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Chioma Okoli, a Nigerian woman, is facing imprisonment and a civil lawsuit after posting a negative online review of a can of tomato puree manufactured by Erisco Foods Limited. She described the product as too sweet on Facebook, which sparked varied reactions from commenters. Okoli was later arrested by the police and charged under Nigeria’s Cyber Crime Prohibition Act for allegedly instigating people against the company. She could face up to three years in jail or a fine of $5,000 if found guilty.

In addition to the criminal charges, Okoli is also being sued in a civil case by Erisco Foods Limited. The company claims that her comments damaged its reputation, resulting in the loss of suppliers and credit lines. They are seeking damages of more than $3 million in the lawsuit, which is set to be heard on May 20. Okoli was released on bail with a condition to publicly apologize to Erisco, which she claims she agreed to under duress and did not follow through with.

Okoli’s lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, has filed a countersuit against both Erisco and the police on her behalf, challenging her arrest and detention as a violation of her constitutional rights. Effiong argues that Okoli’s arrest was also a breach of her freedom of expression. He plans to ask for the cybercrime case against her to be transferred to Lagos, where she lives, at the next hearing in April. Legal and public affairs analyst Kelechukwu Uzoka explained that while there are limitations to freedom of speech, cybercrime can be difficult to prove in court.

Amnesty International Nigeria has called for an end to the harassment and intimidation of Okoli, as Nigerians have begun crowdfunding online to support her legal fees. Protests have erupted at Erisco’s facility in Lagos, with many on social media calling for a boycott of its products. The company’s founder, Eric Umeofia, has remained steadfast in pursuing the lawsuit against Okoli, stating that he would rather die than allow someone to tarnish his 40-year-old reputation. The case has drawn attention to the complex intersection of free speech and cybercrime laws in Nigeria.

Okoli’s experience highlights the power dynamics at play when individuals share their opinions online, especially in a country like Nigeria where laws around cybercrime can be used to silence dissent. The outcome of her legal battles will have implications for the future of online free speech and consumer advocacy in the country. As the case continues to unfold, it serves as a reminder of the challenges facing those who speak out against powerful entities and the importance of protecting the right to express opinions online without fear of retaliation.

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