GULU. A spate of iron bar hit men in Gulu has drown the Inspect General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura to the district. Dozens of cases in a month topped with Monday’s gruesome killing of deputy town clerk John Omona Oola has left residents shaken. Security agencies worked up. And the mood tense.
In what is almost a trademark of his patterns every time a high-profile person is killed by assailants, Gen Kayihura stomped down the dust in Gulu, leaving no doubt the killers of deputy town clerk Oola would be arrested yesterday. His hard expression all but underlining his intention: he meant business.
But then again, Gen Kayihura has meant business for the last 12 years as the head of Uganda Police Force. So what will be different this time round? Will he arrest the real killers and not hundreds of random suspects and torture them to confess?
Such has been the story line Ugandans have come to live with. The IGP, who is yet to deliver a single genuine suspect in the assassination of the man who was only second in power to himself at the Force he heads, has convinced Gulu residents that he will wipe out iron bar hit men and also bring the killers of the town clerk to book.
IGP in town
Gulu Central Police Station looks pristine. No scraps of vehicles abandoned about like is every day. Security is tense, suggesting that there was something big up in the air. That something happens to be the visit of Gen Kayihura.
Since December last year, iron bar hit men have terrorised the district, maimed and killed members of the public in Gulu town. While boda boda cyclists are largely blamed for such crimes, in Gulu, they are the most terrified group.
“They [hit men] hire you, take you to a certain location. When you stop, they hit you and leave you for dead without taking anything from you. Sometimes they take the bike but only if it is new,” a boda boda operator at Kaunda Grounds stage tells Gen Kayihura.
The IGP stares back into space like something was happening far in the horizons. It’s as if he would pick his response from the horizons. The sinewy veins on the sides of his temple are taut and glistening like a body builder’s.
“My mission, apart from coming to find out what Police are doing, is to hunt down these thugs who killed the deputy town clerk,” Kayihura declares. “I have also come to see whatever gaps we have in the policing system. Policing is more than just the Police.”
Gulu deputy town clerk John Olaa was killed by assailants who reportedly waylaid him when he had dropped a woman to her home at around 2am Monday. Postmortem reports indicate that Oola was hit by a blunt object and died due to internal bleeding.
At least three people have been detained at Gulu Central Police Station in connection with the murder, including Alice Kipwola, the woman the deceased had dropped off at her gate in Kanyagoga Parish Bardege Division on the fateful night.
Gen Kayihura walks from Gulu Central Police Station, with Residence District Commissioner, Regional Police Commander, District Police Commander, and other security operatives in tow, to visit the crime scenes and talk to Bardege Division residents. About 13 people from the division alone have been hit by iron bar hit men in within a month.
“Today, we are declaring war on these criminals,” Gen Kayihura tells residents of Bardege Division.
At every spot, he stops to talk to residents, asks them if they felt safe.
“We are not safe,” says a woman. But on realising that all eyes were on her, the woman who had spoken up goes quiet. Thinking it was due to language barrier, Kayihura instructs the RDC Capt Santos Okot Lapolo to talk to the woman in Luo but she refuses to speak any further.
Gen Kayihura reads the sign. Fear. What to do in situation where witnesses fear testifying when a case against suspected iron bar hit men come up, including in court?
“Silence is the disease we have in this security situation here in Gulu. No one wants to give us information. They all fear,” Lapolo says resignedly.
The IGP is visibly disappointed. Disappointed in his security system and how it has failed so badly in community policing, disappointed in the people’s apparent mistrust in his own Force that is supposed to protect them.
Kayihura apologises to the people of Bardege Division for the continued insecurity in the area.
“I am very sorry that this has happened. And really, I give you our deep condolences but if you can agree, let us share the responsibility through improving on our own security in the community. We are here to declare war and hunt for these criminals. I want your cooperation. The first cooperation is not to fear,” the IGP tells the residents.
Richard Oloya, a boda boda operator, suggests that Police should have their intelligence among boda boda riders or coordinate with them against iron bar hit men. Kayihura nodes. The taut veins relax, too.
Meanwhile, Rose Lucaci a councilor of Bardege Division says the division has been most affected because of the low level of development in terms of street lights that act as security and the few patrol to move in all the dark places in the division.
“These attacks happen in the dark spots, not where there is light. The patrols are not enough to guarantee security of residents,” says Lucaci.
Gen Kayihura pledged to wipe out the gangs, and urged the residents to coordinate with Police to have the criminals arrested as they (police) plug the loopholes in the Force led to low public confidence in the security system.