Sunday June 1 2014

Bukenya: I couldn’t imagine it was me going to jail

Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala paid a visit to Bukenya on his fourth day

Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala paid a visit to Bukenya on his fourth day in jail. Bukenya says he could not believe that the prelate had visited him. Illustration by Alex Kwizera 

By Richard Wanambwa

The former Vice President, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, in his latest book In the Corridors to Power narrates how he ended up in Luzira prison and how upon arriving at Luzira, he would abandon his name and use prison inscribed number on his uniform, as his new name.

Bukenya starts narrating events at Anti-Corruption Court leading to cancellation of bail and finally being booked into “university of understanding”.

“On the day of appeal, the magistrate made no hesitation before announcing: “The accused person is hereby committed to the High Court. His bail elapses, you are remanded to custody,” Bukenya narrates.

He says he was in “legal limbo” since the bail from the Magistrate’s Court was no longer effective as the case had been committed to the High Court and there was no judge at that very moment to preside over.

He says as he stepped out of the court room, he was still half hearted waiting for someone to tell him that this had been a mistake. He says he felt as though he was watching someone else’s body being hurriedly rushed outside of the court and into a vehicle.

“I had seen this very scene so many times on television before a stern –looking man surrounding by a worried looking legal team shielding his face from cameras and journalists with irritation but I never expected to be the man at the centre of it all” Bukenya writes.

He says outside court, there was disorganisation and scrambling over how he would be transferred to prison as people were yelling back and forth. It was decided that he should be driven in his official vehicle but his diver, Mathias, refused to surrender the keys to prison wardens.

A fight ensued between prison wardens with Mathias but Mathias won as he drove him to Luzira under tight security. He says all the way to Luzira he felt the rock in his stomach sank deeper as he realised that nothing about his life or his identity was in his own hands at that point.

“Though I felt cold, a sweat began to run through my body as I marvelled at how quickly my life had changed into unfamiliar state. I felt like a strange, terrible dream. But as we approached the main entrance of Luzira prison, I saw that a crowd had gathered.

They were shouting “Bukenya guma tolina musango, bakubonyabonya era tukuwagila” meaning “Bukenya don’t worry, you have no case and we support you”.
Bukenya says this was one of the moments that distracted him for a brief second from the destination. He says after entering the gate, he stepped out of the car unarmed but was met with a wall of policemen with guns pointed at him ready to shoot; his confusion and disorientation spiralled into anger.

“I turned to them with annoyance, then turned to their boss and asked him, “What are you doing? If you want to shoot, shoot me here if you so wish” I didn’t know what came over me when I said this; my body surged with rage that I had just been put on the other end of the gun, as if I were a dangerous madman intent on hurting others.”

Heavy blow
Bukenya says he was hit by loneliness the moment his driver Mathias dropped him and drove off as the saddest point because he had been abandoned alone ready to face another world all together. He says at that moment, he had to compose himself and accept to be escorted by prison warders into prison cells.

“I turned to Mathias. I knew what he was thinking as he had been my driver for the last 12 years. I could see him hesitating greatly, unsure of what to say or whether to leave at all. He looked at me with so much regret in his face, as if he were apologising for abandoning me. I wanted so much to avoid showing my worry, so I told him to get into my official vehicle and drive off,” Bukenya writes.

He continues: “I watched the vehicle disappear out past the gates and turn off onto the main road. Seeing it pull away, I was hit with an immense sense of loneliness. Though I was completely surrounded by people, they were all strangers. I stood with my back to the prison for as long as I could before the prison officers turned me around to escort me inside”

Bukenya says as he walked towards the prison doors, thoughts were racing within him saying “suspend the old you. You cannot fight this. Don’t panic. But he struggled to engage his mind with other things, knowing that he has somehow remained above fear. He says he was led into several gates and at every gate. he was subjected to body checks.

“They whisked me to a small, simple office where I met two prison wardens who would be the men I spoke to the most for the rest of my time in prison. The man closest to me stared silently as I approached them. His first words were, “Those clothes you are wearing will be taken away from you, along with all of your property” my only property was a watch that I had on” Bukenya narrates.

He continues: “You will put on a prisoner’s uniform, the tailor is coming now to take your measurements and when the uniform is ready, you will go through the process of being admitted into prison.” That man’s name was Sentalo, meaning wars in my language. He spoke with militarism that disarmed me.

As Sentalo was recording my credentials, he looked up at me and said the sentence that I have etched permanently in my memory: “You are no longer called Gilbert Bukenya. Your new name will be RU4695/2011.” He asked me to rehearse my new name, as that was the only one that I would answer to during my stay; Gilbert Bukenya was, in this prison now a useless name.

Bukenya says if there ever was a moment of uncertainty then, this was one because he felt most powerless, it was this very moment that his name had been taken away, replaced with an identity that was nothing but a number. Bukenya says by the time it was approaching 4pm, he was tired, hungry and thirsty but refused to let himself think about it.

“I needed to prepare my body for anything and I wanted to remain in control of how it felt. My yellow uniform arrived and Sentalo ordered me to replace my clothes with it. After changing into the uniform, I was escorted to my new residence, Ward 16, Room Number two, someone had proposed that I stay in a single room which I refused .

Earlier on, someone had warned me that when you stay alone in a cell here, you could be poisoned at night through food, medicines or injections”

Bukenya further explains that he did not know whether this was true or not but he was inclined to find out. So he found out that Room Two had two other roommates but previously used as a sickbay.

“My roommates were Mr Binaisa, a son of late President Binaisa who had been charged with defilement, and Mr Onani who worked previously as a PGB officer and later as an Intelligence Officer in the Special Forces (Special Protection unit of the President).

Another prisoner who had come up to great me afterwards whispered to me, “Be very careful with Onani.” Another man gave me the same warning as before, “Do not allow to be injected or someone to take off blood from you. “He whispered, “People have died after injection here.”

Prof Bukenya says the above two warnings kept him awake all the time he spent in Luzira because he was paranoid and nervous.

“So when two people who appeared to be medical assistants entered my room and announced that they were there to take my blood, I obviously did not greet them warmly. I refused to let them near me with any needles.”

Bukenya says on the fourth day of his stay at Luzira, he was informed that he had been thrown out of Parliament on charges of vote rigging. He says he could not recall the state of mind he was in if it wasn’t for the visitors who comforted him.
He says he was much relieved when Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala paid him a visit.

“On the fourth day, a guard strode into my cell and announced that someone had come to see me: Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala accompanied by Ms Kimbowa and Rev Father Dr Sensawo. I turned my head up in disbelief.

The head of the Catholic Church was here in Luzira to visit me, I could not believe it. As I entered the waiting room, the Cardinal turned to me and smiled.” Bukenya narrates.

He adds: “He was about 84 years old at that time, yet his frame was strong and his energy palpable. He simply asked me, “How are you? Are you okay? I breathed heavily and told him honestly, “I am fine physically, mentally, I am thinking too much.”
I was ashamed to be seen by the prelate in a prison uniform, but sat by my side nonetheless, he put his hands on my shoulder and said in low voice, “Gilbert, don’t worry. You are going to be out of this” with these words, the comfort I had been feeling turned, before I even knew it was happening into tears.

I was simply overwhelmed. When he saw that I was breaking down, he said quietly, “Let us pray.” He stood, took me through a prayer and after praying he said I must go but be strong. You will come out of this.”

Bukenya says the next day, he was visited by the Archbishop of Kampala Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga before he knew, the Kabaka of Buganda had sent two of his ministers from Mengo who delivered a personal letter from the Kabaka. The following day, was proceeded by the visit by Prince David Wasajja.

“The Kabaka of Buganda had two to deliver a handwritten note from his. I read it over and over and I told the ministers that I would not yet give them my answer. I wanted to think deeply about it before I sent my reply. In the note, the king said “Gilbert, I am with you even at your worst time. “ The next day he sent his young brother, Prince (Omulangira) David Wasajja who consoled me and lifted my spirit higher still.”