Those abducting citizens should be jailed – Otafiire

NUP party leaders and supporters display portraits of the allegedly abducted Ugandans at the party headquarters in Kampala on November 30, 2022.  PHOTO/ MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

What you need to know:

  • Internal Affairs Minister Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, a veteran of the five-year guerrilla war that brought President Museveni to power, has said rising gun attacks on security forces are not linked to a nascent rebel group as police claimed. He told a press conference in Gulu City that security operatives who arrest or hold suspects incommunicado are “criminals” who should be jailed, and that a government that arrests its own citizens is not a government. Tobbias Jolly Owiny attended the media briefing and brings an abridged version.

 We have witnessed a series of attacks on security forces and guns stolen. What is going on? Police point to a new rebel group, Uganda Coalition Forces of Change.
I don’t want to say yes or no about the theory that there could be a rebel group attacking the police. All I know is that we have instructed the police not to arrest unless they have very strong circumstantial evidence.
This business of arresting people on suspicion without credible evidence that can stand the test of court, we have tried to restrain police from doing it.
Why? Because there was an attack in Bukomero and a security guard was killed, a gun was taken and everybody said this was a rebel attack.
But this same gun taken from Bukomero was later on discovered in a robbery of a petrol tanker in Mbale [in eastern Uganda]. The person (suspect) who was supposed to be in Mbale was later on killed in Kapeeka (in central Uganda)!
… Now this is your wonderful rebel group!

 Where are NUP’s missing supporters?
The same man who attacked Bukomero was the same in Mbale, was also the same man killed in the Kapeeka attack, but then everybody is saying three [suspects are] a rebel group. No. These are simple criminal gangs, it is a criminal activity. It has nothing to do with rebellion.

Regarding the attacks on Gadaffi [Barracks Quarter Guard] in Jinja, the information we have is that it was a sheer robbery. So, I wouldn’t want to conclude that there is a rebel group but also I don’t want to deny... But let’s give the police time to investigate and evaluate evidence and then we shall tell the country whether somebody is engaged in crime or somebody has got a political motive, and ordinarily, if someone has got a political motive of waging war, they would declare and state the reasons why they are doing so.

Tears as army court denies bail to 31 NUP supporters
Several human rights bodies have recently pointed to the continued violation of the rights of Ugandans by security operatives. Opposition party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), claims its supporters are being abducted. What is the government doing about this?
I hate the word ‘abduction’. When a government begins abducting its people, then it is no longer a government. People get arrested, not abducted. Why should a government abduct its citizens…?

People are supposed to be arrested and confined in [gazetted places]. Whoever arrest people and puts them in non-gazetted places of detention must be followed and arrested. If there are situations of mistaken identities or no sufficient evidence, release them. But this business of saying people have been abducted, give me evidence of those people who have been abducted.

The government does not abduct its citizens, anybody abducting citizens is committing a crime.
Sometimes people are arrested but you hear the whole country claiming they have been abducted. No. They have just been arrested. There are people whom they brought (their records) to me, saying they had been abducted but when I asked the police, they admitted that they arrested [the suspects] and were processing to take them to court. But some people, for political reasons, want to hype this business of abduction. I am not saying there are no wrong elements within the security forces, they are [there]. When our activities are heightened, some people (in the forces) take advantage of that activity and commit a crime.

When President Museveni was ordering the installation of security cameras around the country, he presented it as the silver bullet to addressing crime. But the 2021 Police Annual Crime Report seems to suggest that there was a 0.1 percent increase in crime from the previous year. The Daily Monitor also unearthed how some of “big brothers” had gone blind. Are we getting returns on investment?
Sometimes there are faulty parts in these cameras and until you discover it and you replace it, the camera will not function. But you cannot say this is a general trend, these are machines, not human beings, they are not plants that keep growing, and even plants at times wither.
Sometimes, some of the cameras are out of order, but that does not mean the entire system is obsolete … there should be no alarm.

There are reports of increasing gun violence in Acholi Sub-region. These guns are allegedly coming from South Sudan. What is the government doing internally to manage the problem?
You know there is an adage that “when your neighbour’s house catches fire, chances that yours may burn too are very high”.
The border with South Sudan is lawless and guns are highly mobile objects.

Guns are not spoons for eating, they are for waging war on criminal activities; so, we are trying our best to contain that problem. But until that area of South Sudan is pacified, unfortunately, that problem will persist.
There are lots of illegal guns from these SPLA [South Sudan People’s Defence Forces] factions, the rebel groups that side, there are also illegal guns from our rebels. There are guns that were buried by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters, then there are guns infiltrating from Kenya, Somalia through Kenya. So, that area is a bit disturbed and we are doing our best to try to contain the situation.

When there is a problem, everybody develops hypotheses and theories, but unless these hypotheses and theories are proven right or wrong, I would remain reluctant to tell the country that this is what exactly is happening.
If rebels are being trained in South Sudan, how come we have not seen heightened rebel activities in this part of the country? I have heard about this [allegation] for the last two years.
Recently, I went … to consult with my colleagues in South Sudan to see how we can jointly work to contain lawlessness and improve the situation. So, we are doing something about it.

There is this popular type of Toyota Hiace van called the “drone”, that security use to arrest suspected criminals. Police recently banned its use as passenger service vehicles if it is not marked as a taxi. Is this the ministry’s position?
I don’t know about “drones”, and anybody using drones is committing a crime. The police do not use drones.
Sometimes the Criminal Investigations Directorates (CID) use vehicles with civilian number plates. But the drone is not part of our system. All I know is that everybody who is arrested by the CID ends up in court, or is assessed and released [if no evidence found].
For us, the police arrest people and they are accounted for. Nobody is abducted.

There is a lot of activities in the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party camp about succession, pitting President Museveni and First Son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba. Won’t this scenario result in chaos?
There are no two camps, there are only people making mistakes. First of all, it is not yet campaign time. The (NRM) party has not yet come out with a declaration for selecting a candidate, but some people have arrogated [to themselves the power] to keep going around confusing party members.
Gen Museveni is still our candidate come 2026, unless he says I am not running, or the party asks him to step aside. So, nobody should start coming around imposing himself on the party. If they want to do their things, let them do it separately from NRM.

NRM is a party with a constitution, procedures, rules and regulations which should be followed. If you don’t want them, then don’t associate with us (NRM).
Gen Museveni is still our preferred candidate. But that does not prevent people from doing their own things in society … it is okay.
A serving military personnel getting involved in active politics is a breach of the law, it is indiscipline and an embarrassment.

On criticising government
During the Tuesday ceremony at which you were chief guest, you were very specific in asking people to cease praising Mr Museveni, but criticise his “bad” leadership. Isn’t that turning you back against him?
No. Gen Museveni is a human being. Is he from heaven [not to be criticised]? There are campaign pledges he made; so, it is the party that should be holding him to ensure he fulfills these pledges and the manifesto.
Because the manifest is his greatest tool come 2026 [when next elections are scheduled to be held, he should be reporting to the electorate while seeking re-election], ‘I have achieved this and these are still pending; so, [give me a fresh mandate and] I want to finish them.’

[President] Museveni is not an angel, but he does not work alone. It is a government; so, criticise the government when it is not doing what it is supposed to do. It is your government, not ours.
You (voters) are the ones who hired us [in government], we presented the manifesto and you voted, so where we are going wrong, you should tell us. And I emphasise: Criticise the government provided you are telling the truth. Don’t attack Museveni for lack of rain like some people do, when there is thunder, they blame it on Museveni yet the man does not control thunder.

It is important that you critique the activities of the government, point out corruption, and point out illegalities so that you keep the country in shape. There are many players within the government and some of them make mistakes.
 

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