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Woman Arrested for Food Critique on Social Media

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Chioma Okoli | Image by Chioma Okoli

Following the arrest of Chioma Okoli, a Nigerian entrepreneur, for her critical online review of a local brand of tomato puree, the Nigerian Police Force issued a firm statement online reaffirming their commitment to upholding the law, particularly regarding cybercrime.

Okoli’s case gained international attention after she was arrested for allegedly breaching Lagos’ cybercrime law by criticizing Erisco Foods’ Nagiko Tomato Mix on social media. Police accused her of using her Facebook account “with the intention of instigating people against Erisco Foods,” according to a legal filing reviewed by CNN. 

The incident sparked debates on freedom of expression and the appropriate use of the internet.

“I went to [buy] Tin tomatoes yesterday that [I] will use to make stew, [I] didn’t see Gino and Sonia, so [I] decided to buy this one,” Okoli wrote on Facebook. “When [I] opened it, [I] decided to taste it omo! Sugar is [just] too much ! [sic].”

Okoli went on to solicit others’ opinions on the product in the post. Her Facebook page had over 18,000 followers in September of last year when the post was initially published, per CNN.

Blessing Okeke replied to Okoli’s post, “Stop spoiling my brother[’s] product, if [you] don’t like it, use another one [rather] than bring it to social media or call the customer service [of] Erisco Foods Limited.”

In response to Okeke’s comment, Chioma asserted that “our company was jeopardizing consumers’ health with its products,” as Erisco Foods put it in a post on Facebook.

“[H]elp me advise your brother to stop ki***ing [sic] people with his product, yesterday was my first time of using [it] and [it’s] pure sugar.”

Okoli, pregnant at the time, was arrested by a plain-clothed police officer a week later while she was attending church, reported CNN.

In an official press release published on March 7 via social media platform X, the Nigerian police emphasized the importance of adhering to existing legislation, including the “Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act” of 2015. They stated that preliminary investigations had revealed compelling evidence indicating Okoli’s alleged role in violating cyber laws, especially those pertaining to the responsible use of online platforms.

Still, Kelechukwu Uzoka, a Nigerian legal analyst, told CNN that “cybercrime is difficult to prove in court. You have to prove actual harm when the post was made. Erisco must prove that the [Okoli’s] Facebook post affected its business … at the point it was made.”

Nonetheless, Uzoka noted, “No law guarantees absolute freedom. While we have our freedom of expression, there are limitations. You can’t defame or malign someone.”

The Nigerian police’s statement stressed that the force is committed to upholding impartiality and the rule of law in the case.

“It is vital to reaffirm that the Nigeria Police is poised to enforce all laws without fear, favour, or sentiments in its commitment to ensuring justice and transparency for all citizens.” 

Finally, the Nigerian police urged Okoli in their post to cease evading legal proceedings and appear in court to “allow justice to take its course.”

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