What you need to know:
- Our investigations reveal a complex web of secret talks powered by Parliament’s top leadership and in which the Leader of Opposition played a key role reportedly outside Bobi Wine’s purview, leading to a deal-making meeting last month between the accused lawmakers and a senior government executive, expected to soon result in the freedom of National Unity Platform party supporters being tried by the army court.
The negotiations for the release of the two lawmakers that subscribe to the National Unity Platform (NUP), the Opposition majority party in Parliament, started almost immediately after they were arrested and remanded to prison.
More than half-a-dozen sources, among them individuals involved and or briefed on the behind-the-scene engagements, said Parliament Speaker Anita Among and Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa as well as Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP), played key roles.
Legislators Allan Ssewanyana (NUP, Makindye West) and Muhammad Ssegirinya (NUP, Kawempe North), like other members of the 11th Parliament, were sworn in in May 2021. Thus, they had represented their constituents in the new House for only four months when the state came knocking on their door for allegedly committing capital offences.
Their woes stemmed from a spate of killings in greater Masaka area in which machete-wielding gangs targeted mainly elderly residents. Fear gripped villagers some of whom fled for safety to towns or sought shelter with relatives in distant locations.
The MPs reported for maiden questioning by police at the end of the first week of September 2021. When they returned a day later to assist with continuing investigations, they were instead carted away to a Masaka court where, appearing before now retired Chief Magistrate Charles Yeteise, they were charged alongside a quartet with three counts of murder and attempted murder allegedly committed in two hamlets of Masaka City.
The duo denied the charges and was sent to prison on a remand that until a grant of bail yesterday had lasted 17 months – four times longer than the period they represented their voters in the 11th Parliament. The law requires suspects in criminal cases to be granted bail automatically if held on remand for six months.
The state had denied bail to the accused multiple times, and its sudden softening of stand yesterday raised more questions than it answered. For instance, prosecution this time raised no objection to the bail application and further withdrew the January 23 affidavits by Thomas Jatiko, Jennifer Amumpaire and police detective Innocent Mubangizi originally filed to oppose grant of bail to the MPs.
In another development, the defence lawyers had changed, with top counsels Caleb Alaka and Evans Ochieng taking charge to bolster Kampala Lord May Erias Lukwago and others who had been handling the case.
Unusually present in court was Mr Mpuuga whom the two Opposition legislators had in the past accused, alongside NUP honchos, of forgetting about them and their plight in prison. In the aftermath of the outburst, Mr Mpuuga led colleagues to visit the duo at Kigo Prison after which he told Parliament that there was a syndicated plot to incarcerate the parliamentarians longer as persecution and blasted Judiciary over the delayed trial and the institution’s leadership for snubbing him.
Our investigations now reveal that as the sabre rattling echoed in public, including Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo’s February 3, 2023 rebuke of government for delaying to prosecute the case against the lawmakers and proclamation to commence the trial this quarter whether the state and defence are prepared or not, confidential bargains gained traction among different state actors.
“The State has got the capacity to bring all its witnesses. I will ask the trial judge, I don’t know who it will be, not to entertain any nonsense. These are MPs, they are public figures. If the State is not ready to have them tried, Honorable Prime minister (Robbinah Nabbanja), one of the rights the trial judge has is to dismiss the case. We will not accept any games or excuses and they will be tried under my watch,” the head of Judiciary said at the opening of the 2023 law year.
He added: “We do not want anybody to make the Judiciary of Uganda an accomplice in denying any person justice. The Directorate of Public Prosecution representative, who is here, should stand warned that the trial will start soon.”
CONTINUE READING: Wheels of Supreme Court turning too slow
According to one source, the Chief Justice may have knowingly or unknowingly been preparing the public for possible release of Mr Ssewanyana and Mr Ssegirinya. Another source said the Leader of Opposition was in court in person yesterday because he likely had prior information the legislators would be granted bail. Mr Mpuuga last evening denied any clandestine engagements, or bargains.
Highly-placed sources said the protracted negotiations culminated in a senior government executive meeting over the accused lawmakers last month. Insiders said the state has information against MPs Ssewanyana and Ssegirinya regarding their alleged dealings with overseas Ugandan-born cardiologist Aggrey Kiyingi reported to be their financier.
Among matters of interest for investigators is whether the accused were involved in subversive activities, their likely accomplices within and without, and other plans. We were unable to establish what the MPs told state officials they have interfaced with over the months.
Mr Mpuuga, who by some accounts has been deeply involved in the secret talks but reportedly without the direct blessing or endorsement of his party’s top leadership including NUP president Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, yesterday downplayed his role and said there was no secret deal-making.
“We have been through normal court proceedings and processes. Nothing to credit me personally. The multiplicity of court appearances and [bail] applications by several attorneys, each making their humble contribution, delivered the collective good,” he noted.
He added: “I congratulate the legal team for the tireless endeavors.
Despite the official denial, the role of Mr Mpuuga in the talks manifested in public when it emerged that he had attended a closed-door meeting that Mr Tayebwa convened with security and intelligence chiefs. The fate of the incarcerated lawmakers and other NUP supporters was a top agendum, multiple sources said.
Present at the meeting was Ms Nabbanja. Sources who attended have told this newspaper that the meeting exhorted state security actors to adhere to the rule of law in doing their work so as not to smudge the reputation of government.
For instance, security officials were tasked to explain how civilians, in this case more than two dozen supporters of NUP, were being court-martialed for spreading harmful propaganda when they are not members of the armed forces or subject to military law unless found in possession of government stores.
It was also observed that civilian leaders do not intend to interfere with the work of security and Ugandans caught on the wrong side of the law should be made to account, but such actions should be based on incriminating evidence and conducted according to provisions of the Constitution and subsidiary laws of the country.
As a result, one source that attended the meeting and another briefed on the deliberations, told this publication that it was agreed at the right time to have the military court discharge the NUP supporters so that they may be tried in civilian courts if there will be evidence pinning them.
Both Speaker Among and Deputy Speaker Tayebwa were unavailable to comment on the matter.
However, Mr Chris Obore, the director for communications and public affairs at Parliament, said whereas he was unaware of the referenced meetings, “from the word go, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker have been engaging with [the] government on the matter of the two MPs (Ssewanyana and Ssegirinya)”.
“The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker chose negotiations instead of pandering to the public gallery,” he said, adding, “There were issues that the state had against the MPs and the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker said the issues were legitimate, but it shouldn’t [be handled in a way that] gives the Opposition a propaganda advantage.”
He did not divulge the details, but this newspaper had been separately informed that it related to money trails linking the duo to subversive elements abroad.
Mr Obore confirmed that the Parliament leadership had regularly been in touch with families of the two MPs, helping out when needed and ensuring their emoluments were paid timely.
This publication has learnt that there was a scare within government when MP Ssegirinya’s condition deteriorated and he was in January booked at Mulago National Referral Hospital. A high-powered delegation led by Deputy Speaker Tayebwa reached out to him with speed, assured him all would be well and encouraged him to comply with medication.
Whereas yesterday’s grant of bail, at Shs20m each, to the lawmakers after their 17 months’ incarceration should have been good news worth celebrations at NUP headquarters in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb, insiders said it was not. Instead, it left officials suspicious and grumbling about what their members may have conceded in negotiations to secure their freedom, and whether such concession may turn harmful to some of them in future.
We were unable to reach Bobi Wine, who was reportedly in the dark about the deal-making, and he noticeably had by 10:20pm (several hours after the bail grant) not posted anything about it on his social media pages despite having been vocal in the past in demanding they be set free.
Instead, his last twitter update seven hours before we went to press was about a NUP supporter named Eric Mwesigwa whom he said had been held incommunicado and tortured for a fortnight.
In the tweet accompanied with photographs that appeared to show hot flat iron burns on Mwesigwa’s breasts, the NUP principal noted that: “They abducted him and tortured him, asking what Bobi Wine and NUP are planning to do to ‘overthrow the government."