By Jeff Andrew Lule
One of the major issues that came up following the unfortunate New Year tragedy that led to the death of 11 people at Freedom City Mall, was “where was the police to enforce the set guidelines during the event”.
This became more disturbing among the public, especially when the police arrested the events organiser/promoter Abbey Musinguzi of Abitex Promotion on charges of Rash/negligent act causing death.
However, police later issued more summons for their own officers and other security personnel who had been deployed to secure the event and the proprietor of the premises among others for questioning. In the eyes of the public this as fair enough to hold their own (police responsible)
However, while addressing journalists at the weekly joint security briefing at the police headquarters in Naguru on Monday (January 9, 2023), the police force publicist, Fred Enanga said the facts gathered so far reveal that the proprietor of Freedom City Hall, John Sebalamu, had an agreement between Freedom City and Abtex, with clear terms and conditions.
“Under clause No. 5, the organisers was tasked to provide as a MUST adequate security and crowd control for the event and venue and under clause 6, of the agreement, the organiser was tasked to provide First Aid, Fire and Emergency arrangements for the event, depending on the type, nature and scale of the event,” he noted.
Enanga noted that on December 14, 2022 Abtex Promotions was granted permission, with safety and security guidelines through the Regional Police Commander Kampala Metropolitan South, and on December 30, 2022 the Division Police Commander Katwe and team also met with the organisers at the venue and it was agreed that Abtex Promotions, takes charge of the inner ring to help secure their cash collections.
The organisers are said to have hired bouncers from Bouncers Association, whom, Enanga says are also still hiding and statements yet to be recorded from them, as well as Private Security guards from Freedom City Mall.
He noted investigations further established that the counter terrorism police officers were put in charge of the access control, search, K9 venue explosive sweeps, snap checks, intelligence and an armed team, while the territorial police under Katwe, was put in charge of the outer ring, which included the parking, traffic control, external environment and patrols.
Who locked the doors?
Enanga says findings indicate that on December 31, 2022 the management of Freedom City, handed over the hall and children’s play area that was hired to Abtex Promotions.
“All the padlocks to the gates and doors were removed, and the venue handed over to Abtex Promotions. Critically, the proprietors of the venue gave full authority to the organisers. It is also important to note that Abtex did not apply for a fireworks display. Instead management contracted extreme events, to display fireworks on behalf of the whole Freedom City Mall,” he added.
Findings further reveal that Abtex Promotions was warned about the potential crowd control and safety concerns by police.
He noted that the preventive guidelines were clearly spelt out to Abitex Promotions during the concert preparations and made aware as organisers of their duty to hire private security, provide emergency medical services, control crowds, forge evacuation routes, cautioned about multiple disorders and other key concerns.
But Enanga said the organisers put profits over the safety of revellers and concert goers, by disregarded the safety and security protocols in the management of the large concert, and issued a dangerous directive to the bouncers, to lock all the other four doors, that led to the death of 11 concert goers and the hospitalisation of eight others.
He said there was also negligence on the part of the organisers for overcrowding, beyond the 15,000 capacity, lack of standby medical staff, skilled bouncers, and admissions of children without parents/guardians, among others.
Investigations indicate that the Master of Ceremonies, Francis Elvis Jjuuko, recklessly informed the revelers and concert goers to move out to the children’s yard and watch fireworks without alerting the bouncers and local guards to open the gate.
Enanga noted that as a result, hundreds of revelers dashed towards the only gate, where some got trapped, trampled and piled upon; leading to the death of three people while eight others were pronounced dead at Mulago National Referral Hospital.
He said the case file has been resubmitted to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) for legal guidance, on whether or not to charge other suspects, given that they were carrying out a supportive role to the organisers, Abby Musinguzi of Abtex Promotions.