Thursday August 25 2016

Telling the story: The day I met the Chief Justice

By RAYMOND MUJUNI

He had seen the events at Makindye court and they were stomach-churning. He had seen the men raise manila charts written in seamless handwriting shouting obscenities at his subordinates. He turned in his seat. He knew he had to act fast so he ordered his men to drive him back to Kampala ending a three-day judicial tour of Mbarara on just his fourth hour.

He was the Chief Justice after all. He had the power in him to make a statement and if he did, he believed he would restore a level of faith in the judiciary. He rehearsed his speech, line after line as he drove back to Kampala.

The Chief Justice Bart Katureebe has his office at the High Court building in the city centre. The Indians built almost everything around this place; their architecture dressed the Grand Imperial Hotel that stared at the office from across, the Constitution Square and The Central Police station.

The centre, by its location is one of the city’s busiest places. Honking horns chorus each other to the sound of raving engines in immovable jam. That day, our car was tucked in between the jam but we were still an hour away from the 10am appointment he had given us. We were not worried.

My nerves were up though. What would he reply to my questions? Would he give me the perfect bytes I needed for my story? Does he like being interviewed anyway?

The Chief Justice is one of the most powerful persons in the country. Yet since his appointment, he had never offered an interview. He had, on occasion, held press conferences. He did love the media though; my first handshake with him was when he handed over an award to me at the National Journalism Awards.

We arrived at the court and walked to his office that was three flights up the left wing of the High Court. Gold-plate letters reading ‘CHIEF JUSTICE’ stuck to a heavy wooden door that ushered you to a deep red carpet. His lobby was small, four chairs and a see-through barricade that protected his secretary.

There were calendars of the judiciary that hadn’t been turned since February, hanging from it. A spread of stapled newspapers of the day lay on the table. I was still getting acquainted to the room when, from behind another door, I heard a voice saying, “Let them in”.

When the door opened, he was there, framing a little fatter than I had imagined him. He had a clean chin with strands of white short hair. He didn’t look us in the eye, pointing us to a seat. His attention was fixed onto a paper he was writing on with a gold-tip pen.

“Let me attend to you shortly,” he muttered as we got to setting up the camera.

A portrait of President Museveni rested on a cabinet of his law books, parted by a coat of arms. To its right was his portrait. He had copies of the Constitution on his table and library and the interview would reveal, he knew the contents by heart.

“We must choose as a country to be governed by mobs or by the rule of law,” he said, in an irked tone as he banged down on a paper.
“We have a government in this country for Christ’s sake,” he said, his anger far from dissipating.

A mob of protesters had just a day before the interview laid siege to a court in Makindye demanding that the Inspector General of Police be excused from a private prosecution on charges of torture. The charges had arisen after a video showed police and military men caning supporters of Besigye as he returned home after a 90-day holding in prison.

“We shall not put on police uniforms to enforce orders of court, government must do its job,” he added.

He was furious. You could read it in his eyes and through his lips. He was furious that the arm of government he headed had come under attack by a mob of rogues.

When the interview was done, he sat back in his leather chair, sighing a bit, wondering and then saying, “We have come from far as a country… We don’t deserve this barbarism of rogues at court”.
We shared some light moments and were eventually ushered out. On the way back to office, many thoughts kept ringing in my head but one particular one stood out: “The Chief Justice has spoken!”

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