The Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) has condemned the alleged harassment of Mrs. Chioma Okoli by Erisco Foods in conspiracy with the Nigerian Police.
CAPPA, in a statement issued by its Communications Officer, Robert Egbe, 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 Okoli family lawyer and human rights activist, that a police team from Abuja, laid a 10-hour siege on the Okolis Sangotedo residence in the Ajah area of Lagos in an attempt to re-arrest Mrs. Okoli without a court order. Additionally, in a video clip posted online by the husband, Mr. Chizoba Okoli, alleged that his family, including his underage children, were frightened for their lives, trapped indoors, and unable to feed as they could not leave the house to purchase the cooking gas needed to facilitate meal preparations during the siege.
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.
Lamenting about the ruthless intimidation of Mrs Okoli, Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA noted that the actions of the Nigerian police is disturbing and evidence of a shrinking civic space for public participation in governance.
Akinbode said, ‘‘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.”
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.
‘‘Infact, 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.
The statement reads in part that, ‘‘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 his men. Since the matter between Mrs. Chioma and Erisco Foods is already before a 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 wellbeing of consumers,” the statement concluded.