A Nigerian Woman Reviewed Some Tomato Puree Online. Now She Faces Jail

A Nigerian woman who wrote an online review of a can of tomato puree is facing imprisonment after its manufacturer accused her of making a “malicious allegation” that damaged its business.

Chioma Okoli, a 39-year-old entrepreneur from Lagos, is being prosecuted and sued in civil court for allegedly breaching the country’s cybercrime laws, in a case that has gripped the West African nation and sparked protests by locals who believe she is being persecuted for exercising her right to free speech.

What did she say?

Okoli, a small-scale importer of children’s wear, told CNN that on September 17 she asked her 18,000 followers on Facebook to share their opinions about a tomato puree she bought in place of her usual brands, saying she found it too sweet.

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

A week later, on September 24, she was arrested.

In legal filings seen by CNN, the Nigeria Police Force alleged that Okoli used her Facebook account “with the intention of instigating 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.”

If found guilty, she could face up to three years in jail or a fine of 7 million naira (around $5,000), or both.

Okoli was separately 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. She risks a seven-year sentence if convicted of this charge.

Okoli is also being sued in a separate civil case brought by Erisco, which said in a statement issued on January 19 that it was defending its reputation after her comments “resulted in several suppliers deciding to disassociate themselves from us.”

The Lagos-based food company said it also “suffered the loss of multiple credit lines” and had therefore filed a civil lawsuit against Okoli that sought 5 billion naira (more than $3 million) in damages. This case is due to be heard on May 20, her lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, told CNN.


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