In the buildup to December 16 sacking of deputy police chief Maj Gen Steven Sabiiti Muzeeyi, there were all indicators commander-in-chief (CiC) Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni was fed up with IGP Martins Okoth Ochola.
Yet when Museveni’s ax left Muzeeyi, a hitherto darling of the head-of-state, unemployed and sent to UPDF headquarters for deployment.
Museveni’s attempt to rid Uganda Police Force (UPF) of the weevils he claimed infiltrated the force during Gen Kale Kayihura’s reign is still underway.
As Muzeeyi awaits his next deployment, Maj Gen Paul Lokech will have his work well cut out – that is if Parliament approves his appointment to UPF’s second topmost job.
But how did Ochola, a man who many thought could not fit in the shoes of the versatile Gen Kayihura – who not only did police work but seemed keen on executing some ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) assignments – survive sacking as Museveni made Muzeeyi pack his bags from Naguru Police Headquarters.
Museveni has for years faced criticism for militarizing the police.
While many thought he would elevate Muzeeyi and sack Ochola, Museveni thought it wise to keep the IGP in office, and see what another military officer could achieve as deputy police chief.
Relieving Ochola of his duties and elevating Muzeeyi would attract this criticism at a time when Uganda is stealing global headlines over police brutality.
Not that criticism would bar Museveni from elevating a military officer to the police’s top job, but the timing was just not right.
Uganda is days away from a critical election.
Protests that broke out last month over the arrest of two presidential candidates Patrick Oboi Amuriat (POA) of main opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine of National Unity Platform (NUP) left 54 people dead.
The manner in which police handled these riots infuriated Museveni.
He accused the force of not doing enough to stop the ‘lawlessness.’
The president has praised the UPDF for decisively quelling the protests.
For these riots, either Ochola or Muzeeyi had to go. Museveni picked Muzeeyi, a feared military officer.
As far as most observers were concerned, Muzeeyi was in charge at Naguru despite being junior to Ochola.
So, to these analysts, the president blamed whatever went wrong on Muzeeyi, whom he had hired to clean up the mess Kayihura had left the police in.
That he wouldn’t expect Ochola, who was until 2018 Kayihura’s deputy to clean up police.
For those trading this line of argument, Museveni wouldn’t mind keeping Ochola at the top but having Lokech as second in command.
As far as some are concerned, Lokech is the man who will take charge once Parliament approves his appointment.
That would only mean that Ochola would voluntarily choose to quit and live Museveni’s choice take charge fully – that is if he couldn’t stand wielding less power than his deputy in the eyes of members of the public and, perhaps, the appointing authority.
With a powerful deputy, Ochola’s job remained safe because Museveni had been disappointed by a military officer he was confident would clean up police but seemed clueless about protests that raged on for two days. Or if he had clue, didn’t do enough.
That Museveni expected more from Muzeeyi that Ochola is telling of why the IGP kept his job and his deputy was replaced.
It also points to the huge task ahead of Lokech.