NBS television journalist Twaha Mukiibi was last week admitted at Kampala hospital after being beaten up by police during an on-camera interview with Paddy Sserunjogi aka Sobi, a self-confessed former leader of the notorious Kifeesi criminal gang.
Sobi was arrested, but later released after other security services said he was cooperating in an ongoing investigation. His arrest set off a chain of events which culminated in the weekend military crackdown on leaders of Boda Boda 2010, a vigilante group-turned-violent-crime racket whose leader Abdallah Kitatta is close to police chief, Gen Kale Kayihura.
The Observer spoke to Mukiibi at his home in Busabala, Wakiso district, after leaving hospital.
“Last year I was assigned to do a story about petty thieves in the city. Katwe offered a good opportunity because this city suburb is notorious for harbouring petty thieves. Some of these criminals have previously shown no fear of speaking on camera about their activities.
While there, I met one Ssebulime, who described himself as a gang leader in Katwe. After the story aired, Ssebulime was so happy that when his group later had a meeting with police near Queen’s Way, Mukiibi was invited to cover.”
At the meeting attended by the then police commandant for Kampala East, Siraje Bakireke and Kampala Metropolitan Police commander Frank Mwesigwa, the Kifeesi criminal gang agreed to work with police.
On Christmas Eve 2017, Ssebulime once again called, inviting Mukiibi to a press conference.
“He asked me to mobilise for him other journalists to cover the story,” Mukiibi says.
At the agreed venue, Ssebulime introduced Mukiibi to a one Lukyamuzi.
“I later learnt that he worked in one of the security offices I’m not comfortable mentioning. It is this Lukyamuzi who took me to a gang he said Sobi headed,” Mukiibi says.
Mukiibi says Sobi boasted about his dealings with police, and how he has killed, robbed and terrorised Kampala for years. He promised Kampalans a crime-free festive season.
Sobi said he is now a born-again Christian on a crusade to woo his former mates off the streets.
“He revealed that he and wanted to give up [crime] earlier; had tried to work with police but was disappointed to meet more criminals in police,” Mukiibi says.
Sobi told the assembled journalists that he later met a general who convinced him to abandon thuggery.
“He also designed a proposal to help his colleagues to also abandon criminality…” Mukiibi quotes Sobi as saying.
When the interview aired, there was a backlash against police who vehemently denied Sobi’s claims. Later in the New Year, NBS decided to interview Sobi again. Mukiibi was again asked to do the interview. But somehow police got to know.
“…When we left office, nobody knew the exact place where the interview was going to take place. I kept on briefing Sobi where we were and finally we settled for Rose gardens after Busega,” Mukiibi says.
Less than five minutes after they had parked at the gardens, a double-cabin pickup truck parked behind them, raising suspicion of their driver who moved their vehicle to another spot where they could easily get away.
Shortly, Sobi arrived with two friends and headed for the rooftop of a building where the interview was to take place.
“Sobi asked us what we wanted to know now,” Mukiibi says.
Then all hell broke loose. Police pounced on Sobi and his colleagues, while three others went for Mukiibi.
“They beat me everywhere; they handcuffed me and then sprayed me with teargas. While all this happened, I put up my hands and I told them I was a journalist. They continued beating me. What you see on TV is very little of what happened,” Mukiibi says.
Police claim the beating was a result of mistaken identity but Mukiibi disagrees.
“None of them was deaf or blind, I was shouting that I’m a journalist and I had my ID hanging around my waist. So, they knew exactly what they were doing. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that I was a criminal; when you put up your hands, it means that you have surrendered,” Mukiibi says.
Mukiibi remembers how terrified he was when the police commander, Peter Ochieng, issued an order to shoot.
“The person holding the gun saw his colleagues and [hesitated]. I hid behind a policeman and maybe that is how I survived,” Mukiibi said. “I’m worried; I don’t know what Sobi and his colleagues are thinking. I pray that he knows that I was never party to the scheme that trapped him”.