As the Commission of Inquiry into Land matters continues to unearth cases of suspected land fraud and forceful evictions, another war on land seems to be looming as fresh information emerges.
While on a fact finding mission in the northern districts of Masindi, Kiryandongo, Gulu, Nwoya, Amuru, Lira and Apac last week (July 2-6), a team from the Commission, was overwhelmed by testimonies.
At least 70 testimonies related to suspected fraudulent land acquisitions were heard. Of these, 95% percent involved torture, unlawful arrests and imprisonment on trumped-up charges.
It was revealed during the various meetings with the communities and district officials that most of the cases reported involve top government officials. Those implicated in alleged land grabbing, evictions and torture of civilians, include; the army reserve force commander, Maj Gen Charles Otema-Awany; Lt Gen Jim Owoyesigire, commander of Uganda’s contingent of AMISOM forces in Somalia and Solicitor General Francis Atoke.
Others named are Security minister Gen Elly Tumwine and State minister for Energy Peter Lokeris, former police spokesperson, Fred Enanga, former minister for presidency, Labwoni Kabakumba Matsiko, Amina Hersi, proprietor of Oasis Mall, and owner of Gem Farm sugar plantations in Amuru.
Commissioner Mary Ochan, who led the team, told locals that all persons and institutions implicated will be summoned for further hearings.
During a meeting in the three villages of Obira West, Obira Lower, and Obira South in Got Apwoyo Sub County of Nwoya district, residents who fled to Pakwach for fear of torture, testified that men dressed in army uniform burnt their homes, arrested and imprisoned most of them.
The attackers were allegedly working on behalf of Otema Awany.
“On the night of March 25, 2018, a group of soldiers surrounded my house and started ordering that my wife and I to come out. Out of fear, I kept quiet. Suddenly, they kicked the door and started shooting and burning my house, “said Pyerino Jathim, one of the victims testified.
“As we choked on fumes and fire, we forced ourselves out and tried to plead with the soldiers not to kill us. They arrested me and started torturing me. I was now naked. My wife managed to escape. They tied my hands on my back with ropes and wires kandoya style. They asked me to stand up, but I couldn’t. But they continued beating me,” Jathim said.
Victim after victim narrated the pain they went through. They informed the Commission that over 20 civilians have been arrested since the beginning of 2018 and are languishing in various prisons on fabricated cases. Twelve of the victims, they said, were taken to Nwoya police and later transferred to Gulu police station.
“As we talk now, two of the 12 people that were arrested have died in custody, two were released after long detention periods, while eight others are still languishing in prison,” an elder, Samson Onen, who was also arrested, said.
Onen said those in detention, were allegedly charged with murder, aggravated robbery and manslaughter, something that has puzzled the residents.
Severino Orach said. “Nobody has killed anyone in our area here. It is they; the soldiers, who have tortured and killed people here. We request the Commission to help us on this.”
Asked by Ochan, what they want to be done, the residents said “We want all our land back and people being imprisoned should be released without any conditions. We also want to meet President Museveni face to face and tell him our land plight because police and judicial institutions here, have failed. They have become a money making business”.
The residents also want their farm land belonging to Ngaceri Group, currently occupied by Otema’s soldiers, returned. The land allegedly grabbed by Otema Awany is estimated at about 10 square miles. Nwoya police declined to comment on the matter.
“Why are you asking about that issue, you go and talk to Otema in Gulu. Here we cannot talk to you, but we referred all those cases to the regional office in Gulu,” a police officer said.
Francis Atoke, the Solicitor General, is accused of wrongfully evicting 12 households and demolishing two houses belonging to his uncle, Geoffrey Odongo.
In Kamdini town council, Atoke’s uncle, Odongo, who once lived abroad, narrated how his two houses and other property valued at over Shs 600 million, was demolished by Atoke.
Odongo said Atoke claimed he was given a Will to manage one of his late uncle, Olero’s land in Buga village, Kamdini town council. However, Odongo said Atoke evicted people and demolished houses in a different village called Dogdam.
“Atoke sent court bailiffs and men carrying huge hammers from Kampala. They found me taking tea on the verandah and they told me they were under instructions to demolish the houses,” Odongo said. “I thought they were joking, but within no time, they began demolishing my property as I watched in pain. I even took photos of the demolition.
Owoyesigire is accused of evicting over 1,000 residents of Kisunga village, Masindi where he also allegedly demolished Anglican and Catholic churches, a school and a hospital.
“I have been waiting here since early morning to present my complaints and concerns to the commission. We have suffered innocently in the hands of people like Owoyesigire who think they rule the whole world,’’ a visibly angry Janet Tibagasa, from Kityedo village in Masindi district, said.
Efforts to get a comment from Owoyesigire, and others implicated were futile.
Gen Tumwine is accused of fraudulently transferring a land title. It is alleged that Tumwine obtained the title for the 778 hectares (about 1,922 acres) from one Karegyeya who entrusted it to him as a friend but he instead mortgaged it in a bank and later sold off the land when he failed to pay back the loan.
The complainants; Benson Rwegira, James Bariho, Sam Kushaba and Siliman Kaguwe contend that Tumwine fraudulently transferred a land title from their late father’s name John Karegyeya and sold it to an Indian investor, Kiryandongo Sugar.
In a separate complaint, Lokeris is accused of encroaching on Munubi Birowa’s land and intimidating him. Enanga, now a commissioner in charge of administration and training at the directorate of CID, is implicated in using police from Apac to forcefully evict people from three villages in his home area in Awila parish.
In Gem farm, Pacilo parish in Atyak sub county, Amuru where Amina Hersi is setting up a sugar factory, the Commission was denied entry.
Amina is accused of grabbing more land as opposed to what Gem farm was allocated. Reports show that the sugar enterprise was initially given 1,000 hectares of land. However, the factory has grabbed an additional over 7,000 hectares.
Others implicated in various fraudulent land transactions are Kibanda South MP Jack Odur (ranches in Nyamarebe).