Blessing Okoro: Legal Liabilities of the “Homeless” CEO

Background

Nigerian Relationship Blogger, Blessing Okoro (also known as Blessing CEO), is the founder of a dating site known as Break or Make Up. The brief description as found on her site reads: “Blessing Nkiruka Okoro is a domestic violence survivor, relationship expert, Youtuber and owner of relationship blog Break or Make up. Her passion is to educate and help young people to enjoy understanding and love in their relationships. She hopes to set off a chain that empowers young people to reduce the toxicity and negativity around their relationships and embrace deliberate fulfilled lives full of love and self acceptance.

The news making the rounds is that Blessing celebrated her 30-year-old birthday on May 23, 2019, and took to her Instagram page to share photos of a seven-bedroom duplex, making wide claims of ownership of the property.

Of course, this attracted the much needed attention she desired, including the unwanted attention of the man who eventually tore apart the veil of deception.

– So, it happened that the seven-bedroom duplex was never the property of Blessing CEO. Rather, the property reportedly belongs to a businessman known as Onye Eze na China (King in China) from the Igbo tribe of Nigeria. By the way, many Igbo businessmen based at home and abroad are known for such heavy names. Lol. For instance, we have heard of Ofu Nwa na Ojoto, Eze Ndi Igbo na Cotonou, etc.

– After much wanton display of false ownership of the property, Blessing Okoro was recently uncovered as Onye Eze Na China had to storm Nigeria to protect his property before ihe mmadụ ahọ ihe onye ọzọ (a person’s property will become that of another). The Businessman reportedly arrested Blessing Okoro and made her admit in a video that indeed, the property was never hers.

– While this public humiliation appeared to have ended the ugly story of a seemingly Unfulfilled Lady who undertook to teach others of fulfilment, let us look at the possible legal liabilities of her conduct. In a society governed by numerous laws, virtually every conduct has legal implications, attracting either civil or criminal liabilities or both.

Possible Legal Liabilities

Civil

1) Trespass to Land

Trespass is a civil wrong under what is known as the Law of Tort. The broad definition and scope of trespass includes trespass to person (unlawful and unauthorised touching of another), trespass to chattels (unlawful and unauthorized dealing or tampering with the movable personal property of another) and trespass to land (unlawful and unauthorized dealing or tampering with the land of another). Our concern here is with trespass to land.

The point must be made that the definition of land itself includes building and other things described as fixtures, being things that cannot be removed from the land without damaging the land significantly.

Of all the principles of trespass to land, perhaps the most interesting one is that if half of your foot touches the land of another without being authorised, you are liable for trespass. In the 19th Century English Case of Ellis v. Loftus Iron Co (1874) LR 10 CP 10 at 12, Lord Coleridge CJ said:

“If the Defendant place a part of his foot on the Plaintiff’s land unlawfully, it is in law as much a trespass as if he had walked half a mile on it.”

Nigerian Supreme Court has relied on the above statement of the law in many cases. See Osuji v. Isiocha [1989] 3 NWLR (Pt. 111) 623.

Note that once trespass is proved, the owner of property is entitled to monetary compensation (by way of damages) without the need to prove any injury suffered.

Therefore, if Blessing Okoro gained unauthorized access into the premises, taking pictures and making false ownership claims, she is likely to be found liable of trespass to land.

2) Deceit

The tort of deceit is a type of civil wrong that occurs when a person intentionally and knowingly deceives another person (by making factual misrepresentation) into an action that causes them some form of injury. The Court of Appeal recognized the tort of deceit in the case of UBA v. Ogochukwu (2014) LPELR-24267(CA). Deceit also connotes fraud.

Blessing Okoro may never know the impact of her deceit and the possible outcome of same until any person comes forward to press claims.

3) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

According to Coulter Boeschen, intentional infliction of emotional distress is said to occur when a person intentionally or recklessly causes serious emotional distress to another by engaging in “extreme or outrageous” conduct, such as “conduct going beyond all possible grounds of decency and being utterly intolerable in a civilized community”.

Blessing Okoro’s outrageous conduct must have caused Onye Eze na China some form of emotional distress, making him travel all the way in defence of his property.

Although the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is not common in Nigeria, it is important to note that Nigerian courts are ever ready to enforce tortious claims, even if it means relying on the equitable principle of – where there is a wrong, there is a remedy (Ubi jus ibi remedium).

Criminal 

1) Fraud

Under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2002, Section 4o defines “Economic Crime” to include “any form of fraud.” In the case of Prince Oil Limited v. Guaranty Trust Bank Plc (2016) LPELR-40206(CA), the Court of Appeal defined fraud thus:

“Fraud implies a wilful act on the part of anyone, whereby another is sought to be deprived, by illegal or inequitable means, of what he is entitled to. Fraud for the purposes of civil law includes acts, omissions and concealments by which an undue and unconscientious advantage is taken of another.”

In Vulcan Gases Ltd. v. G.F. Ind. A-G [2001] 9 NWLR (Pt.719) 610 at 624, the Supreme Court explained:

“Fraud, in most cases, involves dishonesty. Actual fraud takes either the form of statement which is false or a suppression of what is true. The partial statement of fact and the withholding of essential qualifications may make that which is stated absolutely false and fix it under the head of suggestio falsi.”

The above broad definitions make it arguable whether Blessing Okoro can escape from any charge relating to fraud. Although her complete intention for claiming ownership of another’s property cannot be totally determined, it is clear that she craved for some prestige which by itself alone may not be sufficient to earn her a criminal conviction under this head. But you never know with law, especially when our body of criminal law seeks to even punish any person who merely attempts to commit an offence without actually committing the offence itself.

2) Computer related Fraud

A combined reading of Section 14(2) and Section 27(1) (a) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) Act, 2015 is important. Section 14(2) provides: “Any person who with intent to defraud sends electronic message materially misrepresents any fact or set of facts upon which reliance the recipient or another person is caused to suffer any damage or loss, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than 5 years and to a fine of not less than N10,000,000.00 or to both fine and imprisonment.” Section 27(1) (a) punishes every attempt to commit a cybercrime such as computer related fraud.

Blessing Okoro, by allegedly misrepresenting the fact of ownership of the duplex through electronic medium (Instagram) can be taken to have attempted a computer related fraud, if the statutory provisions are strictly construed.

3) Criminal Trespass

Under the Penal Code in operation in Northern Nigeria, Section 342 provides: “Whoever enters into or upon property in the possession of another with intent to commit an offence or to intimidate, insult or annoy a person in possession of that property, or, having lawfully entered into or upon that property, unlawfully remains there with intent thereby to intimidate, insult or annoy such person or with intent to commit an offence, is said to commit criminal trespass.”

If it were to be in Northern Nigeria, Blessing Okoro might go down for criminal trespass for unlawfully entering into the property belonging to Onye Eze na China with intent to annoy him. It would be difficult for her to escape through the possible windows available on close scrutiny of the Law.

4) Fraudulent Conducts in relation to Landed Properties

Report has it that the duplex in question is situated in Enugu State. If it were in Lagos, Blessing CEO may be criminally liable under the Lagos State Properties Protection Law, 2016. From its Long Title, the Law seeks to prohibit forceful entry and illegal occupation of landed properties, violent and fraudulent conducts in relation to landed properties in Lagos State and for connected purposes. Thus, by deceptively holding herself out as the owner of the duplex, Blessing Okoro might have exposed herself to charges relating to fraudulent conducts in relation to landed property and unlawful entry, including attempt to commit such offence.

Concluding Remarks

The reason for the above highlights of available legal provisions (including the “If” propositions) is to keep others informed – persons who may be influenced by the postulations of people like Reno Omokri that Blessing Okoro committed no crime. Depending on your location, you follow Blessing’s footsteps to your detriment. You never know with law. It is dynamic.

The trending act of showing off in our society is not unconnected to the inordinate craving to impress and “oppress” other social media followers and people in the larger society with “success” stories, both founded and unfounded.

This idea has become a norm in a society filled with a high population of people of unfulfilled dreams, unemployment, moral depravity, poverty and depression.

It is important to return to the virtue of contentment and diligence in life pursuits. Packaging is good. But the wrong products must not be packaged with intent to deceive. The attendant humiliation may cause greater depression. If you are made, you are made. If you will arrive, you will. The sad point is that the uncontrolled appetite to look successful (when work is still in progress) has the capacity of distracting one from the real job. Blessing should be able to rediscover herself and fall back on her interesting track.

Featured Image Credit: Within Nigeria.



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a Legal Practitioner, Consultant, Mediator and Social Entrepreneur. He is the Managing Attorney at Splendour Legal Consultants. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts. Desirous of implementing new legal solutions, he founded Stephen Legal, a firm in the business of providing innovative legal insights and easy solution in this information age. Stephen also serves as a volunteer at Prof. Pat. Utomi’s Centre for Values in Leadership in Lagos, given his passion for capacity building and leadership development.

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