Police officers should hear Obura’s tale

Former Inspector General of Police Kassim Musa Obura was on January 22, 1981 sentenced to death by Odoki J (as he then was).On March 15, 1989 he was hanged and buried in Luzira grounds.

Sunday March 17 2013

A police officer manhandles a suspect in Kampala last year. Photo by Faiswal Kasirye

A police officer manhandles a suspect in Kampala last year. Photo by Faiswal Kasirye 

By Dan Wandera Agalo

Former Inspector General of Police Kassim Musa Obura was on January 22, 1981 sentenced to death by Odoki J (as he then was).On March 15, 1989 he was hanged and buried in Luzira grounds. So, how did a police officer who rose to the highest rank end up with a rope around his neck and legs dangling in the air like a common criminal? How are his children and grandchildren affected today by his actions? Did he condemn them to a life of shame and disgrace?

Obura believed that he was a custodian of the law, serving his country to the best of his ability. Today IGP Kale Kayihura and his top officers like Grace Turaginamawe, Andrew Kaweesi, Sam Omala, Jacob Opolot, Chemonges, Judith Nabakooba, Ibn Ssenkumbi and many others also think the same. We hear and read statements made by police officers that they are preserving law and order.Obura made similar statements yet the same law he said he was enforcing put him to death.

Today the media is full of news of police brutality. Dr Kizza Besigye, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and a few other opposition politicians have become pass time punching bags of the police. Tear gas, battons, sometimes live bullets and excessive force at our universities and public demonstrations has become acceptable as a way of life. Even a man of God, Bishop Zac Niringiye, for just saying corruption is bad, was arrested and detained at Wandegeya Police Station. All this is said to be done in the name of law and order.

Serious editorials from newspapers, calling for restraint are ignored. Instead, these newspapers are branded anti-government or pro-opposition. Many police officers today have already committed crimes in the name of the law. Many others are surely and steadily walking down the path Obura took. And we, the people, are waiting. Just like we waited before to try Obura.

Obura did not just suddenly become bad. He slowly worked himself into the mess. Many police officers are doing the same today. They are slowly being sucked to a point of no return. At the beginning of his career in the police, Obura would not have believed that at one time he would commit cold blood murder. I am sure that many police officers today don’t think they can commit cold blood murder. They are wrong. They can and are headed there.

Samson Ddungu was a Kampala businessman. His partner accused him of forgery, uttering a false document and theft. Though the disagreement was more of a civil nature than criminal, he was arrested. This is common today. The police are involved in resolving business-related complaints. Just like happens today, Ddungu’s partner sought the assistance of the police in resolving this business dispute.

Obura was then second in command of Naguru Police Unit where Ddungu was held. Like many policemen today, Obura wanted results. He wanted to impress his bosses that he was thorough in his investigations. He told Ddungu to plead guilty to the charges in court and threatened that if he did not, he would kill him. In the meantime Ddungu’s family retained advocate E.Ssebunya to represent him.

Ddungu was produced in Buganda Road Court and charged with nine offences. He pleaded not guilty to seven counts and guilty to two. Before the Magistrate could record the plea, the police prosecutor applied to withdraw all the nine cases against Ddungu. This meant he was a free man. Ddungu fell to his knees and begged the magistrate to send him to Luzira prison.

He told the magistrate if he set him free, he was a dead man. The magistrate refused to imprison him in Luzira. He then escaped through the window with policemen in pursuit. He was arrested and brought back to court and together with his advocate taken into custody. They were taken before Obura who tortured both and eventually shot Ddungu from whom he tried to obtain a confession. Public Safety Unit which operated independent of CID had similar powers to SIU at Kireka today.

I attended the high court proceedings as a law student on clerkship. Ssebunya wept throughout his evidence as he recounted how Obura tortured his client and eventually shot him. This image of an advocate weeping is what I recall most vividly about the whole trial.
Just last week, I was reminded of this case. Something happened in Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki’s trading centre of Lumino. Doreen, wife of Patrick Onyango went to Lumino police station to report a case of defilement of her daughter.

She sought police help and protection of her daughter. Instead of offering her the justice she sought, police officer Moses Mugabe shot her dead. For purposes of damage control and public relations, Gen. Kayihura himself attended the funeral where he promised to construct a two bed roomed house for the bereaved husband.

When Obura murdered Ddungu in 1973 the majority of the policemen today were either not yet born or were young children. It is therefore safe to assume they have never heard of Obura and it is only fair to attempt an explanation to them why a police officer entrusted with protecting life instead took life.

In the first place Amin publically praised Obura and his boss Ali Towelli as officers who had “managed” to stop crime by their hard work at the Naguru Public Safety Unit. The same way President Museveni has praised the police for restoring order in dealing with Dr Besigye and “rioters” decisively. Praise from the Presidency can get to your head. You get carried away. Recently the police looked on while some hooligans attacked Besigye. Now Ssenkumbi says they have to force Dr Besigye to stay at home so that he is not beaten again. He is not even allowed to use public transport despite the fact that the police have confiscated his car.

Police officers are falling over themselves to please the President and be seen as the ones who are containing Dr Besigye. This is similar to the way Obura wanted to please Amin as containing crime in Kampala. Once a policeman craves pleasing his or her bosses so that he or she is promoted and praised instead of objectively implementing the law, such an officer is on the path Obura took. And we, the people, are watching.

Secondly Obura was Obote’s tribesman, Amin’s enemy number one. This made Obura insecure. He therefore set out to prove loyalty. Today there are many police officers who feel insecure because of the way the police is managed. They therefore set out to prove personal loyalty. Police officers who are at the forefront of raining terror on demonstrators are insecure. You read in papers names such as Seiko Chemonges, Sam Omala, Jacob Opolot, Kaweesi, Nabakooba e.t.c.

1/2 next