Erisco Foods: Court Grants N5m Bail To Mrs Chioma Okoli, Tomato Paste Reviewer

The Federal High Court in Abuja has granted Mrs. Chioma Okoli bail in the sum of N5 million, with two sureties in like amount, over allegations stemming from her online commentary about Erisco Foods Limited’s tomato paste.

Presiding over the case, Justice Peter Lifu upheld the argument presented by the defendant’s lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, affirming that the charges against Mrs. Okoli were bailable. The judge emphasized the constitutional principle that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, referencing Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

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

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

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

Mrs. Okoli’s legal troubles began after she posted a Facebook review on September 17, 2023, criticizing Erisco Foods’ Nagiko Tomato Mix, describing it as “utterly sugary.”

Her post, comparing the product unfavorably to other brands like Gino and Sonia, led to 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 the two counts of cybercrime brought against her.

Despite the prosecution’s opposition, which highlighted her previous non-compliance with administrative bail terms and the risk of absconding, the court decided in her favour.

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

The case continues to attract public attention as it raises significant questions about consumer rights, corporate accountability, and the use of cyberspace in product reviews.