Nigerian Woman Faces Jail for Reviewing Tomato Puree Online

On September 24, she was arrested.

A scathing online review of tomato puree has landed a Nigerian entrepreneur, Chioma Okoli, in hot water. The 39-year-old Lagos resident faces jail time after the product’s manufacturer accused her of violating cybercrime laws with a “malicious allegation” that damaged their business. This unusual case has sparked outrage in Nigeria, with many believing Ms Okoli is being punished for simply exercising her right to free speech, CNN reported.

Chioma Okoli, a children’s clothing importer, turned to her 18,000 Facebook followers on September 17th for their thoughts on a tomato puree substitute she’d recently purchased. Disappointed by its sweetness, she sought their opinions.

Ms Okoli’s post featuring a photo of an opened can of “Nagiko Tomato Mix” by Erisco Foods, a local company, drew mixed reactions from her followers. A comment read, “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.”

Reacting to the comment, Ms Okoli wrote, “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.”

On September 24, she was arrested. 

Nigerian police, according to legal documents reviewed by CNN, accuse Ms Okoli of using her Facebook post to incite people against Erisco Foods. In a March 7th statement, they claimed their preliminary investigation yielded “compelling evidence” against her.

As per the police, Okoli faced charges of “instigating Erisco Foods Limited, with knowledge that the information was false, under Section 24 (1) (B) of Nigeria’s Cyber Crime Prohibition Act.”

If convicted, she could potentially be sentenced to up to three years in prison, fined 7 million naira (approximately $5,000), or both.

Additionally, Ms Okoli faces separate charges of conspiring with two other individuals “with the intention of inciting people against Erisco Foods Limited,” as indicated in the charge sheet, which is punishable under Section 27(1)(B) of the same act. If found guilty of this charge, she risks a seven-year prison sentence.

Ms Okoli is facing a separate civil lawsuit filed by Erisco, who stated in a statement released on January 19 that they were taking legal action to protect their reputation following her remarks, which “led to several suppliers choosing to sever ties with us.”

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