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

In October 2011, the Anti-Corruption Court was the scene of tears and drama as former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya was sent to Luzira Prison after he was committed to the High Court for trial and his bail cancelled. Prof Bukenya was charged with abuse of office for his role in the award of a deal worth Shs9.4b to supply 204 executive vehicles four years earlier during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to Motorcare. Sunday Monitor’s Richard Wanambwa reviews Chapter 11 of his book In the Corridors to Power in which the Busiro North MP narrates his experience of being sent to jail, and life in prison.

Sunday June 1 2014

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.

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