Dominic Ongwen’s lawyer Ayena Odong jailed over debt

Mr Ayena Odongo (seated next to a prison warden) speaks to supporters at the court moments before being jailed. Photo by Bill Oketch

LIRA-Former Oyam North Member of Parliament, Mr Krispus Ayena Odongo, has been committed to Lira Central Prison over failure to pay Shs146 million to his opponent Col (Rtd) Charles Okello Engola Macodwogo court costs which stemmed from the 2016 parliamentary election petition.

 Dressed in a cream Kaunda suit, the tired-looking city lawyer appeared before the Assistant Registrar of the High Court in Lira, Ms Jeneva Natukunda, on Friday.

 This was after he was arrested on Thursday by agents of Spearlink Auctioneers and Court Bailiffs over failure to pay the debt.

 Mr Ayena is the lead counsel for former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander, Dominic Ongwen, who is currently facing war crimes trial at The Hague-based International Criminal Court. 

 Trouble started when the High Court in June 2016 nullified Col Okello Engola’s election as the Oyam North MP on grounds that there was variation in the academic papers presented in court by Col  Engola and the one he presented to the Electoral Commission for his nomination.

 Court heard that the academic papers used for the nomination of the first respondent bore name of Okello P Charles Engola whereas the one he presented in court and the name he used for registering for national identity card was Okello Engola Charles Macodwogo.

 Col (Rtd) Okello Engola, who is the state minister for Defence, then appealed against the decision of the High Court.

 The ruling followed a successful petition by Uganda Peoples Congress’ Ayena Odongo who had been beaten in election by Okello Engola of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party by a big margin of 5,989 votes.

 However, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the High Court hence upholding the election of Col Okello Engola as the Oyam MP and ordered Mr Ayena to also pay Shs146 million as costs incurred by the minister in the case.

 Mr Ayena did not pay the money leading to his arrest on Thursday.

 Appearing before the court on Friday, Mr Ayena’s lawyers argued that the said debt be reduced by 50 per cent (about Shs73 million) because some law was flouted while calculating the costs, and indeed, the plea was granted.

 However, the court ruled that the former legislator could only regain his freedom after paying the Shs73 million or be committed to prison for six months for failure to offset the debt.

 But no sooner had his team of lawyers and relatives secured the money than the court bailiffs disappeared. At this point, the court business hour was done and Mr Ayena was left in the hands of prison warders, who took him to Lira Central Prison.

 “I had already raised the money but there was no one to acknowledge it and I think it was deliberate that they only wanted me to go to prison. What kind of justice is this?” Mr Ayena told his supporters who gathered at the court.