinely wants to fight and stamp fake news spread through the use of Social media out of our dear State,” he said.
The group alleged that the law, which was only assented reportedly on September 27, 2021, was already being tested, amidst public outcry on a journalist and On-Air-Personality, Chikwere, whom the Umahi government accused of making ‘offensive’ posts against the provisions of the law on his Facebook page.
“As a leading governance and accountability platform, we have taken time to read through the Facebook posts made by the victim, Mr. Chikwere and we are sincerely at a loss just like virtually every other Social media users on how a mere post counseling youths to be careful with politicians who would engage them to kill and maim fellow youths became offensive to the said law?
“What exactly is the contravention in a post that never mentioned, abused or incited anyone either against individuals or the government? We are even further disturbed watching the Commissioner mention another post also made by the victim claiming that the Nigerian Army must have lost public respect following its arrest and detention of popular Nollywood Actor, Chinwetalu Agu who was picked up at the Upper Iweka area of Onitsha, Anambra State for adorning a dress with the customary rising sun logo. We ask; Assuming without even conceding that the army was assaulted or libeled, when did it cede the powers to restore its image on the Ebonyi State government or empowered them to act on its behalf?
“AESID, therefore, wish to ask certain pertinent questions regarding the hurried disposition of the government to enforce the said law. One; Was there any public debate before the Ebonyi State House of Assembly to enable the masses make submissions before this law was passed and assented to by the governor?
“Two, as guaranteed in a constitutional democracy, did the House of Assembly ever call for a memoranda from members of the public to keep them informed, aware and participatory in the entire process of enacting the said anti-social media law?
“Thirdly, knowing how sensitive and controversial any regulatory law on the use of Social media is, is the government not merely targeting opposition elements particularly in the PDP as has been the case since the defection of the Governor to the ruling APC?,” Oluchukwu queried.
While calling for the immediate and unconditional release within 24 hours of the journalist, “whom we understand is now lying critically ill in the hospital following his arrest and detention by the Police over the last weekend,” the group also demanded that the journalist should be compensated with apology.
“AESID demands that Governor Umahi should in the same vein withdraw the said hasty assent he gave to this rather draconian law that should have no place in a democratic regime like ours.
“The law, which we believe is against the spirits and letters of Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the Freedom of Information Act effectively operational in our nation should have no place at all in a young and developing State like Ebonyi which is earnestly yearning for a marketplace of ideas to grow and level up with its contemporaries and competing neighbours.
“But for the fact that Umahi, in his outright dictatorial tendencies and overwhelming greed has not only ‘stolen’ enough from our public treasury but afraid of any form of dissenting opinion, there is no other reason we can blame for this secret promulgation of an utterly senseless ‘decree’ in a democracy to gag the Social media.
“It is our duty as always therefore to call the State government and their agents to order not to continue to ridicule our beloved State which anti-progressive laws and actions that are not in conformity with the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which Ebonyi is part of.
“Ebonyi is not an Umahi Republic and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), proclaims its supremacy in section 1 (1), in the following words: ‘This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria’ and Section 1 (3) then goes on to state most unambiguously that ‘If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void,” they argued.
The group said it was deeply saddened by the developments in the state and cautioned the Umahi administration “to stop further embarrassments and ridicule of our young state as the images of all reasonable and hardworking Ebonyians all over the globe are affected by their actions, and even inactions.”