As law enforcers, police are charged with the responsibility of keeping record of the laws that are broken and those that break the laws. It is also the responsibility of the police to ensure that identified lawbreakers are prosecuted so that appropriate punishment can be meted out. But to do this, police officers need to be professional in their work in order to gain public confidence.
Citizens are supposed to trust the information that is released by police, as verified and factual. It is for this reason that whenever there’s a crime-related news development, we journalists always engage the police to get confirmation, comment or clarification. Whatever we are told by the police, we pass it on to the public.
It has stunned us to learn that police lied about the shooting incident in Kaoma over the weekend where a person died after rival PF and UPND cadres clashed during by-election campaigns. As we always do for crime-related news, we called the Western Province Police Commissioner Charles Lungu to get an objective report of what transpired from the law enforcers who were on the ground. What we were given was contrary to the facts.
LUNGU: “It was around midday in Site and Service Compound where two convoys were on their usual campaign trails, they were kind of crisscrossing from opposite directions near the PF camp. So, the convoy for UPND stopped and challenged their counterparts. So, there was commotion there and pandemonium and in the process, one UPND cadre produced a pistol and fired shots indiscriminately and in the process shot two people. Officers made follow-ups and apprehended one UPND cadre by the name of Chola Simwaba and recovered from him a pistol, which he had used to fire so right now, he is in police custody being interrogated. Among those shot was a UPND cadre. Incidentally, during the indiscriminate shootings, he also shot one of his friends from the same party because there was commotion and pandemonium so one bullet landed on a UPND cadre. Police responded by giving chase to the one who [was] running away with a pistol and apprehended him, there was no firing by police. By press time, all four are still in hospital.”
This narration is so detailed and specific to an extent that it sounds like an account of an eyewitness. One cannot be expected to doubt such information, especially if it is coming from the police division commander himself. But this has turned out to be false information, and there was no better-suited institution to correct this misinformation than the Zambia Police Headquarters in Lusaka.
“Initial investigations revealed that suspected UPND cadres who were on a UPND branded motor vehicle had attacked people believed to be Patriotic Front cadres who were in a white Toyota Hilux using stones, which led to one of the occupants identified as female, Namataa Lubasi Brumo, to jump off the motor vehicle in an attempt to run to safety. It was reported that Namataa was followed by an unknown suspected UPND cadre only identified by his nickname ‘Gadhafi’ who gave chase and grabbed her handbag, but Namataa managed to run to safety. It is alleged that one [PF] occupant of the white Toyota Hilux pulled out a pistol and shot at Gadhafi who died in the process of evacuation to UTH,” said Police spokesperson Esther Mwaata Katongo.
We have remained wondering: what will police say to the UPND cadre whom they arrested and detained for murder? Who told the police in Kaoma that Chola Simwaba fired the pistol that killed Gadhafi? How did the Police Command in Lusaka get this different version of the incident? Why didn’t Commissioner Lungu issue a statement to correct his earlier false information?
Our analysis is that Commissioner Lungu was given false information by the top PF leadership that is in Kaoma for campaigns. We say this because when this story broke, the first information that went viral on social media was that PF deputy secretary general Mumbi Phiri and other senior members of the party were the victims who were shot at.
We are not surprised that with all the ‘talk time’ in Honourable Mumbi Phiri’s mouth, she was unable to talk to us about this particular incident. When we called, she said there was too much confusion and she couldn’t explain what happened, and then cut the line. That’s unlike Mumbi Phiri, especially if she is truly provoked. But she knew the truth about who killed who in the Kaoma shooting incident and the Catholic faith in her couldn’t allow her to lie.
We are not here to suggest that the UPND is a peaceful party or that they did nothing wrong in the Kaoma incident. The UPND is just as violent as the PF, if not worse. But that is not a basis for the police to twist facts so that they protect the real aggressors in this situation.
Police are supposed to be thorough in their work to ensure that they do not get wrongly-accused people in trouble. There is nothing painful than serving a prison term for a crime one did not commit. It starts with a wrongful arrest and then an arresting officer who bears false witness.
In this case, police gave false information to the public; information that had the potential to incite violence from the rival camp of the falsely-accused suspect. We now wish to ask the police: what does the law say about someone who causes the publication of false and alarming statements? Will Commissioner Lungu be charged for this offence? No! Because PF cadres, including those in police uniform, are above the law. Shame!