6 January 2013

Uganda: Museveni Names Nebanda Inquest

Nearly three weeks after Cerinah Nebanda's mysterious death at 24, a President Museveni-sanctioned inquest into her controversial demise is finally beginning to get off ground.

Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki has appointed the head of the Anti-corruption Court, Paul Mugamba, to lead the inquest, days after police arrested the key suspect in her death Suleiman Adam Kalungi.

"He will be heading the committee that is going to inquire," Information Minister Mary Karooro Okurut told The Observer at the weekend. Karooro could not divulge names of the other members of the committee or the terms of reference. But, according to the Inquest Act, the committee holding the inquest "shall have and may exercise all the powers of a court with regard to summoning and compelling the attendance of witnesses and requiring them to give evidence."

Kalungi told NTV at the weekend that the fallen MP took narcotic drugs, before developing complications that led to her being hospitalised and eventual death. Kalungi said he returned home to find Nebanda had taken the drugs the wrong way, and tried to save her life by taking her to various health facilities. It also emerged at the weekend that President Museveni intends to speak with Kalungi.

A source familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the president wanted to interview Kalungi, who has been on the run since Nebanda's death. The Observer was, however, unable to independently confirm this. Minister Karooro Okurut said she was unaware of the planned interrogation, while presidential spokesman Tamale Mirundi did not return our phone calls.

The president has been a keen follower of events surrounding the Butaleja Woman MP's death. Shortly after Nebanda was pronounced dead at Mukwaya General clinic, Museveni is reported to have called the health centre, inquiring about the death and the staffing situation at the clinic that evening. Museveni is now locked in a pitched battle with Parliament, after the government blocked parallel pathological tests to establish the cause of death. The fallout over the death of Nebanda presented a difficult challenge for the NRM leadership.

Some ruling party MPs have since been arrested and Speaker Rebecca Kadaga questioned by police for largely disputing the findings of the official government autopsy report that linked Nebanda's death to alcohol and drugs abuse

Kalungi's arrest

In the wee hours of Friday, the deputy director of the police Criminal Investigations directorate Geoffrey Musana received an unexpected call. It was from his boss, Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura.

"The IGP talked to me and ordered me to lead a team of detectives to Malaba (border). He said that Kenyan police was bringing Kalungi to Uganda to hand him over. So, I went to receive him," Musana told The Observer in an interview at his office in Kireka.

This was good news for the police after it was severally condemned by MPs for its poor handling of the investigation. An autopsy and toxicology report released by government from a UK private firm, ROAR Forensics, linked the cause of the MP's death to alcohol, and narcotic drugs. Since Nebanda's death on December 14, 2012, Kalungi has been a prize suspect.

Police insists that Kalungi is the one person who knows, and must explain the events and circumstances of Nebanda's death; it was from Kalungi's apartment in Buziga, Kampala, that Nebanda was rushed to the clinic where she was pronounced dead. Police first arrested his colleagues Abdi Rashid Bott and his wife Rehema, Ali Omara Ali Muzahim, Ibrahim Mohammed and Richard Syauswa.

Kayihura revealed last week that police asked International Police (Interpol) to issue a red notice to Interpol member states seeking the arrest and extradition of Kalungi. He said Kenyan police tracked Kalungi and arrested him in Mombasa after fleeing Uganda on December 14. He was handed over by a team of Kenyan police officers to a team of Uganda officers led by Musana at Malaba border post.

Kalungi is now the most heavily-guarded suspect at the Special Investigations Unit in Kireka. When he was brought out of a holding cell, four police officers walked alongside him. Handcuffed and dressed in a grey t-shirt, distressed jeans and red slippers, Kalungi kept his eyes fixed to the ground in solemn reflection. He walked into a heavily-guarded room. He stood beside a wall and looked across the room.

Police did not allow him to say anything. He maintained a calm face, the charges awaiting him notwithstanding. When he walked back into the interrogation room filled with detectives, journalists chased after him but police officers shoved them away. He sat at the front of the table with his arms still handcuffed. Kalungi started what was to be a long interrogation that would shed some light into the circumstances leading to Nebanda's death.

An insider told The Observer that Kalungi's file will be forwarded to the directorate of public prosecutions today, Monday for perusal. The DPP, the source says, is likely to prefer charges related to manslaughter or being in possession of narcotics. Kalungi's testimony will not only give insight into the last hours of Nebanda's life and how she met her death, it could also help calm tensions between police, government and parliament and Nebanda's family who have continued to speculate on what could have really killed her. Many now believe she was poisoned and have rejected the government autopsy report.

MPs speak

Kampala MP Muhammad Nsereko, who was arrested for allegedly inciting violence at Nebanda's burial, was unusually reserved, when The Observer spoke to him on Saturday.

"All I can say is that whoever killed Nebanda should be brought to book," Nsereko said.

Kinkiizi East MP Chris Baryomunsi, who was also arrested, said: "I hope that [he] will be able to give correct and genuine information that will help us to know what killed Honourable Nebanda. Besides, we just hope that the police will be able to answer who killed Nebanda, why and what was the motive. What were the circumstances?"

Additional reporting by Zurah Nakabugo.

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