Serwanjja still missing as confusion reigns in BBC, NBS journalists arrests
SPOTLIGHT | The whereabouts of NBS Television senior investigative reporter Solomon Serwanjja remains unknown, according to his employers, but his wife Vivian Nakalisa is in custody, Police said.
While Police said at a hurriedly called news briefing that Serwanjja was wanted in connection with buying of classified drugs, NBS Television said in a statement that it had commissioned an investigation into the allegations that top officials in health agencies were selling Uganda government drugs on the black market and across the borders.
“The main purpose of the investigation was to oast a spotlight on how alleged corruption is aiding Me sale of government drugs. The arrests come at the conclusion stage of the three-week investigation,” Next Media, the proprietors of NBS Television said.
To add to the confusion on what is really going on, Al Jazeera correspondent Hereward Holland said unnamed government spokesperson had indicated that the BBC and NBS TV journalsits were working undercover with State House Health Monitoring Unit to investigate theft and sale of government prescription drugs in South Sudan and DR Congo.
The confusion got even worse when Patrick Onyango, Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, claimed that the joint team of security operatives who effected the arrest did not know that the persons they were picking up were journalists.
“We didn’t know they were journalists but after recording their statement we have known that.
Our investigations will tell us I indeed they were carrying out an investigation on some story,” he said in response to a question from a journalist on why the alleged drug seller was not arrested alongside the alleged buyers.
Uganda police have detained a team of BBC journalists who were investigating the theft and sale of government prescription drugs in South Sudan and DR Congo.
Gov spox says the BBC were working undercover with State House Health Monitoring Unit and calls for their release.
— Hereward Holland (@Greatlakeshack) February 7, 2019
Senior Presidential Press Secretary Don Wanyama told Crime24 that the journalists indeed contacted the State House Health Monitoring Unit.
“But whether they were working together at the particular point they were arrested is something I need to verify,” Wanyama said, adding that he would revert with a better informed stand after clarifying with authorities and getting the Police version of events.
On Wednesday night, Police stormed the home of Serwanjja and arrested his wife Vivian Nakalisa. In an operation, the Police also arrested BBC journalists Passim Mohammed, Rashid Naweesa, and Godfrey Badebye (cameraman) as well as their driver Shafiq Kisame.
Onyango said the journalists were arrested while buying classified drugs in Makindye, a city suburb.
“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,” Onyango said.
He said after the BBC journalists were picked up, they confessed and revealed that there were other drugs at fellow journalist Serwanjja’s home in Mukono, leading to the raid and arrest of his wife.
“We went Mukono and cordoned off his home but only found his wife Vivian and we waited until morning to search. Detectives found 14 boxes of Lamefantine tablets, vaccines for hepatisis B and other drugs labeled with government seals,” Onyango said.
Nakalisa, who works with the Ministry of Health, was taken into custody to “help with investigations” and was still in detention at the time of compiling this article.
Onyango said they want Serwanjja to help with investigations into how the prescription drugs ended up at his home.
The arrests come at a time officials at National Medical Stores lost their heads when they put out a statement in the press, calling Abim Resident District Commissioner Samuel Mpimbaza Hashaka a “weevil.”
“The weevils like Hashaka are still many but we will not be derailed or distracted by them from our noble cause,” the agency said.
The agency called upon its stakeholders and the public to ignore “the likes of Hashaka who want to tarnish the name of NMS with hope of, possibly, spreading false, malicious and unfounded information would give them milage and, possibly, raise their public profile.”
Hashaka has had a frosty relations with the medical supplies agency. Two years ago, he was among the local leaders who accused NMS of distributing empty boxes of medical supplies to upcountry health centres.
The tone of NMS statement saw Ministry of Health senior public relations officer Emmanuel Ainebyoona demanding that the Stores should explain the circumstances under which the drugs went missing instead of wasting taxpayers money in issuing a full page statements in the newspapers.
With journalists on the tails of officials alleged to be selling government drugs across the borders, the timing of the Police “intervention” has left a section of the public questioning the arrests.