The minister of Information Communication Technology and National guidance, Dr. Baryomunsi, has lived to be embroiled in controversy after death of two prominent Ugandans Cerinah Nebanda and recently Jacob Oulanyah.
Below is what played out in 2012 after the death of Cerinah Nebanda.
• Dr. Baryomunsi narrated prison ordeal
• MPs demanded special sitting
• Lawyer: No more democracy here
The story below was published by The Observer after the death of the then Butaleja woman member of Parliament in 2012. It’s slightly edited in some instances to suit a story retold.
The shock of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda’s passing may have worn off but the tension wasn’t, almost a fortnight after her death.
The government, which was at odds with several MPs over its official report into the cause of Nebanda’s death had taken an unusual but firm approach to controlling the growing wave of tension.
When the government released the autopsy and toxicology report that linked Nebanda’s death to narcotics, several ruling party MPs rejected it, drawing a strong backlash from Government. Police issued summons for five MPs and arrested two – Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central) and Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkiizi East) who disagreed with the official findings.
MPs were held in police custody beyond the constitutionally allowed 48 hours.
“The Constitution says that no one should be held without charge beyond 48 hrs. Uganda is headed for a constitutional crisis unless the current animosity between the executive and legislature is stopped,” said Bruce Kyerere, an independent legal analyst and former president of the Uganda Law Society.
Many critical MPs expressed their anger in speeches they made at the burial of Nebanda, where they rejected the government report. With the two MPs still detained at Kireka and Jinja Road police stations, their colleagues were, collecting signatures to recall Parliament from recess. Kyerere said if MPs raised the required 125 signatures to recall Parliament from recess to discuss the matter it would present a big problem.
“We might have a constitutional crisis if Parliament is called back from recess and condemns the president’s actions and also gives an ultimatum. The disagreements wouldn’t heal and possibly the president would be forced to take over or suspend Parliament. He would be instigating a coup against himself,” Kyerere, said.
He added that it was unfortunate for President Museveni to have said that the speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga should have been questioned about Nebanda’s death. He said there was no pretence anymore that the rule of law and constitutionalism in Uganda had been eroded.
“Every person has a right to agree or disagree. Museveni means every dissenting voice should be quashed. There is no pretension about the rule of law. What Museveni was saying was that every statement made on Nebanda’s death was criminal. That everyone should have gone with what government said.”
While addressing the nation, Museveni said Kadaga should have helped the police with investigations. “If Kadaga knew who killed Nebanda, police would ask her. If she knows what we don’t know, she will [definitely] tell the police and the coroner,” said Museveni, as quoted by The Daily Monitor.
Five other MPs – Dr Sam Lyomoki (Workers), Dr Medard Bitekyerezo (Mbarara municipality), Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Emmanuel Dombo (Bunyole East) and Betty Nambooze (Mukono municipality), were summoned by police in relation to statements they made after Nebanda’s death. To Kyerere, the arrests meant the police were working on the orders of the president, which in itself was unconstitutional.
“The president doesn’t have the powers to order for anyone to be arrested at will. Once that person has been held, he is held as long as he [president] wishes. He will not release them as long as he wishes. We have finally arrived. There is no more pretension on rule of law. It’s now naked,” Kyerere said.
Indeed, The Observer learnt from police that the MPs’ paperwork for their release on bond had been finalized but they (police) were still waiting for “orders from above”.
And whereas their files were forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions for sanctioning of charges, The Observer also learnt that the MPs will most probably be charged with conspiring to steal body samples from the pathology department of Mulago hospital. The charge attracts a three-year jail term.
And because there was suspicion from the public and Nebanda’s family, that government could have had a hand in her death; Kyerere opined that an independent authority should have carried out investigations to get to the bottom of the matter. Museveni had suggested an inquest.
“Government and police were suspects and therefore one could not expect them to investigate themselves. They should given it to a third party who would give an independent opinion. Their statements are pointing in a certain direction. They were covering up something. Can you expect a suspect to be independent? You cannot.”
Baryomunsi spoke out
Baryomunsi told Observer that he would never forget and forgive President Museveni and Police chief Lt Gen Kale Kayihura for causing his arrest during the Christmas holidays and holding him beyond the constitutional 48 hours without any charge.
“I am firm, but I will never forget what the president and the IGP have done [keeping me in police cell; hence, denying me to enjoy Christmas with my family],” he said.
Speaking to The Observer at the Jinja Road police cell, Baryomunsi, who said he was denied a mattress and a mosquito net, described his arrest and the threats to arrest others, as an attack on the institution of parliament, by Museveni.
“It was an attack on parliament,” he said.
Betty Nambooze said she would present herself to police after consulting with her lawyer, Erias Lukwago.
“I am on my way from Kalangala and I have nothing to fear. I have informed the police that I will cooperate with them,” she said.
Baryomunsi said he had been sleeping on a blanket and that he had not eaten police food for fear of being poisoned. He also demanded that his driver and the parliamentary bodyguard be released.
“I was arrested on December 24. Police also arrested my police officer [bodyguard] and driver. They disarmed my bodyguard and whisked him and my driver away. They [Police] tried to drive my car, but they failed. …,” Baryomunsi said.
“Those two [bodyguard and driver] must be released,” Baryomunsi said. He commended the officers at Jinja road police station for being “professional”.
“They are professional,” he said.
Wearing a checked oversize shirt, grey trousers and blue slippers, Baryomunsi said police allowed his family to bring in food for Christmas, and that he had since refused to take any food from police. Baryomunsi added that he was not sure whether he would be released soon because courts were on holiday and would return on January 7, 2013.
One of his lawyers, Abdu Katuntu [Bugweri] told Observer that when he asked police why Baryomunsi was still in custody, they could not produce a substantive charge sheet but rather alluded to the fact that “someone above” told them to keep him in the cells.
Busiro East MP Medard Sseggona said they would not sit back and watch as the president insults Parliament, including Speaker Rebecca Kadaga.
“He [Museveni] believes that he is the only person who is right. So let us the idiots sit down, deliberate and find a way forward,” said Sseggona, one of those who spearheaded the collection of signatures to recall Parliament from recess.
While addressing journalists, Museveni labelled the MPs who were insinuating that government played a role in the death of Nebanda as ‘idiots and fools.’
Sseggona said that as at that time, they had collected 20 signatures––meaning they were 105 signatures short of causing a special sitting.
Constitutionally, a petition to the Speaker, signed by one third of the entire parliament, (in this case 125 MPs), is enough to recall the MPs from their recess. Other MPs involved in this effort included Mathias Mpuuga, Roland Mugume, Joseph Ssewungu (Kalungu West) and Hamson Obua (Ajuri).
Dr. Chris Baryomunsi is currently serving in president Tibihaburwa government.
Kale Kayihura, the then Inspector General of Police was dropped from that post and replaced by his deputy Okoth Ochola.