Projects gather dust as NUP lawmakers mark year in jail
What you need to know:
- Several efforts by a legal team led by Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, family members and members of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party to have the legislators regain at least temporary freedom proved unsuccessful.
September 7 marked exactly one year ever since Opposition lawmakers Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West) and Muhammad Ssegirinya (Kawempe North) were arrested and subsequently charged for alleged participation in the killing of 26 people in greater Masaka Sub-region.
Several efforts by a legal team led by Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, family members and members of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party to have the legislators regain at least temporary freedom proved unsuccessful.
Initially, it appeared the MPs had been freed by court on bail. They were, however, not allowed to leave the precincts of the prisons. They were violently re-arrested and slapped with fresh charges.
At one time, the Court of Appeal declined to release the two on grounds that they had petitioned a wrong court. It advised that they seek redress in the High Court.
The legislators are accused of being behind the spate of killings in Masaka Sub-region that left scores dead between March and June 2021. They, therefore, face charges, which they vehemently deny, ranging from terrorism, murder, attempted murder to aiding and abetting terrorism.
On Wednesday, NUP party members organised prayers for the detained legislators to coincide with the grim one-year detention milestone. During the prayers held at their party headquarters in Kamwokya near Kampala, Ms Ritah Ssewanyana—the wife of Mr Ssewanyana—recounted how their children have always demanded to know where their father is. She also revealed that they are always sickly.
Likewise, Ms Akandida Twahirah—the wife of MP Ssegirinya—protested her husband’s innocence by questioning why the State has not tried him.
The Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP), Mr Mathias Mpuuga, expressed fear that the legislators could be imprisoned forever without trial. The LoP further said it is the Judiciary now under trial.
“The two constituencies with about half a million people have no representation in Parliament and for the courts its causal. We complained to the Chief Justice and the Principal Judge, but they didn’t help much,” he said.
During the same House sitting, the majority of the Opposition MPs were dressed in black as a sign of their discontent at how the security and justice system have handled the matter sluggishly.
House Speaker Anita Among also weighed in and called for the speedy trial of the lawmakers entrusted to her care.
“It is one year since our colleagues, MPs Allan Ssewanyana and Muhammad Ssegirinya were arrested. I ask the government to ensure a speedy trial for these MPs so that justice is served,” she said.
The marking of the grim milestone comes at the time when their pre-trial hearing hangs in the balance after the presiding judge—Jane Elizabeth Alividza—was transferred to the Land Division of the High Court. It’s unclear whether a new judge has been secured to resume with the pre-trial session of the MPs.
Outside being a representative of Kawempe North, the incarcerated Ssegirinya ran multiple community initiatives. All have since stalled. A visit to Mr Ssegirinya’s constituency showed that projects such as Segbox, Kawempe Youth Boda Boda Network and Kawempe Technical Skilling Centre had stalled due to his prolonged detention.
Others such as Kawempe North Medical Centre and the ambulance system, which used to offer free services to people courtesy of the area MP, now offer services at a cost.
According to the administrator of Kawempe North Medical Centre, only identified as Florence, the MP started the hospital basically to extend free medical services to his constituents. Following his arrest, people started paying some fee for the services to enable the facility to stay afloat.
Other incentives to patients such as free pampers, bedsheets to mothers and free sanitary pads for girls are no more.
“Mothers and other patients used to have free breakfast and lunch from here (hospital). Those mothers who delivered from here also used to receive bedsheets, pampers and porridge before being discharged,” Florence said, adding, “The fee [charged nowadays] is used to pay hospital bills such as water and electricity … those who want to use the ambulance have to fuel it, which responsibility had been shouldered by MP Ssegirinya. The MP had also purchased an ultrasonic scan machine, which is still in the hands of Uganda Revenue Authority as he was about to clear it at the time of his arrest.”
Dr Musa Mwesige, one of the health workers at the facility, told Sunday Monitor that the number of patients seeking services at the hospital was immensely reduced compared to those who came when the MP was free.
Mr Alex Lusswa, the incarcerated Kawempe North lawmaker’s personal assistant, revealed that some of the community-based initiatives to improve the living standards of constituents included the SegBox programme.
The programme trained women to save a portion of their little savings, by giving them a saving box (SegBox). Mr Ssegirinya also gave a non-refunded amount of Shs50,000.
“[The] programme had changed a number of people’s lives because the MP always taught people how to save, and why they needed to save … By the time the MP was arrested at least 25,000 people had benefited from SegBox,” Mr Lusswa revealed, adding that the target “was to ensure that at least 50,000 people benefit from this arrangement.”
Other projects affected include a fleet of four ambulances. Only two are operational to date.
Sunday Monitor has also learnt that the welding and bricklaying projects that had been put in place by the MP to freely skill the youth are no more since equipment was seized by KCCA in the implementation of the “Smart City programme.”
Mr Ssegirinya’s personal assistant also expressed concern over continued intimidation from security operatives, who do not all allow them to hold meetings at the MP’s offices.
The landlord whose house is being rented by Mr Ssegirinya for his offices also reportedly receives calls from unknown people asking that he get another client.
Elsewhere, needy children who were part of the Ssegirinya Muhammed Foundation, were also being sent back to their families. Others like Devis Mayanja, who was recuperating from a stroke, lost his life after Ssegirinya’s support was cut upon his arrest and detention.
Ms Salmah Nalwanga, a Kawempe North constituent, said people in the area miss their lawmaker because he was an ever-present help in difficult times.
Makindye stalled projects
The stasis has effectively stalled several projects that the legislators had started upon assuming office. For instance, Mr Ssewanyana’s office in his constituency, which used to employ 12 staff, now only has one receptionist. She spends most of her day doing nothing productive since there are no clients to attend to.
“This office used to be full from morning to evening with voters with different needs, including school fees and land conflicts because they knew that Mr Ssewanyana would help address them,” she said, adding, “This has stopped because they know he is in prison.”
Adjacent to Ssewanyana’s office is a furniture workshop that barely gets by. Mr Isa Kyazze, the manager of the furniture shop, said—before his arrest—Mr Ssewanyana used to collect street children, drug addicts from slum areas and could send them to him for training in carpentry. The intention was to equip them with life skills.
“I have trained over 300 of them, but—as I speak now—only three are undergoing training. The number has reduced because the person who used to sponsor them is in prison,” a visibly angry Kyazze said.
MP Ssewanyana’s personal assistant, who preferred to remain anonymous, said most of his projects—including a community Sacco, operationalisation of a health facility, a demonstration farm for the youth and scholarship drive—have all stalled.
“We have 11 parishes in Makindye and Mr Ssewanyana used to sponsor the education of four needy learners per parish,” he revealed, adding, “The fate of those children is not known. Some of them—if not all of them—could be out of school because they have no one to pay their fees.”
Katwe United Football Club also misses the presence of MP Ssewanyana, who was a patron and paid salaries for 25 players. Mr Ali Mwanje, the club manager, revealed that they need to renew contracts of players but lack money.
According to Mr Mwanje, the lowest paid player was earning Shs300,000 and the highest Shs1m.
He said the club has dropped from the second tier to the lowest level and its top brass is struggling to mobilise Shs400,000 to pay to FUFA in registration fees.
The legislators are accused of being behind the spate of killings in Masaka Sub-region that left scores dead between March and June 2021. They face charges, ranging from terrorism, murder, attempted murder to aiding and abetting terrorism.
Compiled by Anthony Wesaka, Peter Sserugo, Elizabeth Kamurungi & Jane Nafula.