Stop Persecution Of Chioma Okoli, CAPPA Urges Erisco Foods And Nigerian Police

The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) has condemned the harassment of an expectant mother, Mrs. Chioma Okoli, allegedly by Erisco Foods in collusion with the Nigerian Police.

CAPPA, in a statement issued on Friday, January 12, 2024, urged the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) to abide by the rule of law and comply with a subsisting order of the Federal High Court in Lagos State, restraining the Police from re-arresting or detaining Mrs. Okoli, unless by a court order.

The statement followed the alarm raised in the media on Tuesday by Mr Inibehe Effiong, the Okolis’ family lawyer and human rights activist, that a police team from Abuja, laid a 10-hour siege to the Okolis’ Sangotedo residence in the Ajah area of Lagos in an attempt to re-arrest Mrs Chioma without a court order. Additionally, in a video clip posted online, Mr Chizoba Okoli, the husband of the pregnant woman alleged that his family, including his underaged children, were frightened for their lives, trapped indoors, and unable to feed as they could not leave the house to purchase cooking gas needed to facilitate meal preparations during the siege.

Mrs. Okoli’s ordeal with Erisco Foods began September 17, last year following a now-deleted Facebook post she made alleging that a Nagiko tomato mix she purchased, tasted sugary. Her review drew the ire of Erisco Foods’ Chairman and Nagiko tomato manufacturer, Chief Eric Umeofia, and also prompted his company to refute the claim, insisting “the post was intended to mislead our esteemed customers and discredit the image of Erisco Foods Limited.”

The company subsequently filed a complaint that led to Mrs. Okoli’s arrest and transfer to Force Headquarters in Abuja. Following her release three days later, she filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos which on November 8, 2023, granted an interim order protecting her from unlawful arrest and detention. Despite the court’s prohibition, the police invaded her residence on Tuesday and laid siege for hours.

‘‘The ruthless intimidation of Mrs. Chioma is emblematic of a wider and disturbing trend in Nigeria: the shrinking civic space for public participation in governance, and oppression of citizens seeking accountability for actions of corporations that impact their lives.’’ Said Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA.

‘‘In this scenario, powerful entities in collusion with law enforcement agencies are effectively criminalizing the fundamental rights of a consumer to freely express opinions about their purchase, be heard, access information and receive consumer education, including enjoy the right to best product standards and the assurance of dignity and safety for their choices,’’ Akinbode added.

CAPPA criticized the Nigerian police for their decision to deploy a team of senior officers led by a Deputy Superintendent from Abuja and assisted by more policemen in Lagos State, allegedly without a court order, to re-arrest Mrs Okoli, an unarmed and expectant mother with no history of violence, despite the repeated assurances by her legal team of her willingness to appear in court to defend charges levelled against her.

According to Zikora Ibeh, CAPPA’s Policy and Research Officer, ‘‘the police’s unlawful siege of the Okolis’ residence not only marks an atrocious misuse of taxpayers’ monies to fund the logistics of repression but also, a blatant disregard for the rule of law by an institution that ought to set an example for proper societal conduct.’’

‘‘In fact, the situation is yet another disconcerting reminder of how the Nigerian state apparatus has become a mere pawn in the hands of privileged few, utilized to suppress the voices of marginalized groups and ordinary citizens,’’ she further reflected.

‘‘We strongly insist on the rights of Mrs. Chioma and every Nigerian to provide honest product reviews and feedback, without running the risk of victimization. These fundamental rights are well protected and guaranteed under Sections 35, 39 and 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As amended) which provides for the freedom of individuals to hold opinions without interference, liberty, and discrimination from abusive practices in any form or manner. Furthermore, these rights are protected by The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, to which Nigeria is a signatory.’’

‘‘Again, we appeal to the IGP to rein in his men. Since the matter between Mrs. Chioma and Erisco Foods is already before a competent court of law, we ask all parties to allow the law to run its course.’’

‘‘Finally, we also urge all relevant stakeholders and consumer protection agencies, such as the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, to stand in solidarity with Nigerians against unconscionable corporate and business conducts that threaten the safety, dignity, and overall well-being of consumers,’’ the statement concluded.