23 December 2012

Uganda: MPs in Poison Panic

Family of late legislator dismiss government's preliminary autopsy ( Resource: Uganda's Late Legislator's Mother Refutes Report

Following the death of Cerinah Nebanda, MPs critical of the government would rather starve than eat at places they are not sure about

Some MPs, particularly those deemed critical of the government, are living in fear after this month's sudden death of their colleague Cerinah Nebanda under unclear circumstances. In the wake of the Butaleja Woman MP's death, several MPs now question whatever they eat, where it comes from, and who serves it. They are eaten up by the fear of being poisoned.

"Where will I eat? I have spent the whole day without eating anything. I don't know who can give me something to eat if it is not coming from my wife," Lwemiyaga County MP Theodore Ssekikubo was overheard lamenting on Tuesday.

Ssekikubo was talking to his colleagues Henry Musasizi (Rubanda East), Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East), Michael Mawanda (Igara East) and Freda Mubanda (Masaka Woman) at Parliament. Nebanda was one of the ruling party MPs labelled "rebels" for so often taking positions that were contrary to the wishes of their party, NRM. This label has also been applied to Ssekikubo, Niwagaba and Kampala Central's Muhammad Nsereko, among others.

"Are we safe? Who is going next? Who is killing us? Who should I trust?" Ssekikubo asked his colleagues.

Some "rebel" MPs are reportedly trying to change their drivers and/or restrict their interaction with strangers to enhance their security. On Tuesday, Masaka Woman MP, Freda Mubanda, seemed particularly worried.

"I don't know what we are going to do because this situation is very scary," Mubanda told Ssekikubo.

Although she is considered a moderate in the NRM, Mubanda exhibited her rebellious streak two weeks ago during the NRM caucus meeting when she voted against President Museveni's view on the controversial clause 9 of the just-passed oil bill. Responding to Mubanda, Ssekikubo advised her and other colleagues to stop eating from public places, to restrict their movements, and tighten security at their residences.

The Observer has learnt that the MPs are planning a special meeting of all alternative voices in the NRM, who Ssekikubo now believes are possible targets.

"Sseki... I think we should abandon that hotel we have been using," Niwagaba said, to which Ssekikubo responded, "It is for us to be aware that we are being targeted by many elements."

Another independent-minded NRM lawmaker, Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West), said he had been getting threats over his work, adding that Nebanda's death had confirmed to him some people are after his life and that of his colleagues.

"The views we are advancing have made us victims and our friend has so far paid the price," said Tinkasiimire, who told The Observer that he had reported the threats to security agencies.

Recently, Makindye West MP Hussein Kyanjo, who has been ill since March, said he feared he could have been poisoned. He said poisoning was one of the causes of Dystonia of the tongue, the disease afflicting him.

"Medical doctors examined the cause and poisoning was the only option left to have caused this," Kyanjo said.

In honour of Nebanda during a special parliamentary session last Friday, Kyanjo strongly urged fellow MPs to be careful with their life because bad-intentioned people are itching to finish them off.

"Sorry I'm not going to explain to you in details because I'm weak but my heart is with everybody, but be careful with your life, be careful with the small snacks, be careful with everybody..." he said.

The junior minister for Primary Health Care, Sarah Opendi, had a word of caution too. "Members, safeguard your life jealously and don't trust anybody around you".

However, in an earlier interview with The Observer MP Niwagaba said people had lost trust in the government largely because: "...they have been threatening us and maybe if they rebut this by telling us what led to the death of Nebanda..."

However, Bufumbira East MP Eddie Kwizera was more cautious. "We should not just move with public opinion. We need the facts and this can only be got from thorough investigations of the death and other threats," he said.

Kwizera added that attacks on lawmakers could not only come from the executive. "We examine actions of many people, including private companies. So, they can also form the intention of killing us if we make laws or resolutions that affect them. So, it is only wise for all my colleagues to be careful with their security," he said.

Canteen changes

The MPs' fears come at a time when the security at Parliament has just been strengthened after the Parliamentary Commission upgraded the former police station to a directorate. When we contacted the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Lemmy Twinomugisha, who currently heads the directorate, he refused to give us a comment.

"I am not ready for that," he told The Observer.

However, Ssekikubo says the development doesn't count for much.

"Nebanda was killed, where were they to protect her?"

Despite their fears, the MPs have vowed to remain resolute in their work.

"Even if they kill some of us or intimidate us, we shall continue to advocate for good governance and democracy," Niwagaba said.

The Observer understands that the Parliament canteen has stopped giving packed food to lawmakers. "Everyone wants a buffet and some have even stopped taking tea from here," said a canteen worker.

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