The shock of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda's passing may be wearing off but the tension isn't, almost a fortnight after her death. The government, which is at odds with several MPs over its official report into the cause of Nebanda's death has taken an unusual but firm approach to controlling the growing wave of tension.
When the government last weekend 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 on Monday issued summons for five MPs and arrested two - Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central) and Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkiizi East) who disagreed with the official findings.
By press time the MPs had spent at least three days in custody, detention that is illegal.
"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 last Sunday, where they rejected the government report. With the two MPs still detained at Kireka and Jinja Road police stations, their colleagues were, by yesterday, still 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 won't heal and possibly the president will be forced to take over or suspend Parliament. He will be instigating a coup against himself," Kyerere, said.
He added that it was unfortunate for President Museveni to say the speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga should be questioned about Nebanda's death. He said there was no pretence anymore that the rule of law and constitutionalism in Uganda has 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 is saying is that every statement made on Nebanda's death is criminal. That everyone should go with what government says."
While addressing the nation on Monday, Museveni said Kadaga should help the police with investigations. "If Kadaga knows who killed Nebanda, police will 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), have been 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 is 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 today 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 has 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 is 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 carry out investigations to get to the bottom of the matter. Museveni has suggested an inquest.
"Government and police are suspects and therefore you cannot expect them to investigate themselves. They should give it to a third party who should give an independent opinion. Their statements are pointing in a certain direction. They are covering up something. Can you expect a suspect to be independent? You cannot."
Baryomunsi speaks out:
Baryomunsi told us today 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 says 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 is an attack on parliament," he said.
Betty Nambooze told us 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 has been sleeping on a blanket and that he has 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 has since refused to take any food from police. Baryomunsi added that he is not sure whether he will be released soon because courts are on holiday and will return on January 7, 2013.
One of his lawyers, Abdu Katuntu [Bugweri] told us that when he asked police why Baryomunsi is 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 spearheading the collection of signatures to recall Parliament from recess.
On Monday while addressing journalists, Museveni labelled the MPs who are insinuating that government played a role in the death of Nebanda as 'idiots and fools.'
Sseggona said that as of yesterday 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 include Mathias Mpuuga, Roland Mugume, Joseph Ssewungu (Kalungu West) and Hamson Obua (Ajuri).