Suspicion over death of suspect in police cells

Tuesday August 13 2019

Behind bars. A photo of an inmate behind bars.

Behind bars. A photo of an inmate behind bars. Michael Abiriga, a suspect, is alleged to have died inside Kira Road Police Station in Kampala. Markinac. org photo 

By Frederic Musisi

It was a quick business deal; get to a construction site, pick-up metal scrap, load it on a boda boda, and get-out. “As simple as that,” Mr Emmanuel Alumadi, a boda boda rider, remembers being told in the second week of June.

Someone he knew fairly well had brought the deal to Alumadi. He felt that this would be a walk in the park and gladly accepted the job.
They arrived at the site, picked up the scrap, and everything seemed to be going according to plan.

Suddenly they were encircled, carted off and locked up at Kira Road Police Station.

“The owner of the site showed up with some guards and they found us loading the scrap,” Mr Alumadi revealed to Daily Monitor, adding:“The security guards, who had hatched the deal with Abiriga took off, and left us at the scene as thieves.”

Michael Abiriga worked at the construction site in the up-scale Naguru Hill. There are conflicting accounts about what exactly happened to him while inside the police cells, but its reported he was assaulted and later succumbed to injuries sustained.

“I got out after three days, and I left him in good condition,” Mr Alumadi added. “The next day one of the officers from the police called me saying my ‘brother’ had been injured badly. I asked how but they told me to just go there.”


It was a Saturday. Upon reaching the police station, Mr Alumadi was told that “his brother”—Micheal Abiriga, a lexicon used by virtue of coming from the same village in Yumbe District—had been assaulted by fellow inmates and had been admitted to Kiruddu General Referral Hospital.

Mr Alumadi says he went to Kiruddu and tried to inquire from officials but they had not recorded any patient by the name of Abiriga. His search that day was in vain. Tired and frustrated, he left for home.

On Friday, an officer from the police station adjacent to Kiruddu telephoned him claiming his brother had “escaped” from hospital, and they were looking for him.
Alumadi considered going back to Kiruddu but en-route, he stopped by Kampala City Mortuary and there it was—Abiriga’s body.

“I went back to police and told them that the person you are saying escaped from hospital is at the mortuary. How did that happen? They said they didn’t know, all they knew is he had been badly beaten inside the cells and they took him to the hospital.”

‘Death in custody’
The following week on Thursday mid-morning, Jessica Naikoba, paced from one office to another at Kira Road Police Station trying to secure bail for her 22-year-old son, Derrick Batwala, who had been in custody for two weeks on rape charges.

In the process of filling the paper work to secure a police bond, with his son in sight in one of the offices, Ms Naikoba said the officer-in-charge broke what possibly is the worst news she has ever heard, that her son was not going to be released, claiming, he had killed a person and was facing fresh murder charges.

“They took away my son that moment. My son has never killed anyone. Police is trying to frame him to cover up for their failures,” a pensive Nailkoba, narrated.
The Kampala metropolitan police spokesperson, Mr Patrick Onyango told Daily Monitor that Batwala and another inmate, David Musafu, who was in cells on charges of aggravated robbery, assaulted Abiriga leading to his death.

“The suspects were identified by other inmates after interrogation,” Mr Onyango said, adding: “They are now facing murder charges.”

However, Ms Naikoba says she has contacted at least three former inmates with whom his son had bonded with inside custody, but all provided different accounts of what transpired. The former inmates are, however, unwilling to step forward to testify for fear of being targeted.

Mr Onyango, however, claimed the officers, who were on duty, are facing administrative reprimand.
When news of his death filtered through Kiwalimu Zone B where Abiriga lived in Nakawa Division, residents confronted police demanding for his body. The area LC1 chairperson, Mr Ahmed Matovu, revealed that the body “was first hidden” as police perhaps “worked out a possible explanation.”

“When we heard that Abiriga was dead, we went to the mortuary and found his body,” Mr Matovu said.

Abiriga’s relatives travelled from Yumbe District after learning of his death. The Internal Affairs minister, Mr Obiga Kania, intervened in the matter, and preparations were made to transport the body for burial.

Some area residents had also planned to storm the mortuary, but were informed that the family had picked the body for burial.

Waiting for ‘justice’
Abiriga’s relatives, who are seeking for compensation, said they are suspicious over the way the matter has been handled and need answers in regard to Abiriga’s cause of death.

One of the relatives said they were handed a copy of the postmortem report upon picking the body but police later withdrew it after burial because it ‘is to be used as part of the evidence against the suspects.’

Mr Onyango downplayed other possible accounts and said Abiriga’s assailants will face justice.
Last week on Monday, Batwala and Musafu were remanded to Luzira prison.

Batwala’s mother, Ms Naikoba, and Musafu’s brother Joseph Balayo, said on August 5, their relatives appeared via video link at Buganda Road Court from Luzira but they are clueless about what exactly transpired.

“His (Batwala’s) name was called by the judge, he asked for bail but was told he has to first spend six months on remand,” Ms Naikoba said.

Daily Monitor asked judiciary authorities about the cause list for August but it did not contain the names or case particulars of the accused.

Both Batwala and Musafu’s relatives narrate in pain and anguish that police hurriedly implicated the duo to cover-up their mess.

Breaking the law
Ms Naikoba also said her son had already been in cells for two weeks—past the 48 hours’ constitutional limit before they are produced in court.

Batwala’s uncle Joel Batwala accuses police of concealing the truth after it became apparent that Abiriga was dead.

Mr Balayo, Musafu’s brother said his brother had been in detention for several days past the mandatory time when the incident happened.

On following up the matter, he discovered later that his brother had been moved from Kira Road Police Station to Nansana police, where he found him but was told his case file was being handled at Kira.

“Next thing I knew, he was appearing before City Hall court for remand. On the day they told us the suspects would return to court, we staged at the court only to be told later they had appeared before Buganda Road court. At Buganda Road, no one is telling us anything,” he said.

Mr Balayo said he was advised to contact the Resident District Attorney about particulars of his brother’s case but was informed they don’t have a file in his name.

“We have many questions but we are getting little answers,” he said.

Recounts from former inmates

The alternative accounts from former inmates somewhat differ, one source reveals that police ordered a group of inmates to beat up Abiriga in the dark while another says Abiriga became disoriented, began shouting and crying loudly.

The inmates then called out the guards on duty but the guards told them to tie him up.
He is then reported to have untied himself and started fighting in the cell. This then escalated as the other inmates tried to subdue him.

The third account is that some officers picked up Abiriga in the deep of the night, beat him up, and dumped him inside the cells.
Daily Monitor could not establish the most plausible account.