Justice Peter Lifu of the Federal High Court in Abuja has granted Chioma Okoli bail in the sum of ₦5 million with two sureties of like amount. This decision comes amid allegations related to her online commentary concerning Erisco Foods Limited’s tomato paste. Justice Lifu, while admitting Okoli to bail, stipulated that one of the sureties must be either her spouse or a blood relative who has a verifiable source of income and resides within the court’s jurisdiction. Additionally, the sureties are required to submit a passport photograph each, and Okoli is mandated to deposit her international passport, if she possesses one.

In his ruling, Justice Lifu concurred with the arguments presented by Okoli’s lawyer, asserting that the offence she is charged with is indeed bailable. He emphasized the principle enshrined in Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, which states that a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Denying bail, according to Justice Lifu, would amount to a wrongful exercise of discretion and could be seen as a form of pre-trial judgment, which he described as judicial rascality. Furthermore, the judge considered Okoli’s health status as a factor in his decision to grant bail. The case has been adjourned to June 13 for further hearing.

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The charges against Okoli stem from her online review of Erisco Foods Limited’s Nagiko tomato paste. The review, posted on her Facebook page “Chioma Egodi Jnr” on September 17, 2023, claimed that the tomato paste tasted sugary. This led to her arrest by police operatives in Lagos, who subsequently flew her to Abuja for interrogation following a complaint by Erisco Foods Limited. The company issued a statement describing Okoli’s claim as “untrue and unfounded.”

Okoli was arraigned before Justice Lifu by the Inspector-General of Police on a two-count charge under the Cybercrime Act, 2015. She pleaded not guilty to both counts. The police’s swift action in September 2023, following her review, highlights the seriousness with which Erisco Foods Limited pursued the matter, emphasizing their stance against what they consider false and damaging claims about their product.

Justice Lifu’s decision to grant bail highlights the judiciary’s commitment to upholding constitutional principles, particularly the presumption of innocence. His ruling serves as a reminder that bail is a fundamental right, especially in cases where the offence is bailable and the accused has not yet been proven guilty. The conditions set for Okoli’s bail reflect a balanced approach, ensuring she remains available for trial while acknowledging her right to freedom.

As the case progresses, it will undoubtedly attract significant public attention, given the implications for free speech, online commentary, and corporate reputation in Nigeria. The June 13 hearing is expected to further delve into the merits of the charges against Okoli and the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense. For now, Okoli remains out on bail, her case a focal point in the ongoing discourse about the boundaries of online reviews and corporate accountability.