KAMPALA- The Director General of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), Dr Ambrose Agona has been released after being arrested and quizzed in connection with a land dispute with the Uganda Christian University (UCU) at Ntawo-Mukono.
Dr Agona was arrested by the Aviation Police on Wednesday at Entebbe Airport on orders of the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters and quizzed by the probe team at the National Records and Archives Centre at Wandegeya.
He was arrested moments before flying out of the country for duty.
Naro, a government agency is accused of declining to vacate church land which is registered under UCU Holdings Limited in Mukono, upon expiry of their lease.
Dr Agona, who was accused of defying the Commission orders had been summoned to provide evidence in respect of land in Mukono.
Justice Catherine Bamugemereire who chairs the seven-member Commission said Dr Agona was summoned on March 21 but his office responded that he was going for Easter Holidays.
She said Dr Agona’s arrest resulted from his behaviour towards commission officials in trying to restrain their work which compelled them to issue an arrest warrant against him.
“Mr Director General we are not through with you. We are going to finish with this today but you are going to come back here when we have more information about this [land] and you are going to explain to us why you are still on that land,” said the judge before releasing him.
“The reason why a phone call was made is to notify you that you be on notice,” said Justice Bamugemereire who accused him of abusing his office and acting with impunity.
In a Saturday statement, Naro’s publicist, Ms Charlotte Kemigisha said Dr Agona was not fleeing the country but he was travelling to Kenya for a prescheduled meeting organised by the World Bank/IDA.
She said that Dr Agona was travelling to Kenya in his capacity as Director General of Naro and Board Chairman of the Association for Strengthening agricultural Research on Eastern and Central Africa (Asereca).
“The director general did not ignore repeated summons from the commission as reported. The only notification he had obtained and was in receipt of was a phone call on Tuesday afternoon asking him to appear before the commission the next day. He advised the caller that he had a prescheduled engagement,” Ms Kemigisha said in the statement.
Justice Bamugemereire explained that Dr Agona was arrested for failure to respect the Commission.
Questioned about Naro’s interest in the land at Ntawo, Dr Agona testified that Naro has been paying ground rent and that there is an automatic renewal clause in the lease agreement but when they contacted the university, they were asked to vacate the land.
“…But when you look at the massive investment on the land, and again some of the co-operations made with the Japanese where we have up an investment worth over $10 million, we decided to solve the matter out,” Dr Agona said.
Asked why Naro defied a Memorandum of Understanding signed by his predecessor, the late Emilly Twinamatsiko, Dr Agona testified that the governing council declined to sanction it when it was presented.
He said his predecessor signed the agreement erroneously without the consent of the governing council and that it is the reason they are in court to find a win-win scenario.
According to the memorandum, Naro is required to handover vacant land to UCU Holdings Limited but Dr Agona said that they are using the land optimally.
UCU Holdings Limited, an investment arm of the Church of Uganda founded university filed a complaint before the land probe accusing Naro and other parties including individuals and a minister (of state for Water), Mr Ronald Kibuule of illegally occupying the land.
The Vice Chancellor of UCU, Canon Dr John Ssenyonyi accused the Mukono Zonal Agricultural and Development Initiative, under Naro of refusing to vacate their land upon expiry of their 49 year lease.
He testified that efforts to have the government agency vacate their land have been futile and that, the Uganda Land Commission sued the university and the Church challenging the eviction.
Citing a number of ongoing Court cases and those determined in favour of UCU Holdings Limited, Dr Ssenyonyi testified that in 2016, a mob attacked Anglican bishops who were touring the land forcing them to flee for their safety.
The Commission is investigating into the processes and procedures by which land in Uganda is administered and registered as well as the role and effectiveness of the relevant bodies.