Erisco foods: Court grants bail to Chioma Okoli over comment on tomato paste

In a noteworthy legal development, the Federal High Court in Abuja has granted Mrs. Chioma Okoli bail in the sum of N5 million, along with two sureties of the same amount, following allegations related to her online commentary about Erisco Foods Limited’s tomato paste.

Presiding over the case, Justice Peter Lifu upheld the argument presented by the defense lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, asserting that the charges against Mrs. Okoli were bailable. The judge underscored the constitutional principle of presumed innocence, referencing Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Justice Lifu criticized the prosecution’s attempt to deny bail, describing it as a misuse of judicial discretion that could equate to a pre-trial judgment and judicial misconduct. He also considered Mrs. Okoli’s health status in his decision.

The bail conditions require that one of the sureties be either the defendant’s spouse or a blood relative with a verified income and residence within the court’s jurisdiction. Both sureties must submit passport photographs, and Mrs. Okoli is required to surrender her international passport if she possesses one.

The case has been adjourned until June 13 for further proceedings.

Mrs. Okoli’s legal issues began after she posted a Facebook review on September 17, 2023, criticizing Erisco Foods’ Nagiko Tomato Mix as “utterly sugary.” Her post, which compared the product unfavorably to other brands like Gino and Sonia, sparked significant online reactions and a subsequent complaint from Erisco Foods to the Inspector-General of Police.

Following her arraignment on Tuesday, Mrs. Okoli pleaded not guilty to two counts of cybercrime. Despite the prosecution’s opposition, which cited her previous non-compliance with administrative bail terms and the risk of absconding, the court decided in her favor.

The police presented evidence suggesting Mrs. Okoli’s violation of the Cybercrime Act, 2015, which has prompted further investigations by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) into the registration status of Erisco Foods’ products.

This case continues to draw public attention as it highlights critical issues surrounding consumer rights, corporate accountability, and the use of cyberspace for product reviews.

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