The police broad daylight shooting and killing of 40-year-old Ronald Ssebulime, accused of trailing, with intent to kill Idah Nantaba, the minister of state for Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance, drew public outrage seven months ago on Sunday, March 24, 2019.
Before Ssebulime was arrested on the fateful day, dumped on a police pick-up truck and later shot and killed in public view by a policeman, Nantaba, the woman member of parliament for Kayunga district, had made a quick stop at Naggalama police station at about 11:30am and lodged a complaint. She claimed then that her life was under threat from a man riding a motorbike, who had trailed her vehicle all the way from Kayunga.
Ssebulime’s unexplained murder inflamed debate about police’s professional conduct and accountability. In a recent interview with Simon Kaggwa Njala on NBS TV’s morning breeze, the minister revisited the events of that fateful day leading up to Ssebulime’s murder and revealed she could be the next victim in the spiralling wave of violence that has gripped the country. Here are excerpts recorded by Ernest Jjingo:
I thought you were still under house arrest; how did you get here?
I was not under house arrest. Given the situation at that time, the president [Yoweri Museveni] advised me to stay out of public sight until maybe he knew why police got the suspect and shot him on the spot. So, it was never a house arrest but advice.
There were reports you had fled to Canada...
I am a public servant and when the prime minister assigns me government duties, I go anywhere he sends me; so, I was out on official government business.
Here you are, how are you?
I am breathing by God’s grace; that’s what I can say.
Do you feel depressed?
I was at some time but I am recovering slowly.
The Ssebulime murder has put you in a very ugly spotlight. You are trying to link it to mafias who are fighting you; is it right to connect the two?
There are so many issues that have not been answered by the security arm of government called police. Any civilian who feels threatened would run to police to report and that is what I did as a civilised person. There are very many murder cases of high-profile people and the question of who is killing these people is still lingering around.
When I went to police and reported that someone could be after me and they pursued the suspect, arrested, handcuffed and killed him immediately, the question is, why would you do that when Ugandans are still asking who is killing these persons.
It is now six months down the road but we do not have a police report on the murder of Ssebulime.
Would you wonder why the Directorate of Public Prosecutions withdrew charges against you?
Why would I wonder? First of all, I had not been indicted and this is a private person preferring charges against me and the murderer Ssali David is in Luzira.
Do you think this case should have been pursued to its logical conclusion?
Exactly, but we are not seeing this man in court to answer why he killed a suspect. The preliminary police investigation report issued by the CID director reads that two suspects were tracked down after a chase and when they were arrested, one suspect, Ssebulime Ronald, was shot dead. But when you read the report further, they listed eyewitnesses who said they saw the police officer receive a phone call. After, he said the order had changed and he shot the man.
My question is, who issued the previous order and what was that order and who changed it?
It is suspected that perhaps you issued that order because you lodged the complaint. There is technology. A phone number can be put in the system and you get a list of calls someone has made. I want police to come out and say we received orders from Nantaba to shoot the man.
Is it police hounding you or someone is using police to torment you?
We have murderers in high positions that can use anyone to execute their plans. I imagine there is someone in a high position who is using police to kill because it is silent about the person who directed them to kill Ssebulime. Why are they silent?
But you reported Ssebulime to police...
I went to Naggalama police station, reported the man and the patrols left when I was watching. The district police commander advised me to stay in his office as they pursued the suspect. The man said he was going to visit his children but he was killed 50 kilometres away from where the alleged school is – in an opposite direction which means he was heading to Lugazi.
The police narrative does not add up with the facts on the ground that day. They came out and informed the public that he [Ssebulime] was going to school but he was running in the opposite direction.
But they found school stuff in his bag…
Even where that stuff came from is another question. By the time Ssebulime approached us, he had nothing like luggage on his back or the bike and police has to explain where that bag came from.
Can you identify the motorbike and do you know where it is?
I don’t know where it is. The last time I saw it, was when he attempted to attack me.
Do you have any sense of remorse for the bereaved family?
Nothing at all! These people must be in the know of the business of their relative and they are being used by someone who wants my life. They held a fundraising function for the family of Ssebulime in Kayunga and the very people who organised the fundraiser are the ones I suspect are after me.
But Ssebulime’s kids and relatives confirmed he was indeed going to visit the children at school...
Remember the father had passed the direction of the school; he had passed Kabimbiri where the school is and came towards the bridge where we had parked. So, how could the father bypass the school where he had been taking his children for years?
Ssebulime was silenced for reasons he could have known or police knew that once this man is handed over to the arms of the law, he would have exposed those who had sent him to kill me.
Who ordered the murder of Ssebulime, in your opinion?
That is a very big question. But to me that must be someone who is very big that even police fears to name.
Okay; who wants to kill Nantaba?
I have suspects who I do know. I have had my battles that have exposed me to well-positioned people who are so dangerous.
Are you at liberty to name the people after you?
I am not at liberty but I have mentioned them to his Excellency the President.
And what was his reaction?
He said he would investigate.
Wasn’t that reassuring enough?
Let me tell you, service is selfless dedication. You expect challenges. I have faced challenges in my battles against land grabbing. Currently, I am fighting three generals who want to evict thousands of people. So, I think that has put me in trouble right now.
Is it about land or something more intricate?
Land is one of them. Others are rumours but I cannot discuss hearsay on a public forum.
You are too quick to condemn Ssebulime but this man is hardly connected to anything linking him to your murder…
That very morning as I prepared to leave Kayunga, my aide received a phone call from a policeman who said he wanted to see me. My aide also told me that the DPC of Kayunga had been ordered to vacate the station under unclear circumstances and even the regional police commander had been directed to leave the station.
The policeman who had been calling me came with a patrol vehicle and parked it in my compound. He came wearing civilian clothes and told me he wanted some money to buy new tyres for the patrol vehicle. I told him I did not have money but promised to talk to his bosses to fix the tyres but he objected to that.
By that time, hadn’t you read any signals that something awful was cooking?
I did not read any signals at all because had I known, I wouldn’t have stepped out of my house. But when I recollect all these events happening before the Ssebulime incident, I am like wait a minute, police had been reshuffled that morning yet it was a Sunday. A police officer comes to my house in a patrol vehicle, police shoots a suspect.
I wonder if there could have been some connivance between the man and the police because we have seen incidents where police have been involved in murders in this country. So, it could have been a well-organised crime by police.
Is it naïve of you to ask police for answers?
I have asked them. I met them before the prime minister and I posed the same questions and I never got answers. All they told the prime minister was that they will be producing their report but it is now six months.
How many murder attempts have you escaped so far?
Five. This was the fifth one. The other four I have always been advised to keep quiet so that I don’t damage government’s image but I thank God the fifth one came out in public.
You speak with deep anguish bout Moses Karangwa; who is Karangwa and who does he represent?
I see a civilian who has never gone to war, has access to guns and drives UPDF cars. He grabs land wherever he chooses and every time you try to stand in his way, a phone call from a general stops you. One day he ordered police to shoot and poison me but I was blocked when I tried to seek for justice.
Who is using him?
They know themselves. He is well protected.
Has the president abandoned you; because there was a time when he was just a phone call away?
I don’t think so. It is just that there are bad people so close to him who can manipulate him and throw dirt at everyone until he discovers that it is the same people who are behind the dirt. But by the time he normally discovers, it is too late.
Is your only hope in the president?
My only hope is in God because the president is surrounded by mafias who blind him with false stories and cannot allow him to see the truth.
Are you paying a price for politics?
I am paying a price for two things; I think when you are in politics, you have the power to speak and everyone hears you. So when I am in politics, I can drum so hard and they hear that some people are under threat of being evicted from their land or someone wants to grab a forest somewhere. So many people would want to take that power away from me.
Did you cross someone’s red line?
Of course, we have untouchables in this country that can do anything with impunity if you cross their line.
Do you want to meet Ssebulime’s family?
I don’t want and if the police were genuine enough, his sister would also be behind bars because she has a story to tell. They have information they are concealing and they are trying to convince the public that this was an innocent man.
Why is your death threat so alarming and unique yet we have had several people in the country who have gone [were killed] unanswered for?
I cannot say my death threats are unique because remember I have survived them and some people have not like [Muhammad] Kirumira who came out publicly and exposed the dirt in police but nobody showed interest in protecting him.
This whole story seems to be bungled up. So, what is your final resort; and don’t tell me it is God.
Why not God? Have you ever seen any government official coming out to comment on the Ssebulime saga? Have you heard anything from the minister of defence, minister of internal affairs, minister of defence or the Inspector General of Police himself?
Do you know the person you are fighting?
Who is she or he?
What are you insinuating? We have talked about that and I cannot mention.
With all these threats, do you intend to quit politics?
Politics is two-way traffic; you are either there to serve or you are there for your own benefit. I am there to serve and quitting is not in my character.