Dar es Salaam. As the saga surrounding the mysterious abduction and resurfacing of billionaire Mohammed Dewji appeared to slowly fade away from the public sphere, President John Magufuli reignited interest on Monday when he took issue with the police for their failure to bring the perpetrators to book.
Speaking at State House during the swearing-in of newly-appointed leaders and promotion of five senior police officers to the rank of Commissioner of Police (CP), President Magufuli said that there were more questions than answers in the way the police had handled the Dewji issue.
Mr Dewji, 43, was abducted by gunmen last year at the Colosseum Hotel on October 11, as he arrived for a morning workout. His family had offered Sh1 billion reward for information leading to his rescue.
The youngest billionaire in Africa, according to Forbes, was set free unharmed in the early hours of October 12, 2018, in the city centre. Mr Dewji was found in an abandoned vehicle believed to have been used during his abduction eleven days earlier in the city. It was not clear how Mr Dewji was freed or whether a ransom was paid.
And speaking in a tone which signalled astonishment, President Magufuli posed one of the million-dollar questions that remain unanswered.
“You ask yourself, is it that the kidnappers decided to leave [the guns] there [or there is something else],” asked President Magufuli. “What if [Dewji] was found by the patrol police [in possession of the weapons]?”
Following Mr Dewji’s release, Dar es Salaam Police Commander Lazaro Mambosasa informed the public that the police had identified the driver of a vehicle used in the kidnapping and were making progress in their investigation.
Then later in November, in what appeared to be a sign on progress in their investigations, the police identified a house in an affluent neighbourhood of Dar es Salaam where Dewji was allegedly held for nine days following his abduction.
The one-storey house in Mbezi Beach had been reportedly rented out to South African businessmen, the police said then.
Mr Mambosasa even said that they were holding Mr Mussa, a taxi driver, who was believed to have close ties with Mr Dewji’s abductors, having helped the South African businessmen rent the house.
Now, the President wondered in his televised address on Monday how, given the said progress, it has been difficult for them to find out what really took place? He couldn’t understand it.
“Tanzanians were waiting (to hear) that the man (the driver) would be the exhibit in court [so that] we can know what happens next, but it’s still silence up to this day [and] months have passed,” he said with disappointment. “Even if Tanzanians decide to keep quiet their hearts will not be clear.”
Asked by The Citizen if they plan to do anything about the President’s disappointment, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Simon Sirro said that they indeed aimed to take some steps in “these three or four days.” But he couldn’t mention them, saying that “there’s still an investigation going on.”
President Magufuli’s decision to give the police a talking-to was, however, received with both joy and disappointment by rights activists and national security analysts.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDS) country coordinator Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa told The Citizen that the President’s remarks were significant because they echoed the same cry rights bodies had been making for some time now.
“He proved that there is a problem within the police and that means a lot when said by the President than by an activist,” he said. “The President has helped us in our continuous efforts to fight for the establishment of an oversight body that would deal with all complaints related to police and their works.”
But Mr Ole Ngurumwa also wants the President to take action.
“It is expected that by virtue of his position, the President should not merely complain but rather take necessary action,” said Mr Ole Ngurumwa. “He has built himself a reputation of being a no-nonsense person and he has proved it several times. Now it is surprising why that was not the case with the police.”
Prof Eginald Mihanjo, deputy Vice-Chancellor of Eckenforde University in Tanga, considered the President’s concerns to be genuine but pointed out that there are also both legal and operative challenges that tend to hamper police responsibilities and which require consideration too.
“From investigation to prosecution there are various laws to be taken into consideration,” said Prof Mihanjo without mentioning the laws themselves when asked to. “Many of them act as hurdles I can say.”
Although he thinks that the issue of corruption is well entrenched in police operations and in a certain way complicate professionalism, Prof Mihanjo also sees the need to enhace the work of the Police Force so that it can give a satisfactory service to the public.
“There is also a need to equip the Police with state-of-the-art technologies as well as with intense training so that the officers can keep up with current security challenges,” he suggests.