Museveni, First Lady put on the spot
In life, fallen young Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda Arioru, was flamboyant, vocal, and controversial. When she was a first year student at Makerere University’s Faculty of Social Sciences, Nebanda who was barely 19, was the only student who had two personal cars. She immediately got immersed in the campus political life and became president of the faculty’s student body.
At 23, she was already an MP, after defeating one of the top women in her party in a hotly contested race. At 24, she was dead.
Death struck her, however, in the lowliest fashion at a local nondescript clinic.
In a moving eulogy, Butaleja MP Emmanuel Dombo told the mourners at Christ the King Church in Kampala on Dec.18 about how he encouraged Nebanda to join national politics.
“What I did not tell her however, “he said, “Is that death was one of the things she would have to prepare for as an MP.”
Nebanda’s brother, Hasashya Ronald Wandera on behalf of the siblings said, “The lioness of Butaleja is sleeping. She did not die. She was killed. “
Nebanda’s step-father, Frederick Mukasa, raised tempers of the charged congregation when he revealed how people who said they were from the government-run newspaper, The New Vision, visited him and asked him to back a report that Nebanda died of a heart attack. He said he refused to cooperate.
“That is why I am telling mourners that many people want to use us to jeopardise investigations,” he said.
Tension over burial
Immediately after Nebanda’s death questions were being asked about why her mysterious boyfriend and three others dumped her at a clinic—Mukwaya General Clinic, in Nsambya a Kampala suburb, and went into hiding? Why was Nebanda not evacuated to a proper hospital? Were they too late?
The Independent has learnt from friends of the deceased that Nebanda’s relationship with the man; Adam Sulaiman Kalungi, was just a few months old. According to them, Nebanda had not been in a relationship since her boyfriend died when she was still at University.
Tensions rose four days after her death when police blocked an independent inquiry sanctioned jointly by health experts from Mulago National referral Hospital, Parliament, and Police and arrested Dr Sylvester Onzivua, the Mulago Hospital pathologist, who was taking samples from the deceased’s body to South Africa for tests to ascertain cause of death. Police had at first denied the arrest but later released a statement clarifying why they had arrested him.
“Dr Onzivua, who is a civil servant, had not been cleared to travel out of the country and neither had he obtained the authority required to export the samples out of the country,” said Judith Nabakooba, the police spokeswoman in a statement the confirmed that he was in their custody.
By 10 pm on Dec.18, four days after Nebanda’s death, MPs were camped at the notorious Special Investigation Unit of the Police at Kireka, trying to rescue the doctor.
“How can police defy Parliament,” asked MP Theodore Ssekikubo, who was a close friend to Nebanda, “It means they are getting orders from above.”
Ssekikubo said that although the pathologist might have been arrested, natural causes were ruled out and to him the medical report is peripheral. The kind of toxin that could damage her organs to the extent of bursting her pancreas and lungs is what the pathologist is investigating.
On the same day, Parliament passed a resolution that Nebanda’s body is not buried until the government explicitly informs Parliament and her family about the cause of her death. In an emotional moment, Nebanda’s wailing mother accused police of complicity and said she no longer trusts the government.
Little sins, as they say, grow into big ones. The distrust between Parliament and the Executive, which has been simmering for some time, has also become full blown over Nebanda’s death in a suspected homicide.
The government found itself pitted against the suspicious public over the actual cause of her death.
Nebanda has been part of a section of MPs who have been critical of President Yoweri Museveni’s handling of national affairs, including oil resources, the fight against corruption, laxity in social service delivery, and Museveni’s long stay in power.
Her death on Friday Dec.14 came just a day after President Museveni addressed Parliament and accused the MPs, who are also mainly associated with the Parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas, of being agents of saboteur “foreign interests” that would not be tolerated by the government. He said he had instructed the Inspectorate of Government to investigate their source of their funds.
Having been one of the small clique of critical MPs in the ruling party NRM otherwise known as ‘rebel MPs,’ Nebanda’s death has also resurrected the debate about the security of critical politicians that have been such an ache in the party’s tooth.
There was tension during the requiem mass at Christ the King Church in Kampala on Dec.18 when, MP Theodore Ssekikubo abruptly got up and, without invitation walked to pulpit where another MP, Dr Chris Baryomunsi, who represented the Parliamentary Commission, was speaking.
Lydia Wanyoto Mutende, the NRM stalwart and former East African MP, attempted to block Ssekikubo. She told the mourners that the church administration had given the committee only five minutes to conclude the speeches. It was a bluff because the First Lady, Janet Museveni, the government Chief Mourner, Minister Tarsis Kabwegere, and Nebanda’s parents had not spoken.
“Everybody has the right to speak,” thundered Nebanda’s mother.
Like a charged battery, Sekikuubo stated that he had only two things to say. “What” and “who” killed Nebanda.
“Chief mourner, First Lady, who killed Nebanda?” he asked, “We including Nebanda, have been branded as rebel MPS. We are not rebels but moving as original MPs of NRM. Nebanda is gone. She has been killed. Why don’t you tell us that she was killed and tell us to go home and bury our dead if you will not tell us who killed her?
For the second day after Nebanda’s death, the executive was forced to fumble to absolve itself with both the President, and First Lady publicly telling mourners that the “government did not kill Nebanda”.
“I don’t think that this government killed Hon. Nebanda. There are so many critics of the government who insult the President on radios and walk away free day and night,” said the First Lady, Janet Museveni, at a requiem mass at Christ the King Church.
In the same service, speaker after speaker accused the government of either complicity in the death or in an attempt to conceal evidence and were cheered by angry mourners.
“What is perturbing is it is the same police blocking samples which means they know who killed my daughter,” Nebanda’s mother told mourners.
Earlier, despite President Yoweri Museveni’s efforts on Dec.17 at the deceased’s family home in Kitubulu, Entebbe to sympathise with the bereaved and clear the air about Nebanda’s death, suspicion continued to worsen.
Museveni had taken the opportunity to calm the tempers flared by some politicians insinuating foul play on the part of the government. He narrated his last encounter with Nebanda in Parliament where the deceased had disagreed with him about whether the situation in the health centres had improved, saying it had not. He had asked to travel with her to Butalejja (her constituency) to find out the truth.
“It was totally unexpected. I could not believe it,” the President told mourners about Nebanda’s death, “Our daughter Nebanda died when she was very young, which is very painful.”
He asked the public to let the police do its work and said he would deal firmly with politicians who were ‘sowing seeds of hatred.’
“When you malign the government and interfere with the work of the police… then, the laws can handle you because police investigations are protected by the law,” Museveni said.
Museveni pledged that delivering the deceased’s postmortem report would be much easier because her case was simpler because she was not sick and the government already had leads and basic facts about the cause of her death.
Although President Museveni pledged that the government would conclude investigations and find out Nebanda’s fate, it was clear his re-affirmations were flying through the gathering’s ears. Some in the gathering booed, shouted and interrupted him, expressing their mistrust.
The deceased’s brother Hasashya Ronald Wandera, refuted media reports that Nebanda had died of drugs and alcohol.
Cerinah Nebanda Arioru was born on September 10, 1988 to the late Peter Waiga and Alice Namulwa Mukasa. She was the second born among four children; three girls and a boy.
Reporting by Joan Akello and Haggai Matsiko
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Compiled by Sarah Namulondo
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