Angry and desperate, Husssein Walugembe, 29, ended his life after failing to garner a bribe to persuade a police officer to release his motorcycle.
Walugembe’s motorcycle was impounded by traffic officers attached to Masaka police station. The deceased had breached curfew restrictions. He tried but failed miserably to rescue his bike from the police claws.
He desperately needed the bike, because without it, he could not eke out a living. The officers asked for Shs 100,000 to release the bike. When Walugembe failed to get the money, he decided to set himself ablaze at the police station right in front of his tormenting police officers.
Walugembe’s decision, extreme as it may seem, could have been contemplated by many riders pushed to the brink by law enforcement. Police and their auxiliary Local Defence Forces (LDU) askaris have turned the Covid-19-induced presidential directives into an opportunity to shore up their meager earnings.
At times, they act like vultures scanning the ground for abandoned carcass. They mount abrupt roadblocks to arrest, detain and extort those who are not wearing face masks and boda boda riders found on the road past the 5pm restriction time. The police impound the bikes and demand bribes to release them. LDUs are more reckless and tactless.
They solicit money at gunpoint. Some captured by LDUs have either been killed or had their national identification cards destroyed. The LDUs are particularly problematic in slums and rural areas. They have turned guns, bought by taxpayers, into tools of extortion.
The police and LDUs are oppressing Ugandans who are already struggling with economic devastation brought on the Covid-19 lockdown. The irony is that police and LDUs were deployed to enforce presidential directives aimed at controlling the spread of the killer disease, Covid-19.
The flipside is that Covid-19 has spared lives in Uganda, but LDUs have killed Ugandans under the guise of protecting them from the pandemic. It is not enough to refer these errant cases to the police’s professional standards unit.
Lives have been lost. As a consequence, families have been displaced. The culprits have to be punished. No punishment can return a lost life, but the errant officers going unpunished and remaining in the forces is the worst insult to Ugandans.
Ugandans surrendered their right to protection to the state because individually they could not guarantee their defense against foes such as diseases and errant attackers. It is, therefore, intolerable for the state agents to turn the guns against citizen.