By Frederick Womakuyu
SHE sat speechless, her teary eyes stared into oblivion. Something was bothering her. For the past nine months, Lilly Atek has woken up every morning and on the veranda of her hut at Kanyogoga parish in Gulu municipality, prayed that one day, her kidnapped child shall return home.
Atek chokes with anguish as she narrates her tale. It was on the night of August 13, 2008 when her three-month old baby boy went missing. She claims the alleged stolen child was found at the residence of one Jane Abur, a teacher and LC5 Councillor for Awach, Palaro and Patiko sub-counties in Gulu district. Abur too insists the baby in dispute is hers.
â€œI cannot steal a child. I have a son in Primary Three and I lost another child,â€ she said, dismissing allegations that she has never given birth.
Interestingly, at Lacor Hospital where Abur claims to have given birth on August 5, 2008, there are no such records. In a letter dated November 27, 2008, Lloyd Ocorobiya, the hospital legal officer, said they had failed to trace any record of the birth of the child and the alleged mother doesnâ€™t have any record of delivery. â€œHowever, on the antenatal card there are changes that were not so done with the direction of hospital authorities,â€ Ocorobiya wrote.
Samuel Odhiambo, the child protection officer with Child-youth As Peace Builders (CAP), a child rights advocacy organisation that is assisting Atek in the case, says authorities at Grace Primary School where Abur teaches, denied she has ever taken maternity leave. But Abur argued that the school was closing for holidays and she saw no need of getting maternity leave.
The case is being handled by Gulu central police station under file number SD Ref: 81/13/08/08. The case, which can only proceed after a DNA test to prove the true parentage of the disputed child is being delayed because Uganda has run out of DNA reagents (testing chemicals). Although their samples were delivered to the Government laboratories in Kampala on December 17, 2008 and registered as S2044-2048/08, it is among the 803 samples yet to be tested due to lack of DNA reagents.
Ally Lugudo, the head of Government laboratories, said the Gulu sample will be worked as soon as the next batch of reagents is procured.
â€œOn the morning of May 5, 2008,â€ recalls Atek, â€œI was in labour at Lacor hospital from 6:00am until 6:00pm when I delivered.â€ Atek who earns a living by selling vegetables at Wii-got market in Gulu municipality.
Upon being discharged, Atek says she kept taking her baby back to the hospital for immunisation until August 13, 2008.
A man she only identified as Odong, a friend to her husband John Otim, came asking for help. She suspects Odong kidnapped the baby because he asked how she had locked the house and also advised her to blow out the candle whenever she went outside.
â€œHe left and I went to the toilet, leaving the door open,â€ Atek recalls. When she came back, the candle was off and the baby gone. â€œI checked with the neighbours, but they didnâ€™t have the baby. I made an alarm and began searching for Odong.â€
As the search went on, Atek claims Odong emerged from the opposite direction and told them he had seen someone carrying a child go in the direction they had searched. The search went on for the whole night.
Early the next morning, Atek claims Odong was the first to show up and using a boda boda dropped her at the Police station to make a statement. He has never been seen again.
atekâ€™s HUSBANDâ€™S REACTION
Atek says when she informed her husband, he did not seem bothered.
â€œThe Police became suspicious of his behaviour and went to Pader and arrested him as a suspect,â€ she explained.
Otim however, denied kidnapping the baby arguing that he couldnâ€™t come from Pader, where he was at the time of the incident, because he didnâ€™t have transport.
â€œI was detained for four months and because they lacked evidence, the Police released me on bond. I then reported to the Police for months and when they were satisfied that I was innocent, they set me free,â€ Otim said.
One morning, in November, after four painful months, Atek said someone volunteered information that her child could be alive.
With renewed hope, Atek went to Pece division pretending to seek employment as a house help. â€œI went to the neighbours, inquired for a job and I was given. Before I left, I asked about the home I was told the baby stayed. The employer showed her the home after Atek explained that she was told that if she failed to get a job, she could try there.
Atek never returned to work. However, in the next few days, she set out to discover the truth. She ascertained that indeed there was a wailing baby in this home. Atek then informed the Police and together CAP officials, went to Grace Primary School, where Abur taught.
Abur was briefed about the issue but she denied stealing the baby. Atek said at birth, her baby had two marks on the breast and on the buttocks. When the baby was undressed in the presence of the Police, the marks were there, but Abur also claimed it was the marks that distinguished her baby. When Aburâ€™s husband Tolit was contacted, he refused to comment.
FRUSTRATION OF THE GULU PROBABTION OFFICE
Worried about the baby, CAP wrote to the probation office â€“ Gulu requesting that the baby be kept in a neutral ground, pending investigations. But legally, it was only a competent court that could give such a directive.
Joseph Kilama, the probation officer, said he wrote to the Gulu magistrateâ€™s court. The magistrate then wrote to the Police, but the Police did not reply. When asked about the delay, the Police said they were awaiting the DNA test results to send a reply.
It took the intervention of Gulu LC5 Chairman Norbert Mao to secure the child to St. Jude Orphanage in Gulu where he will stay until investigations are done.
Santa Oketta, Secretary for Community Development and Children Welfare, Gulu district accuses the Police for frustrating the investigations. But Gulu Regional Police Commander Phinehas Arinaitwe is happy with the investigations so far. He said: â€œI donâ€™t think that the Police have been compromised. â€œLet us wait for the DNA results.â€
The horror of GETTING a DNA TEST
The first samples brought to Kampala by the Police were rejected by the Government chemists claiming they were tampered with. The samples had also taken 12 days to be delivered to Kampala because the Police allegedly lacked transport. Atek claims she paid to transport the blood samples to Kampala.
However, officials at the Government labs insisted both families travel to Kampala for blood samples to be taken. According to Odhiambo. World Vision offered transport for the families since some claimed they did not have transport to Kampala. The samples were taken on December 17, 2008.
But DNA reagents are out of stock. For how long will Atek and Abur wait for justice to prevail?