Chioma Okoli: Group writes Nigerian minister, seeks urgent intervention

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A civil society organization – Akin Fadeyi Foundation (AFF), has called on the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, to defend a pregnant mother of three, Chioma Okoli, who is facing trial over her review of a tomato puree online.

Mrs Okoli is being prosecuted for allegedly breaching Nigeria’s cybercrime laws following her post on Facebook in September 2023 claiming the Nagiko tomato paste manufactured by Erisco is “sugary.”

In a statement on Tuesday AFF asked Mrs Kennedy-Ohanenye to facilitate a solution-driven dialogue between the CEO of Erisco Foods, Eric Umeofia, and Mrs Okoli, to settle the matter out of court and “bring the rather unfortunate incidence to a conclusion. “

The statement reads in part: “AFF is deeply troubled by the unfolding events and its apparent effect on the well-being of the pregnant Chioma Okolie and her unborn child, who have been in the vortex of the storm for expressing an opinion on her social media platform in September 2023.

“From what has been evident in media profiles, the past seven months would no doubt have been highly traumatic for Mrs Chioma Okoli and her family”.

AFF said as a non-profit civil society organization it is dedicated to addressing social injustice, gender-based violence, and corruption in Nigeria through innovative technologies and communication strategies.

Cybercrime allegation

According to the group, Mrs Okoli’s product review, whether positive or negative, cannot be misconstrued as a cybercrime, noting that the actions taken by Mr Umeofia and the Nigerian Police are a violation of her rights as a consumer, and citizen.

It explained that Mrs Okoli has not in any form contravened the Cybercrime (Prohibition and Prevention) Act 2015, particularly its Section 24, in the context of her review of Erisco Foods‘ product.

The group also expressed concern that Mr. Umeofia is being indulged in using “the instrumentality of the state (the Nigerian Police) as a tool for redress against a helpless pregnant woman, who might have been dissatisfied with her experience of a product in the market. “

“Unfortunately, having made up his mind, while acting as both accuser and judge – beyond the verdict of the law and extra-judicially – that Mrs Chioma Okoli must be punished for expressing an opinion that he felt uncomfortable with, Mr Umeofia is documented as having gone on national television to state that “there are spaces in prison for pregnant women” and their children,” it noted.

“This is most disturbing as it reveals a desperation for vengeance that transcends whatever might be the judicial pronouncement, and the determination to use his power and influence to extract a pound of flesh. We do not believe that a product review should be the reason why a pregnant woman and her unborn child should “have a place in prison.”

Demands from the ministry

The Foundation urged Mrs Kennedy-Ohanenye to urgently intervene in the matter by facilitating a solution-driven dialogue between Mr Umeofia and Mrs Okoli.

“We urge you to leverage this case to show Nigerians and the world once again that you are not only concerned about issues affecting women but have earned a well-deserved place as a worker in the vineyard of peace in the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the group noted.

“The Akin Fadeyi Foundation stands ready to support your efforts in the best possible way, and we look forward to a swift and just resolution to this matter.”

Outrage

A week after her post on Facebook went viral, Mrs Okoli was arrested by police operatives in Lagos State and transferred to Force Headquarters in Abuja. She was later released on bail on the second day.

Following these developments, Nigerians criticized the company and the police for their action.

A coalition, comprising Enough is Enough Nigeria, Purple Women Foundation, and Women Advocates Research & Documentation Centre (WARDC) on 12 March, also held a solidarity walk, tagged, IStandWithChiomaOkoli .

“What seemed like a harmless comment at the time had since got her embroiled in a legal tango with the manufacturer of the tomato paste brand, Erisco Foods.

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“Since then, Chioma has been arrested, not once but twice, for exercising her right to freedom of speech and opinion as granted by Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“Chioma is a married, pregnant mother of three. In the words of the late Rev Desmond Tutu, if an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. No Nigerian is more Nigerian than any Nigerian,” Aisha Yesufu, a leader of one of the organizing groups, said.


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The article is in Romanian

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