Uganda: Police on the Spot as Lira Bars Operate Despite Ban Over Covid-19

Police in Lira District have come under the spotlight for selective enforcement of Covid-19 guidelines by allowing some night clubs to operate and blocking others.

According to a mini-survey conducted by this newspaper, some night clubs owned by big shots in Lira City are operating freely, in breach of rules established to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Last Sunday at around 7pm, police stormed Front Page Lounge in Lira City West Division and dispersed revellers.

However, police did not interrupt people who were enjoying themselves at the neighbouring Vintage Lounge during the same operation. The operation is always spearheaded by the police with support from sister security agencies.

Vintage Lounge is just about 600 metres away from Lira Central Police Station and about 200 metres away from Lira police barracks. Front Page is about a kilometre away from Lira Central Police Station.

Mr Ken Okello, the proprietor of Front Page Lounge, accused the law enforcers of bias in the enforcement of Covid-19 SOPs.

“Front Page is more of a recreational centre, and that fateful Sunday, the revellers refused to walk out, prompting the security to fire live bullets and teargas to disperse them,” Mr Okello said, adding that his night club always closes at exactly 8pm.

“When you collect money from them (customers), they assume you should entertain them till late in the night,” he added.

Double standards

The manager of Riders’ Comfort in Teso Bar Ward, Mr Hannington Ekwan, said police have several times blocked them from operating while other similar businesses remain operational.

“We have all the measures in place, there is a handwashing facility at the entrance and we, of course, do not get crowds here. They (police) came here last weekend (January 31), and asked us to close. All this is being done and yet other places are operating normally without any interruption from the security,” he said.

Mr Vincent Odongo Okello, the manager at Vintage Lounge, said on Tuesday that they operate a restaurant and not a bar.

“What we operate here is the restaurant and we always ensure that our customers follow the guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he told Daily Monitor.

However, he confirmed the facility hosts at least two parties in a week with clearance from security agencies.

After months of relatively empty streets and sidewalks, nightlife is slowly returning to Lira City amid the lockdown. This has left local residents raising questions of who is benefiting from the ban on bars and the 9pm curfew imposed by the government.

Mr Innocent Okello, a boda boda rider, said although police have been blocking many bars in Lira City from operating, there are others that operate through the night without any interruption.

“At places such as Vintage Lounge and Amazon Pub, you will find people drinking and dancing throughout the night and nobody bothers to close the places while in other places, they go and teargas people. This is not fair at all,” he said.

Mr Ambrose Obonyo, a resident of Kakoge Cell, said about 30 police officers recently found him in a bar in Central Park Ward, Lira City East Division, and beat him severely.

He claimed to have been robbed of his valuables, including money. He said the incident happened on January 30 between 8:30pm and 9pm.

He added that he could not follow up the matter because he failed to identify the suspects.

“Those special police constables (SPCs) had no name tags and numbers inscribed on their uniforms and moreover it was dark, so I could not identify any of them,” Mr Obonyo added.

The defence secretary for Wigweng Cell in Lira City Western Division, Mr Tevez Opio, said the SPCs have become a menace in the area. He said they start arresting or beating up people found on the road from 8pm yet the official curfew time starts at 9pm.

Torture claims

He said a group of SPCs on Sunday rounded up a group of youth who were drinking alcohol in one of the homes in the area and severely beat them.

“They were ordered to lie down on their back facing the sky and they were seriously beaten in the chests and stomachs before they were set free and ordered to go home,” Mr Opio said.

In Dokolo District, hangout places such as Vino Galaxy, Gabriela Bar, Horizon Travelers, and The Link have continued to remain operational despite several attempts by security personnel to keep them closed.

Mr Samuel Oyo, a resident of Acanyibi Village, Alenga Parish in Dokolo Sub-county, was allegedly beaten into a coma by SPCs after he was found moving at night. Mr Alphonse Okello, another resident, said the SPCs found Mr Oyo at a trading centre, just 100 metres away from his home and beat him up.

“It was on Monday evening and he was seated with his friends when the police constables came in the name of patrolling the place. He was beaten up and up to now he is still in coma,” he said on Tuesday.

Mr James Ekaju, the North Kyoga regional police spokesperson, acknowledged that some bars in Lira City have continued to operate even beyond curfew time but denied selective application of the law by the security agencies.