Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze is recuperating at her home in Mukono after undergoing surgery at Manipal Hospital in India. In simple terms, the doctors found that she had suffered spinal compression.
As I speak to her for this article, she sits in a plastic chair outside her house with her back supported by a cushion and keeps springing to her feet at intervals of about five minutes apart. She says standing is her most comfortable position and sleeping her worst.
The doctor advised that she does not sit for long lest she stress her spinal cord and suffer more problems. If she lives by the doctor’s orders to the letter, she has been told, her condition will be much better in three months’ time, although she will not fully recover until two to three years after the surgery.
But even after full recovery, Ms Nambooze says, the consultant who operated on her says she will not be able to do things which stress her back. For now, she may not bend to pick up anything and is not allowed to carry things as light as a handbag.
On November 2, a sedated Nambooze was flown to India for the surgery after being treated for more than a month at Bugolobi Medical Centre in Kampala following an injury she sustained during the fracas in Parliament on September 27, the day Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi tabled the Bill aimed at removing age limitations for presidential candidates.
In what has been recorded as one of the most chaotic weeks in the history of Uganda’s Parliament, MPs opposed to the lifting of the age limit, which will open the door for President Museveni to run again in 2021 by removing the 75-year age cap, had vowed to resist the move and if need be even go physical about it.
Earlier on, Mr Magyezi had been blocked from moving a motion to seek leave of Parliament to draft the Bill. The opposed MPs had disrupted proceedings, ignoring the calls of Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to keep quiet as they repeatedly sang the national anthem.
Tempers flared and threats went flying. Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko had threatened, as the ruling party MPs talked about introducing the Bill, that they would go physical if situations required it, and said they would hit the gymnasium to prepare accordingly.
Ms Nambooze took cue and on one occasion turned up at Parliament dressed in a red tracksuit, taunting Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga by trying to grab his yellow cap off his head as he gave an interview to a television reporter. The atmosphere was toxic.
Was Nambooze targeted?
The architects of the age limit Bill were determined to push through its tabling and were to stop at nothing to achieve it. According to Ms Nambooze’s account, it would appear that a plan was laid out for her and perhaps some other MPs who were deemed troublesome for whatever reason.
Before the Opposition MPs went for any of the sessions, they first held strategy meetings in the office of the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Three days to the day Ms Nambooze was injured in Parliament, she says, the Opposition camp received troubling information.
“They told us that I would have my back broken if I showed up in the Chambers of Parliament that day,” Ms Nambooze says.
But the informant, Ms Nambooze says, did not provide specific information on how she would be harmed, although all the same, they took the information seriously.
“We thought it was our fellow Members from the other side who were planning to harm me,” Ms Nambooze says.
In the strategy meeting they held on the morning of September 27, Ms Nambooze says, the Opposition MPs paid attention to the threat to Ms Nambooze’s life that their informant had provided.
Since they expected the threat to come from the MPs on the government side, it was decided in the strategy meeting that Ms Nambooze would take the back bench on the Opposition side and would not participate in any fighting if hell broke loose.
Three men – Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, Rubaga North MP Moses Kasibante and Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi were assigned to protect Ms Nambooze.
Plan falls apart
But things moved so quickly on the day. Speaker Kadaga, angered by the events of the previous day when opposing MPs had refused to comply with her orders, opened the session by reading out the names of 25 MPs, who she suspended for three consecutive sittings.
Ms Nambooze was among the suspended MPs who Ms Kadaga instructed to vacate the House immediately and moments later adjourned the House for half an hour before instructing the Sergeant-at Arms-to remove the suspended MPs from the House.
Before the tense session commenced, footage had trickled through from Parliament showing men and women walking in single file from an adjacent building into the Parliament building. It was, therefore, clear that the Sergeant-at-Arms would not take charge of the assignment that the Speaker had just handed out.
The strange men and women streamed into the parliamentary Chambers shortly after the Speaker had exited the House and a fight would soon ensue between them and many of the suspended MPs.
Ms Nambooze says she remained glued to her seat, her head an unsettled temple of thoughts. She says six women stood by one of the doors with their gazes fixed on her.
“Hon Kasibante pointed at them and told me ‘those are the women who have come to arrest you’,” Ms Nambooze says. “Kasibante told me he would die with me.”
As the situation got stirred up with MPs and the invaders fighting it out physically, Mr Kyagulanyi appears to have forgotten his assignment, according to Ms Nambooze, and joined in the melee on the Floor. This left Ms Nambooze with only two protectors, Mr Kasibante and Mr Mpuuga.
As time wore on, the six women advanced on Ms Nambooze.
“They (other men) first lifted Hon Mpuuga and took him out of the Chambers, leaving me with only Hon Kasibante for protection,” Ms Nambooze says.
Her captors then had to take on the duo, trying to grab Ms Nambooze from Mr Kasibante’s clutch.
“I fell down and Kasibante fell on top of me,” Ms Nambooze says. “They stepped on him and kicked him but he refused to budge for a long time until they overpowered us and dragged us into the lobby.”
The final assault
In the lobby, Ms Nambooze says, the beatings continued until an officer of parliamentary police intervened and asked the duo to enter a small room.
“The officer told us that we should accept that he had arrested us and sit there, warning that they would harm me if I left the building,” Ms Nambooze says.
When her tormentors saw her tacked away in a room, they went about their other business rounding up other MPs as they kept watch on her. Mr Mpuuga, who had been rounded up earlier, had also been thrown into the same room and set out to calm down Ms Nambooze the moment she was brought in.
Soon afterwards, they brought in Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake, badly beaten. Mr Zaake had been deeply involved in the commotion in the House, and was captured on camera hurling a chair at one of the invaders and as he seemed to go for another, Works State Minister, Gen Katumba Wamula, took him out with a boxer’s punch.
When Mr Zaake was taken into the room gasping for breath, Ms Nambooze says, Mr Mpuuga removed his necktie and untied his shirt buttons.
He then suggested that they take him out of Parliament because he seemed to require urgent medical attention.
The MPs lifted Mr Zaake and headed out, but on their way, according to Ms Nambooze, they ran into Kampala Metropolitan police commander Frank Mwesigwa.
“Mwesigwa yelled at the strange men: Nambooze is escaping, Nambooze is escaping,” Ms Nambooze says. She says she turned to Mr Mwesigwa to find out what he meant by saying that she was escaping yet the order by the Speaker was for them to get out of the House.
But she soon ran out of time as her tormentors arrived, forcing her back inside the building. At some point as she looked the other way, Ms Nambooze says, she felt the firm grips of two people dressed as women, who she says did not seem to be women.
“I could not see them because they held me from behind but the hands were so hairy and I doubt that they were actually women,” Ms Nambooze says.
One of the people, she says, held her by the lower abdomen from the back, with a grip so firm that she says she felt a lot of pain but could not even scream out. This seemed to have gone on for such a long time, she says.
“At some point I felt one of them placing a hard object on my back and pressing so hard and I felt something break. I felt a lot of pain and feared I would die, but still I couldn’t scream,” Ms Nambooze says.
After a while, she says, a female member of the Parliament police showed up to castigate Ms Nambooze’s tormentors.
“She shouted at them: Why are you killing Hon Nambooze?” Do you want to cause us trouble?” Ms Nambooze says. At that moment, she says, her tormentors let go of her, allowing her to fall in a pile.
Road to Kireka
She says she felt sharp pains in her back and by the time they locked her up in the police van outside Parliament, all she wanted was to stand up. But she couldn’t quite stand up in the crammed van in which there was Mr Mpuuga and other MPs.
She says the police van was driven around town and they lost track of where they were, until Mr Mpuuga eventually pointed out that they were somewhere in Industrial Area. That was about three hours later, she says.
Their police driver was “so mean”, Ms Nambooze says, and made it a point to bang the uncomfortable vehicle in whichever pothole he encountered on the way, forcing his captives to bang their heads on the top of the van.
Taken to hospital
At Kireka, Ms Nambooze says, she felt so uncomfortable and asked for medication and to see a doctor, a process which took too long until she was delivered at the hospital in Bugolobi. At the hospital, Ms Nambooze says, she was guarded by two truckfulls of gun-toting police officers for hours.
Even when she was taken into the X-ray room, Ms Nambooze says, there was a gun-wielding policeman to watch over her. But, she says, this all changed when the results of the scan can through, showing that her backbone had been damaged.
“One policeman then came to me and said: We wish you a quick recovery; we are sorry but we are not the ones who did that to you,” Ms Nambooze says. She says the police officers then left the hospital.
Besigye comes in
Focussing on treatment. With a damaged backbone, Ms Nambooze’s focus then had to shift from fighting against the age limit Bill, for which leave to draft had been granted to Mr Magyezi the day she got injured.
She had to focus on treatment and recovery, wondering whether she would ever regain the use of her legs and operate normally.
Opposition activist Kizza Besigye visited her in hospital almost every day “except for the days he was under detention” Ms Nambooze says. A medical doctor by training, Dr Besigye held daily meetings with the doctors, and was against the idea of Ms Nambooze undergoing surgery.
“He only gave in to the surgery when it was proved that a bone was sitting on one nerve and would destroy it,” Ms Nambooze says.
And then the struggle to find the money started. The hospital in India had asked for $20,000 (Shs70m) for the surgery, and Speaker Kadaga confirmed that Parliament would fund the operation when she visited her and was briefed about her situation.
But the processes were taking too long and Ms Nambooze was getting desperate as doctors warned that time was running out. Mr Mpuuga then led a mini fundraising drive, and Ms Nambooze singles out Dr Besigye as one who came in handy.
Parliament provided three air tickets – for Ms Nambooze, her doctor and her husband – to fly to India for treatment. Ms Nambooze says she also needed her daughter to accompany her, and Dr Besigye bought them a fourth ticket.
Then on arriving in India on a Thursday, Ms Nambooze learnt that the money from Parliament had not yet been paid to the hospital and the surgery that had been set for that Saturday could not go ahead. On Sunday, she collapsed as the situation became critical.
Dr Besigye then forked out the $20,000 for the surgery, Ms Nambooze says, and when the Parliament money was eventually sent, it had to cater for other expenses.
In the billing by the hospital, she says, only the money for the surgery had been catered for, yet she would encounter a number of other expenses, including buying drugs, renting an apartment where she stayed for almost two weeks after the surgery, among other things.
Since she returned to Uganda, she says, she has not found a physiotherapist who fits the requirements of her surgeon in India. Apart from being expensive, she says, the physiotherapy regimes on offer in Uganda contradict what her surgeon prescribes.