Uganda: Security officers accused of extortion in lockdown

Mamos Media

A police officer interacts with a driver on Jinja Road on May 19.Security forces have come under criticism for allegedly extorting money from the public in enforcement of the presidential rules on Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO | DAVID LUBOWA 

By FRANKLIN DRAKU

Security forces in different parts of the country have come under criticism for allegedly extorting money from the public in enforcement of the presidential directives on Covid-19 pandemic.

When President Museveni announced a lockdown in March, many restrictions were issued, including ban on public and private transport, closure of airport and borders, a night curfew, closure of schools, bars, hotels, markets, churches, mosques and salons, among others
Many victims of the extortions have spoken out, accusing the police and their auxiliary forces.

The initial days of lockdown showed Local Defence Unit forces unleashing terror on Ugandans who were thought to have violated the directives.
When the President condemned the brutality against the public, the security personnel changed the game plan to extortion.

A victim only identified as Peter, working with a charity organisation in Jinja District, had a bad day on June 12 when he unintentionally removed his face mask.
Peter, an expatriate, had gone for shopping in downtown Kampala when he landed on the extortionist in the city centre only identified as Mark, a police officer.

“I had been out walking around just after I had got there with my facemask on. My wife was shopping for clothes but was taking long. So about three hours of waiting , I thought I could walk down the road. I removed my mask. A police officer approached me and said I will take you to jail,” Peter narrated.

As soon as him and the security team returned to his car, . the police officer changed his mind and demanded $200.

“He asked me how we could fix the problem and asked for $200 (about Shs745,000) to allow me go. I told him I would give him Shs500,000 which he reluctantly accepted so I went to Stanbic ATM a few metres away and withdrew the money. We moved into a space where no one could see and I gave him Shs500,000. I walked away absolutely disgusted at the rotten and corrupt police force here in Uganda,” he said.

Selective arrests
Peter said while he was accused of committing a wrong, other people were just walking about and the police officers looked on.

He said when he questioned why others were walking without masks without being arrested, the officer instead threatened to increase the fine against him.

“I questioned the policeman about the hundreds of people walking around with no masks but he threatened me instead. I have searched around online for any fine that had been devised for this offence but cannot find anything,” Peter said.

Mr Nelson Oguti was intercepted on Old Kiira Road with his wife, whom the police said was not among those to be driven around.

Mr Oguti, who was among the essential workers category, had a movement sticker.

He said his wife was sick and he had taken her to Case Clinic but police intercepted them on their way back.

“My wife wasn’t feeling well so I used my car to drive her for treatment. I had a sticker to drive to work because I was one of the essential workers and when I explained to the officers that this was my wife, they refused to listen. They asked for Shs1m, which I did not have. We had to talk until we settled for Shs300,000, which I paid before being freed,” Mr Oguti said.

Asked why he did not raise the issue with the police authority, he said he wanted his wife to go home and rest.

At Kyebando on the Northern Bypass, a number of people have suffered the wrath of the ruthless security patrol team, both the LDU personnel, military police and regular police patrol teams.

Mr Jackson Andama, a resident of Kyebando Central, had finished work late on a Monday evening last week when the LDUs descended on him.

Mr Andama, an electrician, said he was fixing a wiring error in a building at Ntinda but finished work at about 8pm.

“After completing the wiring, I walked up to Kyebando roundabout when the LDUs stopped me.
They told me to move behind a building and from there they asked me for Shs1.5m or else they would take me to jail. I told them I did not have money and one gave me a slap,” he said.

“I started pleading with them to release me, but they refused. My boss for whom I had worked had given me Shs250,000, which the LDUs took away and told me to go. When I was walking, one followed me up to near my home and warned me that if I reported the case to police, they knew where I stayed and would come for me,” he added.

Mr Andama said out of fear, he kept quiet and has since left his former place and shifted to a new house.

Ms Sera Mirembe and her sister only identified as Agnes, jointly paid Shs90,000 to a patrol team because they had gone to clean their salon at Kamwokya.

“Since the lockdown was announced, we had never gone to the salon and the place was dirty so when we went to check the place, the police got us and said we had opened the salon against the presidential directive. We were forced to pay Shs90,000 as a fine for illegally opening,” Ms Mirembe said.

There are other similar testimonies from various areas in Kampala’s divisions with residents accusing security personnel of extortion of varying amounts depending on one’s ability to pay.

Security personnel on night patrols only release suspects arrested on accusations of violating the Covid-19 rules after paying the money.

Those who don’t pay are either beaten and freed or are taken to police stations for their relatives to bring money for their freedom the following day.

From testimonies of the affected city residents, the security personnel usually charge between Shs10,000 and Shs30,000 per arrested person.

Syndicate
A police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being reprimanded, said many of them who are deployed have to take “something” back to their superiors who deploy them at the end of the day.

“When we finish our assignments, we go back to our bosses and give half or more to them so that we can be deployed the following day. If you don’t give or give little, you will not be deployed again,” the officer alleged.

However, this claim could not be independently verified.

Mr Fred Enanga, the spokesperson of the joint security forces, said he was waiting for an explanation from the police Professional Standards Unit to respond to the issues raised. By press time, he had not responded to us.

However, Lt Col Deo Akiiki, the deputy spokesperson of the joint security team, who is also the deputy army spokesperson, said many of the complainants are those who have flouted the laws.

“Someone telling you he has been extorted is not enough. He should be able to identify or give evidence of that extortion or report it. I realised many who say those allegations are people who have been flouting the directives but just looking for soft landing,” he said.

Army speaks out
Lt Col Deo Akiiki, the army spokesperson, said the army is always on the lookout for such criminal elements within the forces and if identified, they are dealt with expeditiously.
“Yes, some members of security may not be perfect but I have ever tasked some complainants to prove the allegations and they fail only to plead that they be given space. It is very clear, for UPDF we never close our eyes to any criminality. You do it, you pay for it. I hope you have been seeing those being court martialled,” he said.

Lt Col Akiiki urged the public to report any acts of indiscipline by the forces instead of colluding with them to achieve their own ends.

Source Daily Observer.

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