To survive in Uganda, it’s not just about physical strength one possesses but how financially strong or connected one is.
This survival works best for those with both money and connections where if one is arrested for a crime, he or she is released ‘quicker’ than a poor criminal suspect.
One man in Lango sub region who has proven to be mightiest, even when his case was triable in Courts of Law – is an elder, a clan chief – aging Benjamin Okii.
Mr. Okii was arrested by team of Police in 2017 for encroaching on wetland. Nine of his casual workers got arrested with him and whisked to Lira Central Police Station where they lived for days.
Before his arrest, Mr. Okii, the Okiibura clan chief, Environmental Police Protection Unit (EPPU) alongside Field Force Police (FFP) and Lira district environment officer clashed.
He was told his arrest was in line with crackdown on environment (wetland) degraders in the district.
Okii was nabbed alongside nine of his causal workers who were found busy in his farm and another local farmer from Obutowelo ‘A’, Ojwina division in Lira Municipality.
About 20 hectares of wetland surrounding Okii’s homestead was degraded. Foods like matooke, vegetables and rice are grown. He also rear dairy cows.
How Okiibura clan leader was nabbed
Okii who was having breakfast from one of his houses became chaotic when Police and officials from EPPU alongside Lira District Environment Officer and journalists arrived at his home.
The aging clan chief, however, welcomed only the officials to enter his house (for talks) but soon turned violent when he ordered journalists not to get inside his house.
The situation intensified when the once a rival Paramount Chief (Won Nyaci) of Lango saw journalists taking his pictures.
He grabbed a stick to beat up a Daily Monitor reporter who was photographing the operstions only for his long-sharp stick to be intercepted by Police before it could land on the journalist’s chest.
The well-known clan chief upon being briefed by Fabias Otike and ASP Michael Orech of his many offenses and why he would be arrested, told the cops and Otike that he wouldn’t leave his place (home).
“We are a team from Environmental Protection Police Unit and district monitoring how wetlands have been encroached and degraded and take action,” Mr. Otike briefed the clan chief who was putting on white-stained short.
In his reply while standing by his house door then, Okii said: “You may be talking and having your way but I also have my say.”
Attempting to sneak inside his house and lock himself, Okii was intercepted by cops and pulled out. The Police van was waiting for him as he kept on uttering bad words at officers.
Simon Peter Okoshi, the Deputy Commandant of Environment Protection Police said Okii would be tried in Court as per his will.
It’s worth noting that while at Lira CPS, Okii said he should not be granted a bond, revealing that he would battle with the Law.
“You have brought me here. I’m ready for legal battle,” he said on arrival at Lira Police station nearly one hour after exchanging words with environment team at his home.
According to Okoshi, (quoting him then), the operation on wetland crackdown commenced last week (Monday) from Soroti district.
He said few powerful individual are the ones using the wetland for their interest, labelling Lira as a district with “stubborn environment degraders”.
NEMA taking actions
National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), a body mandated to protect environment and wetlands (natural resources) says it has taken key steps.
In an interview with TND News a fortnight ago, NEMA’s Senior Public Relations Officer – Tony Achidria says so far twenty people are convicted for offenses related to wetland degradation.
Mr. Achidria blamed local governments for not doing enough to protect wetlands, adding that if NEMA’s new law is passed, the authority will take over duties from local governments.
“We have been directing local governments to stop investors and locals encroaching on wetlands,” he tells TND News, revealing that lack of enough human resource in the authority has caused slow implementation.
“We have convicted 20 people countrywide and many more cases still before Court,” he said.
Bugoma Agro-processing in northern Uganda, Ruma factory in Luweero dealing in recycling of tyres are among companies NEMA says it has shut down for breaching authority’s standards.
Police on Okii case
David Ongom Mudong – North Kyoga Police spokesperson told this contemporary online newspaper last week that he was never briefed about Okii’s wetland case (outcomes).
“I’m aware of arrest and investigations in 2017 but I was never fed with anything later,” Mudong says.
“What I know is that there is an officer attached to environment but no information has since been given to me,” police spokesperson further explains.
Meanwhile, Ongol Joseph who’s the Assistant Commissioner In-charge Policy and Enforcement – Wetland Management Unit spoke to TND News.
“I’m not aware wheather Okii Benjamin has stopped tilting wetland. I’m going to call Fabious Otike (district environment officer) to find more details,” he said.
According to Mr. Ongol, the issue (investigations) was done with police but couldn’t tell us why Okii Benjamin never appeared before Court even when the latter had wanted Court trials.
Sources told TND News recently that Okii’s case file was taken to Resident State Attorney for legal opinion and sanction but since then, “his case is no more”.
“A very powerful hand played critical roles in the case ‘death’,” a security source tells us.
Lira RDC, Milton Odongo while talking to TND News Tuesday morning promised to follow the matter.
“I need to make a follow-up with environment team,” RDC Odongo briefly said.
Mr Okii couldn’t be available by press time to disclose our he missed appearing before court.
Wetlands play a number of functions, including water purification, water storage, processing of carbon and other nutrients, stabilization of shorelines, and support of plants and animals.
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