By Joan Akello
Medical experts explain why officials who collapse during interrogations are usually those who are jolly, and love food, fun, and sex
If you are standing outside the Serious Crime Office at the Uganda Police Academy in Kibuli, usually male suspects in the on-going corruption cases are going up the stairs to the Director of CID, Grace Akullo’s office. Watch their waistlines. If someone asks you to bet on who of them will break-down during interrogation, bet on the one with the wider waistline.
Prof. Peter Baguma, the Dean of the Makerere University School of Psychology, told The Independent that personality, physical make up, and behavior, affect one’s ability to face a probe.
He relates body shape with behavior and cites four types; the pyknic; who are short and fat with small fingers, and the mesomorphs; who are the athletic, muscular and extroverted. The other group is the ectomorphs, who are very tall, lean, reserved and introverted, and the endomorphs; who are the very fat, and with round bellies. He says endomorphs like good food, are jolly, love fun, sex, are out going, and talkative. He said most of the corrupt that collapse are endomorph.
Think Geoffrey Kazinda, the interdicted principal accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister, and the former Assistant Senior Accountant in charge of Pensions, David Oloka, who literally collapsed in the interrogation room.
Lean and hungry looking suspects, like businessman Hassan Basajjabala, OPM Permanent Secretary, Pius Bigirimana or Secretary to the Treasury, Chris Kassami might perspire a little, but they are less likely to collapse, however tough the grilling. This type often do exercise, like running.
Those that collapse, sometimes end up in Ward 3D, the Intensive Care Unit of Mulago National Referral Hospital where Dr. Jane Nakibuuka, who is the In-charge, looks at their cases.
“Some personalities have poor stress management and interrogations may weaken them to the point of collapsing,” she says, “When you are under tension like an interrogation, you use the fight and flight mechanism for sympathetic hyper activity. The body can only handle this pressure up to a certain point beyond which one may collapse.”
She says obesity, tension, fear, and prolonged standing or sitting are some of the main causes of fainting.
“In Africa, fatness is associated with prosperity,” she says, “But health-wise, the bigger you are the more pathological you will be.”
“As you grow fat, every body organ especially the heart, brain and kidney start screaming for help,” she added.
Wealth is not health
When an individual is overweight, the heart, which is the engine of all body systems, keeps increasing its mass to cope with the increasing demand for oxygen. However, after sometime, it burns out and becomes flabby hence reducing the heart rate which exposes one to heart failure, sudden attacks and even stroke. Apparently, what the corrupt have common is “wealth” but not “health”.
Dr. Emmanuel Nuwamanya, a psychiatrist and assistant commissioner Police medical services says fainting is a body mechanism to reserve the little oxygen to the very vital parts of the body like the brain and heart.
“When one faints, it is like a black out. The body switches on a system of fight and flight reaction to increase energy through sweating, this system makes the blood vessels enlarge, and has an impact on how the blood circulates.”
He says the sudden increase in blood vessel size causes a drop in pressure and if there is a shortage of oxygen in the brain, it can cause temporary fainting.
Nuwamanya adds that the sudden decrease in oxygen and blood sugar can be due to heat, overcrowding and dehydration.
When businessman Godfrey Kirumira, who has quite a wide waistline, collapsed during routine questioning at the CID headquarters on Aug.08, he attracted quite a few skeptical stares. Did he really collapse, or was he faking it?
Kirumira was being quizzed as the managing director of Bargary Trading Company on whose account Shs 190 million meant for development projects in Kiruhura district was fraudulently deposited. He initially claimed a business man, one Kirenga, used his account and withdrew the money without his knowledge. But when he was shown a document he had written about the dubious money transfer, his eyes became teary, he started sweating, and asked for water to drink, then collapsed. The Director Police Medical Services, Dr. Moses Byaruhanga, was called in to ascertain his medical condition and he was rushed to a clinic. So, was he faking it?
Byaruhanga says he has attended to six suspects who collapsed during investigations in the last two months. Four of them, he said, were overweight.
Byaruhanga says some suspects fake fainting because they are not prepared. They buy time to be coached, want to consult, or hide things that they think the probe will not discover.
He says, however, even if the suspects are informed beforehand about inquiries, they can never prepare enough. “Interrogations are like sitting for an exam,” he says.
In fact, a nurse at Nakasero Hospital told The Independent that they have developed tricks to test whether a person is faking it or not. She says waking up suddenly when something harmful is introduced by a medical staff is one sure sign of faking.
“People are scared of injections at the back or rare parts of the body,” she says.
The guilty are afraid?
To some people, when a suspect collapses, it is a confirmation of guilt.
“People collapse because they are guilty, exposed and embarrassed. You cannot collapse when you are innocent,” says Samuel, 35, a civil servant.
“I have seen accounting officers without any dirt .They did not collapse during the probe,” says Frank Tumwebaze, the MP Kibale County in Kamwenge district who was recently appointed minister for the Presidency.
He is supported by the Chairman of the Presidential Affairs Committee which is handling most of the corruption cases, Barnabas Ateenyi Tinkasiimire, who says the suspects “just fake it”.
“They know the issues we raise and many of these meetings are open. Do we inject them with Chloroform?”
But Tinkasimiire also collapsed and had to be hospitalised when he received news of his wife’s death after a house fire in October.
Perhaps that is why the CID boss, Akullo, says sympathetically that anyone can fall sick.
“As much as they may be suspects, we consider their condition,” she says.
Prof. Baguma also says both the innocent and guilty can collapse because the shock of an innocent person who is wrongly accused could be similar to that of the guilty when nabbed.
He says an arrest is stressful, and can cause unexpected anxiety, especially for public figures that fear their dubious engagements being discovered. When one collapses suddenly, the body relaxes, and one may pass out urine or any excretion without notice.
“Which public figure wants the public to see them kissing the ground because they are faking a faint?” he says, “They know it is foolish to intentionally collapse before a probe,” Baguma says.
Torture c hamber
Prof. Baguma explains that suspects collapse because their psychological defence mechanism, which is useful when not overused, gets destroyed. He says collapsing is the last stage where one cannot put up any defense. . When a person faints, they are imbalanced, helpless, and vulnerable. Ironically, Baguma says, this is the most ideal stage to get the truth out of the suspect.
“A system is supposed to protect individuals, if it is weak, individuals get shocked,” he says, “This breakdown is caused by loss of face, loss of confidence, and disbelief in the social system.”
Prof. Baguma says the suspect is at the mercy of social justice and this can affect their psychological balance. Some victims of interrogations, like former minister of Information and National Guidance, Kabakumba Matsiko, say it is torture. She told mourners during the requiem mass for Joseph Bahekanira at Rubaga Cathedral in Kampala, that the interrogations had killed him.
Joseph Behakanira died on Valentine’s Day, in 2010 after appearing before PAC on allegations that he swindled US$1.3 billion during the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) through his J&M Airport Road Hotel at Bwebajja on Entebbe Road.
“PAC is a nightmare,” Kabakumba told mourners, “Torture is not only limited to physical, but there is a lot of psychological torture in that committee.”
Then-Bukedea MP Charles Okello Oduman, who chaired Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) during those investigations, recently dismissed Kabakumba’s claims.
“We didn’t torture Behakanira. We simply asked questions,” he said.
Charles Babweteera, the Acting Commissioner of the Anti-corruption Department who is involved in the ongoing investigations agrees with Oduman.
“We do not beat or squeeze people,” he told The Independent.
Whatever the case, Dr Nakibuuka says, even suspects who know they are sick when they are told of a probe sometimes forget to take their medication and they are as good as dead.
“Suspects should undergo medical checkup like the stress ECG to get one’s maximum heart rate,” she says, “Unless one is labeled as a patient, a primary survey should be carried out to check whether the suspect is alert, has a normal heart beat, pulse and blood sugar level.”