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Woman sued for reviewing tomato paste she purchased in Nigeria

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Woman sued for reviewing tomato paste she purchased in Nigeria

A 39-year-old entrepreneur from Lagos, Chioma Okoli, was sued last year by Erisco Foods Limited for alleged cyberbullying and breaching cybercrime laws following a review she made on a product she purchased. The case has sparked protests as many believed she was being persecuted for exercising her right to free speech.

On September 17, Okoli asked her Facebook followers to share their opinions about a tomato paste she bought instead of her usual brands. She said she found it too sweet.

Her post, accompanied by a photo of an opened can of Nagiko “Tomato Mix” produced by Erisco Foods Limited, stirred varied reactions from commenters. One of whom replied: “Stop spoiling my brother’s product. If (you) don’t like it, use another one, then bring it to social media or call customer service.”

Okoli replied: “Help me advise your brother to stop ki***ing people with his product. Yesterday was my first time using it, and it’s pure sugar.”

 She was arrested a week later, on September 24, Following her post.

According to a CNN report, the Nigeria Police Force alleged that Okoli used her Facebook account “to instigate people against Erisco Foods,” adding in a statement on March 7 that it had “unearthed compelling evidence” against her from its preliminary investigations.

According to the police, Okoli was charged with “instigating Erisco Foods Limited, knowing the said information to be false under Section 24 (1) (B) of Nigeria’s Cyber Crime Prohibition Act.

She was also charged with conspiring with two other individuals “with the intention of instigating people against Erisco Foods Limited,” which the charge sheet noted was punishable under Section 27(1)(B) of the same act. 

According to a statement by Erisco on January 19, the company said it was defending its reputation after her comments “resulted in several suppliers deciding to disassociate themselves from us.

They said they also suffered the loss of multiple credit lines and had, therefore, filed a civil lawsuit against Okoli seeking 5 billion naira (more than $3 million) in damages. The case is due to be heard on May 20.

Okoli told CNN in a recent report that police in plainclothes arrested her while she was in church in Lagos and detained her in a leaky police cell.

“I was put in the cell around 6 p.m. (on September 24). There were no seats, so I stood until the next day. My legs were inside the water (that came in from the leaking roof). Sometimes, I squatted to reduce the pressure on my legs. I was thinking about my children who were at home. I was talking to myself. I would think, I would pray, I was messed up,” she said.

She was transferred to Abuja the following day and detained at a police station until her release on administrative bail, which was finalised a day later.

She said that publicly apologising to Erisco was a condition of her release on bail. Still, her lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, said she agreed to that under duress and did not apologise after her release.

After the police filed their case against Okoli in an Abuja court on October 5, the first court hearing occurred on December 7. However, her lawyer represented her as she was not present in court.

A month later, on January 9, police attempted to arrest her from her Lagos home despite a restraining order issued by a court on November 8 barring her arrest without a court order.

“They stayed in my building from 6:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. My children couldn’t go to school that day, and we couldn’t go out to get food because the cooking gas was finished,” she said. Eventually, she said, the police left.

Civil society organisations, including Amnesty International, have condemned the harassment and bullying of Okoli by Erisco company, stressing her right to review a product she purchased with her money. 

Many Nigerians have also shown solidarity and support by boycotting the company’s product and donating to the ongoing legal battle. The Nigerian police frowned on this move, claiming it would sabotage the case. 

The #BoycottEriscoFoods has garnered traction and has continued to trend as the case has gone viral and is becoming a global topic.

Author: Kangmwa Gofwen

Lagos Bureau Chief, Nigeria

gofwenjoy@gmail.com