Alexander Okello, Okello House and Pioneer Easy Bus

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Alexander Okello, Okello House and Pioneer Easy Bus
Pioneer Easy Bus fleet has been parked at Namboole for nearly 12 years.

How a property mogul got entangled with Pioneer Easy Bus, leading to pain and losses

By John Njoroge

TALES | As a believer in justice and myself a victim of numerous injustices, I have always hinged my belief on a Luganda saying: “Katonda Talya Enguzi”- meaning God takes no bribes.

Who would believe that a simple visit to Namboole National Stadium Namboole and the observation by Speaker Anita Among would revive an injustice I wrote about 12 years ago, one of two stories that got me fired from a major media house, with disgrace, sent home in the name of indiscipline with only one-month salary.

I was not even allowed to leave with my personal effects.

To show you the gravity of this injustice, you will not find soft copies of these two stories on the internet because the powers that be did everything possible to have them removed from the original portal.

However, if you visited any public library across the region, the archives of the Parliament of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, diplomatic pulled down and other private libraries, a hard copy of the Daily Monitor newspaper in the month of July 2012 has several stories that were removed from the publisher's website.

I first chanced on Mr Alexander Okello in 2009. A stranger, who to this day I cannot remember, walked into the office of the Independent magazine asking to speak to me.

This individual, as soon as I met him, handed me a piece of paper and an envelope. The paper had a name and four telephone numbers.

He was very brief and asked me to read what was in the envelope and call the numbers on that paper if I was interested in helping.

I didn't spend more than five minutes with him. He left. As was customary, I read through the documents and quickly briefed my editors. I was allowed to follow up on the matter.

The documents in brief were about a man, one Okello, who lost a building on George Street - Amamu House - which houses the country's company registry, to a bank, a loss he claimed was “engineered”.

When I finally met Mr Okello, I was taken aback. The Independent gladly published this first story in a fair and balanced manner. With the strict guidance of my editors and managing editor, I spoke to all parties involved.

In 2010, I moved to the Daily Monitor but kept close contact with Mr Okello. I visited him often and slowly, he started telling me another story.

Mr Okello at one time lived in the upscale area of Nakasero right next to State House. For security reasons, he was asked to rent out his property to the State.

Being a residential home, it was deemed a security threat because movement to and from his home could not be monitored without infringing on his rights to privacy.

Mr Okello accepted and for several years, according to documents available to me at the time, he received $1 million in rent per year for what is now known as Okello House.

Mr Okello, however, suffered a huge setback, having been duped into a real estate investment that went terribly wrong.

The banks foreclosed on his loan and strangely, some “close friends” of his had picked interest in buying off his properties from the bank.

In the middle of all this mess, he was evicted from his home. He lived at the top of Amamu House, he lost his priced household items to charlatans who had come to execute the eviction order.

He was humiliated in full glare of the media. He retreated to a house where he still lives today in an area I will not mention.

I have visited him countless times and it is painful to see a man who once ran a thriving enterprise Moyo Hardware, struggling to have a decent meal and pay utility bills like water bills.

Things there were once taken care of in advance have now become a daily struggle. There are time when you pass his residence and there is no electricity.

There are times you find National Water employees doing their job, affecting the nonpayment of water bills. A senior citizen unable to pay his water bills is not a bed or roses.

It is under these conditions that an old high school friend of his approached him with an idea. The City of Kampala was grappling with a problem of an organised public transport system.

A few good men had thus approached the City leadership to avail low cost public transport buses. The city authorities were in turn to avail bus lanes so that these buses could not compete with normal traffic.

But there was a problem. The buses were not available… Not yet. Until a bus lane was available. In actual sense, there were no buses at the time, not even a contract, not even a purchase order, not even a penny to buy them.

The bus lane would have to be created on what are street parking areas of the city roads. Street parking is managed by Multiplex, a private company that pays the city authority to manage vehicle parking.

The story of Multiplex I shall not get into at this time. In fact maybe I will not completely. However, the parking managers were to be set aside for bus lanes. That was another huge problem.

So these four wise men approached Mr Okello with a partnership idea. If Okello would allow his building, Okello House, to be used as security at a bank I will not mention, they would have the necessary funds to procure buses.

According to the revenue sharing agreement, Mr Okello was to receive a percentage of the small revenues generated, another percentage would go the city authority, another percentage to offset the bank loan and whatever was left would be shared equally amongst the interested parties.

According to Mr Okello, he protested. Because what he was being asked to do was in fact an illegality. Okello House had a sitting tenant, the Government of Uganda. What's more, the State House had placed a caveat on this property.

No transactions could be done with it as security because the sitting tenant and the owner had a renewable five year contract agreement. The sitting tenant was a regular paying tenant who never defaulted on payment.

There would be short delays but obligations were being met fully. The property was being maintained by the tenant at the tenant's cost and any renovations were communicated to the landlord for approval.

There were some instances where the tenant refused to accept some changes on the property and the tenant respected this.

There was no bad blood between the tenant and landlord. He felt it was a huge betrayal and per say, the tenant was not a street vendor.

Mr Okello was told to leave the details of that to the wise men. He was told “sign here, and here, and here” and it was done.

In a short period of time, Mr Okello received a generous deposit of $500,000 and was told the loan process was done. Mr Okello had thought that the loan was a little over $5 million. To his surprise, he was informed by insiders in that bank that the loan was $11 million.

Remember, this property is caveated so you will ask yourself how that bank recovered their money. Your guess is as good as mine.

In June 2012, a loyal friend in the military, after reading some of my stories, asked me if I wanted to visit the Pioneer Easy Bus office at Namboole. I quickly, as always, informed my editors at the Daily Monitor and was given a go-ahead.

I carried a hidden camera. The pictures I took are available in the newspaper archives of July 2012. It was an astonishing sight.

I found men and women in short sleeved shirts and those in trousers were required to pull them to knee level.

One section of that office complex was littered with money on the floor. Nobody had shoes or socks on. Each individual was assigned a given currency denomination to count and organise.

Needless to say, it was like a maize sorting shade.

The sharing agreement between Mr Okello, his Old Boy and the other three wise men, went south. Okello was left waiting for dry beans to cook on a charcoal stove.

State House maintains tenancy and at one point payments had stopped because Okello had asked that his other loans be paid for him and something little be sent to him.

The moment this Okello House loan thing became known, Okello was in trouble.

Today, Okello remains lower than an envelope. We thank God that he is still alive. It has been nearly 20 years since his injustices started. It is a miracle because many who fell in times like his have since perished.

______________________________________________________________________

This slightly edited article is taken, with consent, from journalist John Njoroge's musings published on his Facebook page

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