Archbishop: Don’t gag Oulanyah poison talks

The Bishop of Namirembe Diocese, Wilberforce Kityo Luwalira, was the main celebrant at St Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe, in Kampala yesterday. PHOTO / FRANK BAGUMA 

What you need to know:

  • The prelate wondered why, unlike under previous regimes, anyone would stop others from talking about alleged poisoning which could claim another life in a country where he argued there is tension manifested in public officials moving to functions with own microphones.

Kampala Archbishop Paul Ssemogere has plunged himself into the touchy debate about whether or not former Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, was poisoned, demanding that the government stop gagging public discussions about the allegation.

“This is a suggestion on [an] issue that is all over among the members of the public. It also worries me because they talk about it. It is the issue of poison. Some people say ‘we should not talk about it’,” the prelate said while delivering his Easter homily at Rubaga Cathedral in Kampala.

He added: “I don’t see why you should stop a person to talk about a vector that is going to bite him or her. ‘Don’t, don’t. Keep quiet!’ Unless when you know someone who has sent it (the poison) [then can you silence debate about it]. But talking about it when you are seeing it? That ‘keep quiet’! That should be in the old regimes. But in this [current] peaceful regime? [No].”

His Grace Ssemogerere is a former Bishop of Kasana-Luweero diocese whom the Pope named Archbishop to succeed Cyprian Lwanga who was suddenly found dead in his room in last year’s Easter week.

In yesterday’s homily, the prelate avoided naming those he presumed to be gagging the talk about the poison claims, but framed his reference in the context of previous comments by public officials.

Oulanyah died in the United States last month and was buried in Omoro, which he represented in the 11th Parliament, on April 8. His father Nathan Okori claimed twice --- on the day President Museveni announced Oulanyah’s death, and again at the burial --- that his son was poisoned, contrary to government accounts that the ex-speaker succumbed to cancer-related multiple organ failure.

A day after the interment, former State minister Godfrey Kiwanda, who is a member of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party’s Central Executive Committee, disclosed that Oulanyah had confided in him that he was poisoned, adding that he in turn alerted Information Minister Chris Baryomunsi.

“I find no contradiction with Oulanyah’s father who insists that his son was poisoned. The late Right Honourable Jacob Oulanyah told me too that he was poisoned,” Mr Kiwanda said on April 9.

 Baryomunsi, a medical officer, said “Jacob Oulanyah died of cancer and associated complications as explained by the doctor in the report that was prepared by the hospital [University of Washington Medical Centre] where he died,” describing alternative views as a “mix-up”.

 “I know Honourable Kiwanda appeared on a radio talk show and mentioned my name in good submission. Now, I want to warn Honourable Kiwanda and Fred Enanga to stop mixing me in the drama of poison,” he said in reference to the ex-minister and Police Spokesman Enanga.

His comments in which he ruled out the need for additional investigations, came a day after Mr Enanga announced that detectives were due to summon Oulanyah’s father Okori, Mr Kiwanda, Kilak South Member of Parliament Gilbert Olanya and Dr Baryomunsi himself, among others, to assist with the investigations.

Whereas other individuals expressed willingness to interface with police investigators, minister Baryomunsi told the law enforcement agency to stop any inquiries, prompting Internal Affairs minister Kahinda Otafire, a retired army major general and political overseer of police, to tell Parliament that the poison probe is very much alive.

“None of us is above the law. Nobody in this country is above the law. If there is a complaint about offending the law, it is the responsibility of the police to investigate that complaint and dispose it off,” Maj Gen Otafire told Defence and Internal Affairs committee members.

 Arguing that it is important for police to establish if Mr Okori has additional information, minister Otafiire added:  “It is in the interest of the police to find out whether this is a speech of an injured old man, who does not understand modern science, or there is an utter of truth to what he is saying because if you ignore him, the man will say this was a cover-up.”

 Both mzee Okori and ex-minister Kiwanda have not said whom Oulanyah told them poisoned him.

 During the vote at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala to pick a new Speaker and Deputy Speaker on March 25, President Museveni became the highest government leader to take issue with claims made by Mr Okori on March 20 that his son was poisoned.

 “I would like to warn some people who are in the habit of taking advantage of problems to make cheap politics. And, actually, we’re going to go for them because I have heard some people saying some people killed Oulanyah. The police will come and ask you to give them some information because Oulanyah did not die in a private home,” he said.

At yesterday Easter homily, Archbishop Ssemogerere said discussions about alleged poisoning of public officials should continue unfettered because there is tension in the country where public officials, fearing to be poisoned, move with own microphones to public functions.

“Like me, who is the Archbishop [of Kampala Archdiocese], they protect me so much. Whatever I do, they quiz me; what are you eating? Ladies and gentlemen, there is a lot of tension [in Uganda]. You also hear about it. Why don’t we talk about it [so that] the people in charge of security deal with it in a professional way before it harms anyone?” he said.

He added: “But saying ‘whoever talks about it … [is not allowed]’, eh! It will only harden our hearts and tension. Let them (population) calm down and talk about it then it ends there. If it is there, it should be dealt with. If it isn’t there, the talk [will] fizzle out.”

Information Minister Baryomunsi, who is the official government spokesman, was unavailable to respond to the latest proposition by the primate, a senior official of the Catholic Church in Uganda.

 Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre, a government communication-clearing house, in a rejoinder said the Archbishop was “trying to be a busy body”.

 “If the issue (poison claims) was gagged, would he have talked about it? Is there an instrument that the government has signed to stop people from talking [about the allegation]?” he said, adding, “I think he was just redundant and did not have much to say. We don’t want to waste time with people who are trying to be busy bodies.”

What they said...
“I know all of you who have come here are mourners. His (Oulanyah’s) death is not easy news to welcome because I know he did not die of natural causes, he was poisoned,” Nathan Okori, Oulanyah’s father on March 20.

“I would like to warn some people who are in the habit of taking advantage of problems to make cheap politics. Actually, we’re going to go for them because I have heard some people saying some people killed Oulanyah.” President Museveni on March 25

“I am not just mourning in vain, I want to state clearly, Jacob was poisoned, Oulanyah was poisoned, he came to me here, he said he was poisoned, which caused him to be operated several times causing his later death,” Nathan Okori, Oulanyah’s father on April 8.

“I find no contradiction with Oulanyah’s father who insists that his son was poisoned, the late Rt. Hon Jacob Oulanyah told me too that he was poisoned,” 
Godfrey Kiwanda, ex-Tourism State minister, April 9
 
“From the medical records we have obtained, there was no presence of poison in his (Oulanyah’s) blood system. We want them to provide us with a chain of evidence regarding the poisoning as they allege…” Fred Enanga, police spokesman, April 11

“Jacob Oulanyah died of cancer and associated complications as explained by the doctor in the report that was prepared by the hospital where he died. So, now this mix-up. So, I don’t know whether I am being summoned because of this statement,” Information minister, Chris Baryomunsi, April 12

“It is in the interest of the police to find out whether this is a speech of an injured old man … or, there is an iota of truth to what he is saying because if you ignore him, the man will say this was a cover-up.” Internal Affairs minister Kahinda Otafiire, April 14

“I don’t see why you should stop a person to talk about a vector that is going to bite him or her. ‘Don’t, don’t. Keep quiet!’ Unless you know someone who has sent it (the poison) [then you can silence debate about it].” Paul Ssemogerere, Kampala Archbishop, April 17

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