Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago vividly recounts the 2007 incident when he was confronted by police officers at the Kampala Central Police Station (CPS), roughed up, held in an underground police cell, paraded late in court and whisked away to Luzira prison.
Mr Lukwago [then Kampala Central MP], in alliance with Aruu County MP Odonga Otto, had insisted on convening a meeting at the Constitutional Square to gather evidence on the Kiboko squad, a ragtag police unit that had emerged out of CPS to clobber people during anti-Mabira giveaway protests.
Police had insisted that the duo would not hold the meeting at the Constitutional Square, a directive they rejected as illegal, setting a perfect stage for confrontation.
After a dialogue between the duo and the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, they agreed to a meeting with the General at CPS and that is where all hell broke loose. They had rejected an idea to speak to Gen Kayihura on phone to strike a deal on how to go about the protest.
As they called Gen Kayihura’s mobile phone, which was switched off, police under the command of Emmanuel Muhairwe, the officer in charger of CPS, pounced on them with whips and unleashed terror.
“When we were being taken down the staircase [to the dungeon], about 10 police officers were kicking us. It was aggravated torture. My shirt buttons were torn. But it was Otto who was humiliated most. He was roughed up as Muhairwe gave some sectarian orders,” Mr Lukwago recalls.
They were held in an underground cell, briefly taken to Criminal Investigations Department (CID) headquarters, charged in court and remanded to Luzira because they could not clear the Shs100,000 cash bail fee as banks had closed. They spent the weekend in prison.
With the 2005 removal of term limits, arrest of Dr Kizza Besigye and the disputed 2006 election, tempers had been gradually flaring up. The appointment of Gen Kayihura in November 2005 had not helped matters.
The 2007 demand by Democratic Party (DP) to release a report into the assassination of Dr Andrew Kayiira was the first release of the pent-up anger as police cracked down on any such attempts.
The arrest of MPs Otto and Lukwago, hot on the heels of a similar arrest of Kampala Woman MP Nabila Naggayi, Workers MP Sam Lyomoki and the emergence of the stick wielding Kiboko squad to beat up people during anti-Mabira giveaway, marked a new low that required attention.
With the brutality meted out by police on everyone who engaged in any political action hitting unacceptable measures, Parliament instituted a 13-member committee to investigate the conduct of the police.
But if the findings of the committee are anything to go by, it is clear that police has done little to right the wrongs and has rather taken a turn for the worse.
The brutal tactics that were used by police officers then are still the norm today. In roughing up Mr Otto at CPS, the committee heard that the in-charge CPS used a whip. The police now employ truncheons and sticks to beat up Opposition supporters, the same tactic that the committee report condemned.
“That video footage of the incident showed Emmanuel Muhairwe, the OC Central Police Station, with the assistance of a number of police officers dragging Hon Odonga Otto up the steps leading to the entrance of a police station. Emmanuel Muhairwe was holding a whip,” reads the committee report, adding that the arrest was “brutal”.
The report indicated that: “There is no reason why Odonga Otto and Erias Lukwago were arrested. The reason given by police that they had committed a traffic offence for driving over a police barrier cannot be believed because their driver was not arrested and the tyres of the vehicle they were travelling in was not deflated.”
The report recommended that Mr Muhairwe be subjected to disciplinary action, detailing that his “conduct in relation to Erias Lukwago and Odonga Otto was unjustified, unreasonable and unprofessional giving a bad image to the officers under his supervision.”
Police authorities declined to respond to what action has been taken as recommended by the report, but Mr Muhairwe, now attached to the Railways Police, says he appeared before Buganda Road Court and was cleared.
“I was cleared by Buganda Road Court and that means police would not take any action. That would be double jeopardy. Lukwago and Otto were also compensated by court,” Mr Muhairwe says.
The report, tabled in Parliament in 2012, indicted police officers for disobeying court orders. Assistant Inspector General of Police Edward Ochom, then Regional Police Commander for Kampala Extra was indicted for disobeying a court order, an indiscretion that still stains the Force.
Rattled by the criticism over the recent roughing up of Dr Besigye’s supporters, police charged the accused officers in its internal court, attracting scepticism because previous efforts to prosecute officers involved in the beating up of Opposition supporters have all hit a dead end.
In 2013, Dr Besigye and Mr Lukwago filed a case against six senior police officers, accusing them of hiring a mob that attacked their rally in Kawempe, a Kampala suburb, with stones leaving most of their supporters nursing injuries.
Police, on orders of Nabweru Chief Magistrate Justine Atukwase, claimed to have instituted an investigation into the conduct of its senior officers mentioned, including recording a statement from Gen Kayihura, who was among the accused.
With no report from police for the Nabweru Court and Director of Public Prosecutions to rely on for prosecution, the case suffered a stillbirth.
Workers MP Sam Lyomoki, who was arrested as he visited a hospital in Mbale, says there is no political will to bring the police to order, saying recommendations made by the select committee were just for “psychological and propaganda value”.
“Police has been in a disgraceful situation and it has disgraced itself. The leadership must come to the reality that they need to do the work that the police is mandated to do without pushing for any interests. Kayihura needs to transform and if he can’t transform, there needs to be a change in leadership. No institution is interested in bringing the police to order,” Mr Lyomoki says.
The report recommended that all police officers who were involved in the manhandling of Ms Nabila Naggayi should be identified and subjected to disciplinary action. It is unclear whether such action was taken because police did not respond to inquiries. Of all the recommendations made by the committee, the Internal Affairs ministry chose to implement the requirement to bring a Bill to regulate the conduct of public demonstrations, meetings and gatherings in public places, especially towns.
The Public Order Management Act, passed in 2014, however remains a contentious law that human rights groups insist is draconian and gives excessive powers to police authorities in clamping down on regime opponents.
To redeem the image of the police, Mr Lukwago says President Museveni needs to stop demonising Opposition politicians, which triggers security agencies to unleash terror on the Opposition.
“It is very difficult to do away with incidents of torture in a quasi-military regime. President Museveni portrays Opposition leaders as enemies of the State and treats us as criminals. That sends signals to the Forces,” Mr Lukwago says.
The select committee was subsequently established in June 2008 under Rule 46 (b) of the Rules of procedures of Parliament. The Members of Parliament who had been arrested and detained included the following:- Ms Nabilah Sempala, Ms Suzan Nampijja, Dr Sam Lyomoki, Mr Odonga Otto and Mr Elias Lukwago among others.
Excerpt from 2010 Parliament report
The Committee made the following findings;
i) While Hon Odonga Otto relied on the provisions of Article 26 of the Constitution in his intention to hold a rally at the Constitutional Square, he said the IGP in disallowing his rally relied on the provisions of the Police Act which entrusted the Police with the responsibility of maintaining law and order. A scene was therefore set for confrontation.
ii) That Mr Emmanuel Muhairwe alleged that Hon Odonga Otto and Hon Erias Lukwago were arrested because they drove over a barrier that had been laid out across the road to the Central Police Station. Hon Odonga Otto on the other hand claimed that the barrier was removed by a young Police Officer for them to pass. Hon Odonga Otto could not have driven over a barrier with spikes.
iii) It was apparent from their conduct that the police officers that Hon Odonga Otto and Hon Lukwago found at the Central Police Station had been instructed to have Hon Odonga Otto and Hon Erias Lukwago arrested.
iv) That the video footage of the incident showed Emmanuel Muhairwe, the O/C Central Police Station, with the assistance of a number of police officers dragging Hon Odonga Otto up the steps leading to the entrance of the police station. Emmanuel Muhairwe was holding a whip.
v) That there is no evidence that could have justified the arrest and detention of Hon Erias Lukwago and Hon Odonga Otto. They were not the drivers of the car in which they travelled in to the police station. In fact the driver of the car was not arrested. They were not violent.
vi) That the conduct of Hon Odonga Otto and Hon Erias Lukwago tended to be confrontational. They insisted on holding the rally although it had been disallowed by the IGP.
vii) That Mr Edward Ochom Osiru was not involved in the arrest of Hon Odonga Otto and Hon Erias Lukwago.
i) There is no clear reason why Hon Odonga Otto and Hon Erias Lukwago were arrested. The reason given by the police that they had committed a traffic offence for driving over a police barrier cannot be believed because their driver was not arrested and the tyres of the vehicle in which they were travelling were not deflated.
ii) Hon Odonga Otto’s approach regarding his intention to hold a rally tended to be confrontational. Although he was advised not to hold a rally at the Constitutional Square, his body language tended to suggest that he intended to go ahead with the rally.
iii) The Police, especially Mr Muhairwe had no justification for arresting Hon Odonga Otto and Hon Erias Lukwago and the manner in which he did so was violent.
The Committee therefore recommends that:-
i) Mr Muhairwe should be subjected to appropriate disciplinary action and report in the action made to Parliament.
ii) That Hon Odonga Otto and Hon Erias Lukwago should learn to respect other authorities.