The Observer (Kampala)

19 December 2012

Uganda: Lawmakers Fight At Nebanda Funeral

Special sitting to pay tribute to the late Butaleja Woman MP - Cerinah Nebanda brew storm after MPs learnt of the arrest of an Independent ... ( Resource: Session Turns Stormy Over Late Uganda Legislator

The Sunday evening family church service for the late Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda began like any other - with mourners queuing and walking past the casket placed inside her parent's sitting room to view the body.

The only sign of things to come was delivered by an order chasing all cameras and anything that looked like a journalist. Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko is accused of having masterminded the move to chase away the media. Several MPs, who had thronged Nebanda's home in Kitubulu, Entebbe, helped with the organisation, including physically erecting tents.

Nebanda's mother sat in one of the white tents and kept saying, "They have killed my daughter" and that, "if [police boss] Kayihura dares come here, I will undress." She added: "Is Kayihura a doctor? Why did he rush to Nsambya after my daughter had been pronounced dead?"

The root cause of this tense atmosphere were two headlines in the newspapers, and other media reports attributed to the police, which suggested that late Nebanda could have died of alcohol and drugs. Although Kayihura faced the prospect of being publicly humiliated, he quietly walked in and sat in the tent next to Nebanda's mother and occasionally rested his head in the right palm.

Some men near the entrance, who included Nebanda's cousin, Ronnie, could be seen throwing their hands in the air, protesting what appeared to be a suggestion as to how to handle the service by former EALA member, Lydia Wanyoto Mutende. Wanyoto had become the MC under unclear circumstances. Some mourners whispered that she had been assigned to shield the government from the mourners' rage.

It didn't go down well when it emerged that Wanyoto had told the family that a committee set up by Parliament was the only one permitted to clear any MP intending to speak at this family service. Eventually, what started as a quiet service exploded into life with the beginning of speeches.

First, the MC Wanyoto invited all ministers present, including Idah Nantaba, Barbara Nekesa, David Wakikona (state ministers for Lands, Karamoja and Trade, respectively) to introduce themselves but they ended up delivering short speeches. Next were MPs who preferred to be introduced as a group since they were many.

Then came Nebanda's uncle, Mr Mukasa. He warned that the ceremony was a family service and they reserved the right to choose who speaks. This appeared to be a quick response to Wanyoto. In fact, Mukasa temporarily relieved Wanyoto of her duties which he took over himself.

He explained that for all the time they have been with Nebanda, she didn't consume alcohol or abuse drugs. He demanded that the government orders New Vision to apologise to the family for making that claim. He called Nebanda's cousin Ronnie to explain what he had seen inside the postmortem room.

Ronnie narrated how he had jumped into the Police ambulance that carried Nebanda's body from Nsambya to Mulago.

"VIPs are usually kept at the Anatomy department at the Medical School; why did they first take Nebanda to the general mortuary?" he asked.

He revealed that after they locked up the body at the Anatomy department, he refused to leave.

"There was police but we also decided to spend a night there."

Ronnie revealed that when the body was finally opened, the only stomach contents were some rice particles and beans.

"But you have heard them [police] say that she had taken chips and chicken. Because she was big they think she could only have eaten chips and chicken," Ronnie said.

There was no drug or alcohol, he added. He claimed that one of the professors who had taken part in the post mortem operation described what killed Nebanda "as a new one we have not seen."

Ronnie, who kept complaining against the press reports and demanding action from a quiet Kayihura, then invited Dr Chris Baryomunsi to explain what he had seen during the postmortem. Baryomunsi, the Kinkiizi East MP, and a parliamentary commissioner, explained that preliminary findings had ruled out any natural cause of death.

He explained that samples picked from Nebanda would be flown to South Africa by Parliament for further tests. However, the pathologist was arrested at Entebbe International airport on Tuesday with the samples.

It appears President Museveni had been monitoring the speeches at the service, even if he was not present. He immediately rang Baryomunsi after his speech. Those who sat near Baryomunsi said they heard him answer, "Yes, Your Excellency," before vanishing to take the call.

Dr Baryomunsi was later overheard telling fellow commissioner Emmanuel Dombo that the President was grilling him over his speech, asking since when had he become part of the police to begin releasing postmortem reports. It was now the turn of Nebanda's mother to speak. She didn't strip before Kayihura as she had threatened but she poured out her heart.

"I have two wounds; the death of my daughter and the police fabrications that she died of alcohol and drugs," she started.

"Kayihura, tell me something I have not known; have you been moving out with my daughter and buying her alcohol? Why didn't you tell us?" As she spoke, she surged nearer Kayihura. And with the light of a video camera focusing at him, Kayihura looked scared but remained composed.

She then thanked mourners and defended the conduct of her daughter. Nebanda's uncle then invited Kayihura to speak. The IGP, who was dressed in a black leather jacket, began by describing Nebanda's uncle as his friend. He then said he could understand the tension.

"This reminds me of the death of Brig Noble Mayombo," he said without elaborating.

If this was meant to soften the tension, it inflamed it as the mourners heckled him. Just midway through the IGP's speech, Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze Bakireke shouted at him, labelling him a liar. This angered NRM MPs sitting next to Nambooze.

The MPs, who included George Stephen Ekuma (Bukedea), Evelyn Chelangat Tete (Bukwo Woman), and Saleh Kamba (Kibuku), shouted back at Nambooze. One MP even threatened to slap her, prompting Kyadondo East MP, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, to leap to her defence.

An angry Nambooze labelled one of the MPs stupid, further inflaming the situation. Busiro East MP, Medard Sseggona, jumped up and sat between Nambooze and the angry NRM MPs in order for peace to prevail. Emmanuel Dombo, who at one time acted as the MC, ran towards his colleagues and pleaded with them in vain as the shouting match threatened to degenerate into physical confrontation.

Dombo again picked the microphone from Kayihura and pleaded with the bickering politicians to at least honour their colleague, whose body had now been brought into one of the tents. That is when some sanity was restored. After his speech, Kayihura disappeared into the crowd.

Before that, he had received a call from President Museveni and after answering it, he told Ronnie, Nebanda's cousin, that the President wanted to meet the two (he and IGP) the following morning. It was now approaching 10pm. Nebanda's uncle announced that Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and Nambooze would be some of the speakers.

New minister of state for Lands, Nantaba, protested and was unfortunate to be overheard by Nebanda's mother.

"Nantaba, all Nebanda's friends will speak. If you are in hurry, you can pick your bags and leave, okay?" she told the minister.

Nantaba obliged and left, joined by a host of other NRM MPs, with one retorting: "We have left everything for Nambooze."

Then it was Muhammad Nsereko, the Kampala Central MP's turn. After his speech, in which he accused the state of murdering Nebanda, he announced a demonstration in case no report is produced by Tuesday. Nsereko then paraded MPs he said had the same steel as the late Nebanda.

These included Moses Kasibante, Wilfred Niwagaba, Medard Sseggona, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, Theodore Ssekikubo, Mariam Nalubega and Betty Nambooze. After his lengthy speech, he temporarily hijacked the role of MC, allowing each of the MPs he had introduced to speak.

The service was almost turned into a political rally or a Parliament session, as some MPs demanded an apology from the state. Towards midnight, some sobriety returned to the funeral.

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