- Last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) dropped murder and kidnap charges against Former Kampala Central Police district commander Aaron Baguma.
- Baguma recounts that a few minutes to 5pm, he arrived at Kigo Prisons in Wakiso District under tight security on August 30, 2016.
- Baguma refutes reports that he was never jailed at Kigo Prison but was allocated a posh house around Munyonyo from where he left to go to court and return after court sessions.
INNOCENT OR GUILTY? Former Kampala Central Police district commander Aaron Baguma is a lucky man. Last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) dropped murder and kidnap charges against him, drawing both relief and condemnation. JOSEPH KATO spoke to DPC Baguma about his brief detention, new found freedom and what he thinks about the unpalatable public image of him.
DPC Aaron Baguma was almost always pictured with a pistol hanging by his waist and donned in a blue bulletproof jacket that exaggerated his rather small figure. This young officer whose image was a constant on national TV and newspapers, would come to be well known for breaking up opposition demonstrations in the city and arresting opposition leader Col Kizza Besigye.
All this however changed when he was mentioned in the murder case of city businesswoman Betty Donah Katusabe, who was tortured and killed at Pine Car Bond on Lumumba Avenue in October 2015. Since then, Baguma and eight others who include Muhammed Ssebuwufu, the proprietor of Pine Car Bond, have been battling charges of aggravated robbery and kidnap with intent to murder. Last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) exonerated him of the charges with the option of turning him into a state witness.
It has been a long walk of justice or injustice, depending on how one looks at it, as it took more than a year to get the DPC to stand in the dock with the DPP and police authorities disagreeing on whether he indeed had a case to answer. Eventually, following public pressure and several ultimatums from the DPP’s office, he was produced at Buganda Road Court and charged, joining eight other suspects that had been detained and charged earlier. It was now a case of the hunter being hunted. Cornered by the law, he was remanded to prison.
Baguma recounts that a few minutes to 5pm, he arrived at Kigo Prisons in Wakiso District under tight security on August 30, 2016. He could not believe that he was being detained for an offence he had not committed, he says. As he disembarked from the prison van, his eyes immediately landed on three notorious suspects he had arrested over the shooting to death of the officer in charge of Kajjansi Police Station, Joseph Bigirwa in 2014.
The suspects smiled and sarcastically welcomed him; Afande webale kujja (officer you are welcome). His heart almost skipped a beat as reality of sharing a cell with those he had hunted sunk in.
“When I saw the suspects, I knew they were going to strangle me in the night. I could not believe that I was going to share a room with people I had arrested over gun murders. They smiled in a way that seemed provocative,” Baguma says.
Baguma says he almost shed tears as he registered in the inmates’ book. He took solace in the words his mother had always told him; “no condition is hard when you ask God to intervene”.
“I paused for some minutes and reflected on what I was going to face at the hands of notorious criminals. I knew I was 100 per cent innocent but that could not stop me from entering jail at that moment. I silently recited a prayer and handed my life to God. I’m a Born-again Christian and that was the time I needed God’s intervention most,” he says.
On arrival, he stared at Lake Victoria water which is right behind the cells before he moved around the compound in the company of prison warders and was later subjected to a medical examination to determine his health status.
“They also took my measurements so that they could get me a fitting jail uniform. To me, this felt like a movie but it was a reality I had to accept. I could have cried but I was made strong by the fact that I’m innocent,” Baguma explains.
He says he was put in the jail room with 11 other inmates. To his surprise, the inmates welcomed him and did not subject him to any sort of mistreatment. He was not teased or bullied like it is usually reported in other detention facilities. He applauds Kigo Prison management for this. On his third day, Baguma saw more suspects he had apprehended over robbery and rape.
By the time he was released by High Court on a cash bail of Sh5m cash bond while the sureties were bonded at sh50m non-cash, Baguma had seen more than 50 suspects who he had previously arrested, detained and prosecuted in court. “Imagine living in an environment where there was more than 50 people I had arrested and taken to court for committing offences. They would look at me and shake their heads in disbelief. They did not believe that they were sharing cells and food with a person who had sent them to jail. God was merciful because people could have done something wrong to me,” he adds.
Baguma refutes reports that he was never jailed at Kigo Prison but was allocated a posh house around Munyonyo from where he left to go to court and return after court sessions.
“I’m not special not to be jailed. If an MP can be in cells, who was I not to be there? Those who think I wasn’t in prison can contact MP Kabaziguruka. I spent nights with him in our jail room,” Baguma says.
During the two weeks he spent at Kigo Prison, Baguma says he was feeding on posho and beans like the other inmates. To him, the diet was not a challenge because at police training, they are skilled on how to adapt to new environment ranging from its composure, people and meals. “Yes, it was a challenge on my first day but I had to eat because I had spent the whole day in court and I had no time to eat good food. During police training we were given tactics that make us survive under all circumstances. I was hungry, nervous and stressed,” he says.
On his relationship with prison warders, Baguma says the officers did not give him any special attention because they were all prisoners who needed equal treatment. “The officers laugh and crack jokes with all prisoners irrespective of one’s status. My daily activities included reading books, especially the Bible that gave me hope and Sowing the Mustard Seed by President Museveni that has content that talks about how a soldier survives in harsh and terrible conditions,” Baguma recounts.
What it was like for relatives
The DPC CPS, says most of his relatives learnt about his remand through the media because he did not alert them when he was going to court. “I read headlines claiming that I was being protected by the state, hiding in generals’ homes, out of the country and others saying I was being protected by police. I was tired of these lies and I decided to appear in court without informing any of my relatives and I was remanded,” he explains.
Upon watching and reading stories of his detention, his relatives flocked Kigo Prison but he did not allow all of them to see him since he needed to reflect on how he was going to get out of the situation. Baguma says every time he was to appear in court, he spent the night praying for the truth to be revealed.
Advice to fellow officers
Baguma advises his colleagues in command positions to treat their juniors and civilians cautiously because they would be your first saviour in case of trying circumstances. This, he says, considering the fact that he was helped by relatives of the late Katusabe who had known him as a good person and his junior officers who were able to explain the truth during interrogation by DPP and other bodies who were investigating him.
“Had I been doing evil work and mistreating civilians, it would have been difficult for me to be saved from this fracas. Among the people I helped in my capacity, the deceased’s relatives who were sure that I had not committed the offences slapped against me. If you are a commander ensure to behave well against your fellow officers and civilians you are entrusted to protect,” he says.