Fresh details emerge about killer officer

Uttam Bhandari and PC Ivan Wabwire. Photos | Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Chilling footage from the crime scene shows how PC Ivan Wabwire fired multiple rounds of bullets at Uttam Bhandari from close range after a brief discussion with the director of TFS Financial Services.

The Uganda Police Force (UPF) has come under renewed focus after revelations that it knew about the mental health issues of a constable who fatally shot a moneylender on Friday at Raja Chambers on Parliamentary Avenue in Kampala.

Chilling footage from the crime scene shows how PC Ivan Wabwire fired multiple rounds of bullets at Uttam Bhandari from close range after a brief discussion with the director of TFS Financial Services. PC Wabwire, who has been servicing one loan since 2020, “owed the [TFS Financial Services] Shs2,130,000” as per Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango. 

In a statement, the Force revealed that its detectives “recovered 13 cartridges from the scene.” Footage of the shooting captures PC Wabwire returning to administer the coup de grace with another round of bullets after Bhandari had miraculously continued to show signs of life.

The police said it took a decision “not to arm [PC Wabwire] six years ago” after his mental health issues twice had him committed to Butabika hospital. According to a relative, who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity, PC Wabwire had dozens of run-ins with his family members between 2016 and 2017 due to his mental health issues.

Despite a lengthy history of instability that was never remedied, PC Wabwire—who hails from Buwalira Village, Bumunji Parish, Masinya Sub-county in Busia District—joined the Force in 2018.

Asked whether the Force screens recruits for mental health conditions, Mr Luke Owoyesigire, the Kampala Metropolitan Police deputy spokesperson, said they only check those who show signs of mental instability during the recruitment process, course of training and after the officers are passed out and deployed.

“I don’t think the officer had mental issues when joining the Force,” Mr Owoyesigire told this publication, adding, “His episodes of mental disorder started last year.”

A relative of PC Wabwire said the 30-year-old, who neither has a wife or children, grappled with an unspecified mental health issue “in 2020 during [the] Covid-19 [pandemic] when he was in the village for a few weeks.” The relative added that PC Wabwire “had to be held indoors or tied with ropes because each time they would untie him, he would run away and get lost.”

Mr Owoyesigire said when the Force learnt that PC Wabwire had mental health issues last year, he was taken to Butabika hospital. When he showed that he was on the mend, the Force decided to retain him with a few precautionary measures.

“He was not supposed to carry or hold a gun,” Mr Owoyesigire revealed.

Museveni questions

There is, however, a discrepancy between Mr Owoyesigire’s account and that in a statement from the Force that indicated that the decision to disarm PC Wabwire was taken six years ago. Mr Owoyesigire indicated that such a decision was only taken last year.

The inquest into how PC Wabwire ended up with a gun given his fragile mental state is shaping up to be a central plank of investigations into the shooting. President Museveni yesterday put out a tweet, questioning how the police constable who was “off-duty” could “access a gun.”

The President also posed five other questions, including ‘Did [PC Wabwire] walk away from his guard post without permission with a gun to commit crime? How are the guns stored in the police? Is there no security at the site where the victim was? Why did that local security allow an armed person into the building who had no guard business there? Did he have a history of mental instability? If he had, why hadn’t the police leadership noticed and acted appropriately?’

Some answers

Mr Owoyesigire offered an answer to one of the questions, albeit based on allegations. He said: “It is alleged that he broke into the premises of one of his colleagues and got that gun.”

Mr Onyango told the Monitor that PC Wabwire, who was deployed in CCTV monitoring centre, stole the gun from PC Steven Mulombo. We understand that PC Mulombo had kept it inside his room at the Central Police Station parkyard. PC Mulombo, who had signed for the gun, was arrested and is currently detained at the Police Flying Squad’s Kireka base.

“Due to limited accommodation, [PC Wabwire] was sharing a house with a fellow police officer. On May 12, his housemate had worked at night and didn’t return the gun to the armoury,” Mr Onyango revealed, adding of PC Mulombo, “Instead he went with it to their house and shortly got a call that his child was sick. He rushed to go and check on the child, leaving the gun behind. [PC] Wabwire took that advantage.”

PC Wabwire accessed TFS Financial Services offices at Raja Chambers wearing a police uniform and wielding an AK47 sub machine gun. He had strapped a pouch on his body containing extra magazines for the gun. He then went on a shooting spree that saw Mr Bhandari take eight bullets in under one minute.

We understand that PC Wabwire procured a loan of Shs1 million from TFS Financial Services in 2020. Information available to us shows that he only paid instalments for the first three months and stopped, leaving the loan and the interest to accumulate to Shs2.2 million.

It has been also established that the management of TFS have been making an effort to reach out to PC Wabwire and devise means of servicing the loan. PC Wabwire complained bitterly about the interest charged and the growth of his loan portfolio

“After the shooting, [PC] Wabwire … jumped on a boda and rushed to Central Police Station Kampala where he abandoned the killer gun and ran away,” Mr Onyango said, adding that he is still at large.

Housekeeping issues

Another outstanding question raised by President Museveni is in regard to the failure of the Force to act appropriately once PC Wabwire’s mental health issues had been identified. The Force’s strategic policing plan for 2015-2020 indicates that it has an annual attrition rate of 1,000. It further shows that 25 percent of non deployable officers are sick.

Mr Owoyesigire, however, told us yesterday that the Force has no idea as to the number of police officers grappling with mental health issues.

“Mental health issues differ. There are those that are caused by stress, some may be episodes that are not common with a person. So if someone is found not to have the mental rigour needed to operate in the Force, there is a formal way you can retire through the directorate of our health services,” he said, adding that the Force’s recruits are recommended by the local leaders and [Resident District Commissioners].

When PC Wabwire joined the Force in 2018, it was his first job. One of his relatives told us PC Wabwire had just completed Senior Six at the time.

Meanwhile, the Northern Indian Association has described Bhandari as a consummate professional in the moneylending business. Mr Sanjiv Patel Mugisha, a leader in the Northern Indian Association, told Monitor that Bhandari is survived by a widow and a two-year-old daughter. He registered his moneylending company—that counts a number of police officers as its clients—five years ago.

TFS Financial Services has also been lending money to a number of Uganda’s lawmakers across a two-decade stretch. 

Mental health issues

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as the state of well-being and how well you are in order to cope with the situations of life. It says this status is not static, it keeps changing.

Psychologists say a mentally unstable person always feels sad or down, with confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate, has excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt and extreme mood changes of highs and lows. This is majorly caused by childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect, social isolation or loneliness, discrimination and stigma, including racism, social disadvantage, poverty or debt. 

Data from the Health ministry and Uganda Counselling Association shows that about 14 million Ugandans are mentally sick, with the vast majority suffering from depression and anxiety disorders.