By Augustine Anioke
Ebonyi State government has explained that it asked the Police to arrest and prosecute Godffery Chikwere, a former Technical Assistant (TA) on Media to Governor David Umahi, because of his activities on social media.
The state Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Uchenna Orji who stated this while addressing journalists in Abakaliki on Tuesday.
He said Godfrey Chikwere’s activities on social media were against the State cybercrime prohibition law 012, 2021.
Metro Times had reported how Chikwere, popularly known as Baby Mouth, was arrested by the police few days ago following a petition against him by the State government.
On Monday, he was rushed to the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital Abakaliki(AE-FUTHA) after he reportedly fell sick at the police headquarters, Abakaliki where he was being detained.
The Police was said to be planning to arraign him in Court before he took ill.
His wife, Onyinyechi, confirmed his health condition to in Abakaliki.
She said “my husband started falling sick yesterday night when he was in the police station. So, he became worst and the police clinic couldn’t handle it. He is here in FETHA since this morning.
The news of the arrest and subsequent hospitalisation of the social critic led to condemnation and attacks on the Police and the state government.
Ebonyi government goes after fake news purveyors – Commissioner
Nevertheless, Mr Orji said the state government was enforcing the law of the land as passed by the state house of Assembly and assented to by Governor David Umahi.
According to the Commissioner, Godfrey Chikwere published on social media among others things that “it is clear that the Nigeria Army is seriously losing respect from the public’’
He noted that Chikwere, a former programme presenter at the Ebonyi State Broadcasting Corporation (EBBC), also mentioned that politicians would kill the youths and still use the youths to ascend to power.
Orji noted that these posts by Chikwere which he maintained were fake news, hate and inciting speeches were capable of pitching the army as well as a government against the people.
He said that following the passage of the law, the state government has swung into action to arrest and prosecute purveyors of fake news.
Orji said, “My attention has been drawn to social media post and speculation that the office of the Commissioner for Information and State Orientation , Ebonyi state caused the arrest and detention of a journalists in Ebonyi state.
“I want to use this opportunity and medium to to categorically state that the person that is being referred to, Godffery Chikwere is not a journalist known to Ebonyi state. I had to confirm from the NUJ and they clearly stated that he is not a journalist.
“As a matter of fact, Ebonyi state Government has passed a law on this and it is my duty as the Commissioner for Information to sensitize the members of the public and also ensuring the implementation of those laws.
“The Ministry of Information in keeping with its mandate of ensuring orientations of the people against all forms of of bad habits and also in keeping with its duty of sensitizing the people and ensuring the implementation of the law we made, the Ebonyi state law on Cyber crime prohibition 2021 which is law 012 of 2021, we had to swing into action in ensuring that we track all persons that are spreading fake news either through publications or howsoever or any other means.
“Incidentally, this Godffery Chikwere happens to be one of those that we found to be in the habit of posting fake information and also spreading hate speech.
“And it happened that Godfrey Chikwere is one of the persons that have been suspects in this regard.
“Let me mention that we have had two cases where people were seen to be circulating fake information were arrested, they were quizzed.
‘We have a case of a PA to a Vice Chancellor who was arrested, quizzed and was charged to court. So, the case of Godffery Chikwere cannot be treated exceptionally or separately.
“I want to enjoin members of the public to join us on the crusade against fake news and hate speech. It has been an evil wind that is doing us a lot of bad in the society”, he said.
7 years jail term for fake news
Metro Times was able to obtain a copy of the said new law on Tuesday.
Titled Ebonyi State Cybercrimes (Prohibition)Law, 2021, it was signed into Law on 28th September, 2022 by Mr Umahi.
However section 2 of the law noted that the Law ‘shall be deemed to have come into effect on Wednesday the 15th of September, 2021.
Going by the provisions of the Law, Mr Chikwere faces a seven years imprisonment with option of fine if found guilty of publishing fake news.
Section 4 of the law states: “any person who publishes or reproduces any statement, rumor or report which is likely to cause fear, and alarm to the public or to disturb public peace, knowing or having reason to believe that such statement, rumour or report is false shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction to a term of 7 years imprisonment without option of fine”.
In section 5 , the law prescribes various prison terms and fines for other cybercrimes raging from 3 to 5 years and between N3million to as high as N25 million.
In section 5, sub section 2, it recommends life imprisonment for any person who knowingly or intentionally tar skits or cause the transmission through a computer system any communication to bully, threaten or harass another person where duh communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm or to another person.
Reactions to new Law
Reacting to the new law, a Lawyer, Solomon Agbom blasted the House of Assembly for passing such a law which he described as draconian and incompatible with the constitution of the country.
He said: “the pertinent question begging for answer from the alleged allegation against Godfrey Chikwere is whether the said publication is capable of disturbing public peace or defamatory in nature under the law?
“The answer to the above is in the negative. I rather found it embarrassing that Ebonyi state government through the Commissioner of Information who is a lawyer stooped so low to write a petition for the arrest of this young man based on the said publication. It is quite unfortunate , the case of Godfrey is simple a case of witch hurting”.
“To Ebonyi state house of assembly that are specialist in making draconian laws that are anti laws that are incompatible with the constitution. Posterity will judge them as the worst House of Assembly ever on the state”, he said
A former Member of the House of Representatives, Peter Edeh said section 4 of the law is purely academic and will be difficult to prove in court
“… knowing or having reason to believe that such statement is false…” This is a very important caveat! Will anyone charged under this law admit to a judge that he/she knows, or has reason to believe, that whatever he/she published is false? I think that this law is very academic!”
“The onus of proof that the publisher of a statement knows, or has reason to believe, that whatever he/she wrote is false lies to the prosecutor – a very difficult task, indeed. It will take:
(1) the clear-eyed admission of the accused, or (2) a wide consideration of reasonability, and/or, (3) a very biased judge, to convict anyone based on this law”, he said.
Ohanézè condemns arrest, demands immediate release
Meanwhile, the Leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Wing, Enugu State chapter
has condemned the arrest of Mr Chikwere.
It gave the state government 24 hours ultimatum to release the Radio Presenter.
The Ohanézè Youth chapter in a statement by its Leader, Nnamdi Odo noted that Mr Chikwere, ‘a Professional Journalist and indigene of Enugu State just exercised his fundamental human right just like every other human being, including Ebonyi Youths, who are scattered all over the States of the federation especially Enugu State’.
“We here by this press statement, call on the Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi and all opinion leaders of Ebonyi state, with immediate alacrity take absolute health care of Godfrey Chikwere, whom we heard, has been rushed to AEFUTHA after he suddenly developed complications in the police custody.
The group threatened to lead a 10,000 man protest if Chickwere is not released in 24 hours
“Failure to adhere to the above requests will lead to something that Ebonyi State Government will leave to regret.
“24 hours from now, we will mobilize 10,000 youths that will protest in Ebonyi State against this injustice. The public should take note”, the group said.