26 March 2019

Uganda: Killed in Minister Nantaba's Name?

Mukono — New details have emerged about the Sunday incident showing that one of two men accused of trailing Ms Idah Nantaba, the State Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) minister, was a widower visiting his children at a school.

Multiple witnesses yesterday told this newspaper that the men wore no mask and possessed no guns, contrary to initial official claims that they were armed and after the minister's life.

A witness, whom we cannot name for their own safety, said police shot Ronald Ssebulime, 40, at close range while they had already handcuffed him.

Following his arrest, one of the officers asked a frightened Ssebulime to make his will as they led him onto the back of patrol pick-up, a witness said.

Another officer had a telephone conversation with an unknown person and after terminating the call, shot the victim at close range and he died instantly. We could not independently verify these version of events.

Police yesterday declined to discuss the matter, with spokesperson Fred Enanga telling journalists during a press conference in Kampala that they had summoned Ms Nantaba and the officer who commanded the operation to record statements and offer fuller account of what transpired.

The minister, in response to inquiries from this newspaper about the incident, last night said: "It is a long story; I can't give it on the phone."

Details of what happened on the fateful day, stringed from witnesses' narratives, shows dramatic evolution of a stranger's inquiry for direction turning into a chase, first by the minister and later police, before snowballing into a fatal end.

According to recollections by 24-year-old Diana Namayanja, a fruit vendor, Ms Nantaba on Sunday, while en-route to Kampala, stopped by a roadside stall in Ssinda Village on the Kayunga-Mukono highway, as she regularly does, just before midday.

"When I saw her, I quickly ran towards her official vehicle. As I was asking her (Nantaba) what she wanted to buy, a speeding motor-bike came from Mukono side (opposite direction)," Ms Namayanja said.

"Its speed got me concerned and when it reached my market, the rider made a U-turn in the middle of the road and stopped in front of the minister's vehicle," she added.

The rider wore a black jacket, a helmet and goggles, which made it difficult to identify him, the vendor added.

The sight of the biker appeared to scare Ms Nantaba whose army guard Tugume disembarked to take position outside the vehicle.

Ms Namayanja informed the biker that he had already passed Kabimbiri, which would be the first trading centre on his way back.

However, the man slowed about 100 metres away, prompting Ms Nantaba's car to give a chase until he branched off at Naggalama on the dirt road connecting to Nagojje Sub-county.

The minister alerted police and according to Naggalama District Police Commander, Ms Grace Nyangoma, they deployed the Field Force Unit (FFU) operatives to pursue the men who were now two on the bike.

There is no explanation on when and where the passenger got on the motorbike or his identity.

In Mangira Village on the Naggalama-Nagojje road, Pastor Anthony Kityo said at about 1pm, after their Sunday service had ended, he saw a speeding motorbike heading towards Nagojje Trading Centre.

There were two people on it and they got concerned because the biker was speeding while being hotly pursued by armed police on three patrol pick-up trucks.

Mr Peter Madoi, a witness, said the bikers on approaching Nagojje hit a hump, lost control and fell down before gathering themselves and sprinting into the bushes on foot.

Ms Jane Nakasi, another witness, said one of the men upon hearing the sirens retorted that "they are still chasing us" and abandoned the motorbike and fled into different directions. "I only saw one of the men who was being carried on the bike carrying in his hand a damaged side mirror of the bike," she said.

On reaching the scene, where they had abandoned the bike, Mr Madoi said the armed policemen, who numbered about 10, asked for the whereabouts of the people who were on the bike.

When they directed them, they started a hunt for them in the bush and managed to arrest one; the rider.

They brought him back to trading centre while handcuffed and without shoes, tossed him on the back of the patrol pick-up, before removing and allegedly shooting him at point blank range.

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