Erisco controversy: Court admits food reviewer to N5m bail

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A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, admitted Mrs Chioma Okoli to N5 million bail with two sureties in like sum over allegations bordering on her online commentary on Erisco Foods Limited’s tomato paste.

Justice Peter Lifu, in a ruling, agreed with the arguments of the defendant’s lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, that the offence with which Mrs Okoli was charged with was a bailable one.

Justice Lifu further held that the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty pursuant to Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

According to the judge, denying her bail is a wrong application of discretion which will amount to a pre-trial judgment and judicial rascality.

He equally based the ruling on the health status of Okoli.

Justice Lifu, in admitting her to bail, said that one of the sureties must be the defendant’s spouse or blood relative with a verified source of income and also residing within the jurisdiction of the court.

The judge, who ordered the sureties to deposit a passport photograph each, directed the defendant to also deposit her international passport if any.

He adjourned the matter until June 13 for further hearing.

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The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mrs Okoli is being charged over her online commentary on Erisco Foods Limited’s tomato paste which the police alleged violated the Cybercrime Act, 2015.

She was arraigned on Tuesday before Justice Lifu by the Inspector-General (I-G) of Police on a two-count charge bordering on cyber crime.

Although she pleaded not guilty to all the counts, the judge ordered her remand to deliver ruling on her bail application.

Earlier, the prosecution counsel, Abdulrashid Sidi, urged the court to reject the bail application that was moved by the defence counsel, Effiong.

Sidi had objected the bail application on the ground that giving the history and antecedent of the defendant, there was the likelihood that she would jump bail.

The prosecution informed the court specifically that the defendant had, while on an administrative bail, refused to honour the bail terms and would most likely jump bail.

NAN reports that the police had alleged that initial investigations revealed significant evidence suggesting Mrs Okoli’s involvement in breaking existing laws, especially concerning the appropriate use of cyberspace.

On Sept. 17, 2023, Okoli shared a Facebook post stating that she purchased Nagiko Tomato Mix from Erisco Foods, the day before and found it utterly sugary.

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She mentioned that she normally buys Gino or Sonia brands, but they were out of stock.

Her post generated reactions and forced the management of the company to involve the police through a petition to the I-G.

The controversy also prompted scrutiny of the product’s registration, prompting the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to carry out an inspection on the Erisco Foods’ Nagiko Tomato Mix’s registration in 2021. (NAN)

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