The demolition of St Peter’s Church in Ndeeba, a Kampala suburb, has kicked up a storm that has sucked in several police officers and a dozen other people, and is threatening to take more casualties after State House intervention.
The demolition comes on the backdrop of a June 6, 2019 ruling by High Court judge Eudes Keitirima, who said Church of Uganda trustees fraudulently acquired the land where the church sits.
He directed the cancellation of the title that had been in the names of Bishop Dunstan Nsubuga, Rev Y.S Kitaka and one E Kitaka who were trustees of Namirembe Diocese on the land.
The court also ruled that the names of the three trustees were also fraudulently entered onto a special title.
Court said there was no evidence showing that Nsubuga and Rev Kitaka had ever owned St Peter’s church land.
In the verdict, the judge cited testimony of Bishop Nsubuga’s widow who denied having any interest in the contested land and even wondered how the deceased got registered on the land title.
Following the court ruling, the 40-year-old church was on Sunday night demolished. The land also housed a garage and a school.
Initially the land was registered in the names of Evelyn Nachwa and in her August 2, 1980 will, stated that her son John Kajoba would take it over.
The church had been on the said land since 1975. In 2007, Nacwa’s children raised concern over the church’s possession of the land.
The church, in its defence before court, acknowledged that Nacwa was the registered owner until March 3, 1981, but the ownership later shifted to the former.
The church denied forging the signatures of Bishop Nsubuga, Kizito and Rev Kitaka.
“The church also contended that through St Peter’s Ndeeba, it has been in possession of the suit land since 1981 and it has carried out several developments,” the judgement reads.
However, court ruled that there was nothing on the title to show the land belonged to the church.
The judge said the church Synod could not appoint Lucy Nsubuga without complying with the act.
Justice Keitirima said the three members of the clergy were, therefore, registered individually as proprietors and not trustees. He noted that it is strange that Nacwa would gift the church with the land and retain the duplicate certificate and apply for a special title.
“Fraud is such a grotesque monster that the courts should hound whenever it rears its head and wherever it seems to take cover behind any legislation. The transfer of the suit land (from Nachwa) is clearly tainted with fraud which court cannot condone,” the judge ruled.
Justice Keitirima further ruled that it was fraudulent to transfer the land to Nsubuga, Kitaka and Kizito. He ordered the church to vacate the land and return it to the administrator of Nachwa estate.
To reinforce the August 6, 2019 ruling, Justice Keitirima issued an order on July 10, 2020, ordering for vacation of the land.
“Once a party is declared rightful owner of the suit, he or she is given vacant possession of the same. If she or he found there structures, he or she is at liberty to demolish them,” he ruled.
On July 30, permit issued by the acting director of physical planning, Mr Ivan Katongole, approved the demolition.
“The demotion shall be carried out during weekends and off peak hours, to a kid interruption of traffic and other businesses within the vicinity,” he wrote.
Namirembe Diocese Bishop Wilberforce Kityo Luwalira said it was ridiculous that a church was put down during curfew at around 11pm.
Church speaks out
“Shocking details emerged that electricity was put off in the entire area during the time of putting down the church. The clergy house was also heavily guarded by police,” he said.
“The Diocese of Namirembe strongly condemns this evil act of putting down the temple of God, which has existed for more than 40 years. It is rumoured that the land is to be taken over by an investor who intends to replace the house of God with a hotel,” Bishop Luwalira added in a statement.
The demolition has since sparked a storm and caused arrests. Lands minister Betty Kamya said: “All those involved would be dealt with decisively because their actions were terror intended and causing hate against government.” Three police officers, including Katwe Division Police Commander David Epedu, three of his juniors and 11 others have been arrested on orders of Kampala Metropolitan Police commander Moses Kafeero.
Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago said he would petition Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga about the demolition. He called on police to punish their commanders who oversaw the demolition.
Vice President Edward Ssekandi visited the site yesterday but made no comment.
It is located in Ndeeba, south of Kampala in Lubaga Division and is said to have existed since 1975.
It was started by Christians, many of whom used to congregate at the nearby Katwe Martyrs Church.
It falls under the jurisdiction of Namirembe Diocese. Threats about the church’s demolition started in March when St Peter’s Primary School affiliated to it and some other structures were demolished.
As a result, children were gathered into two tents where at least five classes had been created. There was no space from one class to another and there were competing voices from three teachers who were teaching.
Ms Grace Namatovu, 87, a Christian, said when they moved from Katwe they first settled at Ms Phoebe Kagumya residence where they made a make shift church.
«Then we came to this land and built our first church. Over years, we constructed a bigger one that we thought could accommodate us. And here we are today seeing it down,» Ms Namatovu said on Monday.