At around 10am on a chilly January 12, eight plain-clothes gun men ambushed the High court in Gulu and whisked away UPC official Dan Oola Odiya and other men shortly after their case had been withdrawn.
Treason suspects Odiya, the Uganda People’s Congress deputy national mobiliser; Kenneth Otto, and Sam Ojok Oboma vanished to the the Gulu-Kampala highway in a white Toyota Corona car with tinted windows, registration number UAZ 992M. Moments earlier, Odiya and his co-accused had felt the joy of being free again after the director of public prosecutions (DPP) ‘discontinued’ the case.
Although the case was within the jurisdiction of the magistrate’s court, the proceedings took place in the High court premises, deemed to have better security. The trio faces five counts (treason, concealment of treason, two counts of murder by shooting; attempted murder and murder) for a May 2016 attack on a UPDF detach in Omoro district.
During the attack, two people were killed, while eight guns and an assortment of army uniforms were stolen. In June 2016 at around 9pm, a group of armed men attacked Gulu Central police station (CPS), where the suspects were being detained.
The northern region deputy police commander, Aziku Zata, said the attack was an apparent rescue mission for Odiya and co-accused, noting that some of the guns recovered from the attackers had the same serial numbers as those stolen from Omoro.
While magistrate Paul Owino’s court was in session, state prosecutor Paul Weponde presented a letter withdrawing the case.
“This is to inform that the director of public prosecutions is to discontinue proceedings against A1 Dan Oola Odiya, A2 Ojok Kenneth and A3 Ojok Sam Oboma, charged with treason, concealment of treason and two counts of murder by shooting and attempted murder,”read the letter dated January 11, 2017 and signed by DPP Mike Chibita.
But the armed men had other ideas. Odiya’s lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo, likened the incident to the 2005 raid of the High court premises by armed men spotting black T-shirts, who came to be known as “Black Mambas,” during the trial of People’s Redemption Army (PRA) rebel suspects.
In a subsequent telephone interview with The Observer, army spokesman Paddy Ankunda said Odiya had been taken to Nalufenya police station in Jinja.
“He will be taken to the court martial [in Makindye, Kampala] because he still has important security information that is of value to the security of the country. We are basing on the UPDF Act, [Articles] 129 and 130,” Lt Col Ankunda said.
Gulu resident district commissioner, Santo Okot Lapolo, claimed that the arrest was for the suspects’ own security.
“He [Oodiya] is safe in the hands of security because he has sensitive information that will help us [country] but also protect his life”, he added.
However, Opiyo vowed to block any attempt to charge civilians in a military court.
“We are waiting for them to produce him in the General Court Martial so that we know the kind of charges put against him. After that, we will ensure that the move is blocked at the High court because Odiya has never been in the army and no charges [against him] should have anything to do with the army,” Opiyo said.
UPC spokesman Okello Lucima said they were still waiting to verify some “information” before trying to help Odiya. But the retired bishop of Kitgum diocese, Baker Ochola, advised Odiya’s family to sue government for its “impunity” and “lawlessness”.
“No one is above the law and the law should be followed. I am not surprised by what is happening [regarding Mr Odiya abduction]. We can’t have a poor government that acts on poor democratic principles and the law is not broken,” he said.
Odiya’s brother, Isaac Okwir, told The Observer that they will consider suing government only after a go-ahead from their lawyer. He added: “Right now, we only want justice to be served in broad daylight.”