Uganda police have detained five people including journalists from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC Africa) who are reported to have been investigating the theft and sale of government drugs.
According to Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman Mr Patrick Onyango, three journalists — Godfrey Badebye, Kassim Mohamad, and Rashid Kawesa — and their driver Shafiq Kisame were arrested in Makindye, a Kampala suburb, where they were allegedly buying classified drugs from an undercover security officer on Wednesday night. Mr Mohamad is a Kenyan.
The police say after the arrests, their probe led them to the home of NBS investigative journalist Solomon Sserwanjja where it is claimed the reporters had kept the first batch of drugs they had bought.
Mr Sserwanjja was not at home and his wife Ms Vivian Nakaliika, a communication officer at the Ministry of Health, was arrested.
“We are holding five suspects on charges of illegal possession of classified drugs contrary to Section 27(2) of the National Drugs Authority Cap 206. Their file will be taken to State Attorney for perusal any time,” Mr Onyango said Thursday.
Mr Onyango said Mr Sserwanjja was on the run after failing to return to his home where police had been waiting for him to “lead them in the search” for the drugs.
“He promised to come but in vain. In the morning, we carried out a search and found classified drugs in his house leading to the arrest of his wife, Ms Nakaliika,” he said.
The police are said to have found 14 boxes of lumefantrine tablets, vaccines for Hepatitis B and other drugs labelled with government seals.
“We are also looking for Mr Sserwanjja to help us investigate how government drugs ended up at his home,” he said.
But the government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said the journalists had been cooperating with the State House Health Monitoring Unit to investigate the theft and sale of Ugandan government drugs in neighbouring South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I am yet to find out the logic why police arrested these journalists, who in my view were helping government to unearth the rot which is in the system,” said Mr Opondo. “They should be released unconditionally.”
Uganda’s decrepit healthcare system is riddled with corruption and doctors and nurses frequently complain about shortages of basic supplies like gloves, medicines and vaccines.
Mr Opondo said that police had told him the journalists were “intending to embarrass the government”. He said such a reason for their arrest would be “absurd.”