NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
June 7, 2007
We are all potential prisoners

Former Minister of State for Health, Soroti Municipality MPs currently NRM vice chairman (eastern) MIKE MUKULA was recently remanded to Luzira Prison together with his colleague Dr. Alex Kamugisha by Chief Magistrate Margaret Tibulya for abuse of office and embezzlement of funds for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).
In My Prison Life this week Mukula tells MICHAEL MUBANGIZI why he thinks he is innocent and how he has lived an honest and sincere life.
Mukula adds that all Ugandans are potential prisoners. He reveals the jokes he cracked while other prisoners snored away the night. His story:

I wasn’t interested in joining politics but I joined national politics on September 27, 1995. I was running an aviation company [Speed Bird Aviations] that had five aeroplanes and I was flying President Museveni, Lindah Chalker [former UK secretary for Overseas Development] and other British High Commission officials from Kidepo national park going to Nyakisharara in Mbarara when we had a mishap, a plane crash that almost brought us to death.

When we survived this plane crash, that’s when I saw the determination of this man called Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
The mishap also gave me a deep understanding of Uganda’s politics and I chose to join the political crusaders of NRM struggle that day convinced that Museveni and NRM had a mission to help this country.
I wanted to see a social, political, economic, and technological transformation of our people.

The major problems of the world are in Africa; poverty is much more common in sub-Saharan region, HIV/AIDS is about 70% in Africa, drought, wars and human miserly have all been in the African continent.

So as a nationalist and Pan-Africanist, my conviction was to be part of the building block that would make Africa through Uganda a much stronger continent.

The arrest
I don’t want to dwell so much on the arrest because it has already happened. Mistakes have been made and have been condemned.
I want to see that the Police force and instruments managing the security of this country are improved and that human rights are observed.

We are soon hosting CHOGM, we are part of the UN, Commonwealth, and African Union. There are some practices that we must adhere to.
We have to abide by the UN charter. The charter provides for basic methods of arrest. My view is that the arrest should be by court summons or an arrest warrant issued by courts of law or the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). All these weren’t done in my arrest. I was neither invited nor summoned.

A call for me to appear at CID headquarters should have been sufficient. I have never resisted arrest. I am a law abiding citizen and senior citizen of this country. There was no indication that I was going to resist an arrest; I am not a violent man.

My concern is the manner and the method in which I was arrested.
But I leave that as a case study for those in the security organs to see that much better arrests are carried out in future not only for me but for the ordinary persons also because we are all equal before the law, no body is above the law nor should anyone be below the law.

There should be fairness and justice across board so that Ugandans can feel that these constitutional changes that we have gone through are not cosmetic but fundamental.

At home I refused to be harangued into these police vehicles. I persuaded people who had come to arrest me that I am a law abiding citizen they should let me drive.

They did not have an arrest warrant but all the same I agreed to go because they introduced themselves as police officers of the Republic of Uganda. They told me that I was wanted at CID headquarters over the case of GAV-Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. I had no worry, so I said let’s go.

Before CID officers
We spent seven and half hours without recording any statement, we weren’t even given breakfast or anything to eat but I am happy they eventually recorded the statement.

My wife, many MPs, friends and relatives were all there. After recording the statement we drove to the magistrate’s court and they preferred those charges [of abuse of office and embezzlement] against us and sent us to Luzira. Obviously I denied the charges because I knew I was innocent.

They did not handcuff us but we were prisoners. A prisoner is a prisoner whether handcuffed or not. [Asked about remarks he allegedly made while in dock, that his arrest is persecution]- I will not get into that; that is sub-judice.

Let us not go into areas which will put me in a legal quagmire. I want to discuss what you suggested- my life in prison.

To Luzira
From Buganda Road Court to Luzira Prison I was a guest of the Republic of Uganda, I couldn’t have travelled in my vehicle.
But in Luzira Prison, authorities received us when we reached there.
We had to remove all our belongings-coats, ties, shoes, stockings, belts and give them to prison authorities.

Then we were registered, I was number 949. Dr. Alex Kamugisha was number 950. Then we were briefed about what prison life is about; what is expected, the time we would go to sleep; how we would bathe, use and clean the toilet, the time they close and other things. The prison normally closes at 4 p.m. and they aren’t opened until about 7 a.m unless there is an emergency.

Excellent prison officials
In prisons we were in a room of approximately 26 people with different charges. There are some who are already convicted or on remand.
The inmates were humbled by our being there; we weren’t the first MPs or leaders of this country to be there.

You know that under Obote, five or six ministers were detained in Luzira. Ministers were detained under Idi Amin and [even under Museveni’s government;] Omara Atubo [ then minister of state for Defence, now minster of Lands ], Zachary Olum, Moses Ali were there.
So there are many people who have been to Luzira, we are neither the first nor the last leaders in this country to go to Luzira.

One of the things I noted is that the Prisons officials are well trained in human rights, discipline, and management of prisoners. I truly commend them. The capacity they have in terms of human resources management is excellent.

The only problem they have is lack of equipment and necessary infrastructure. They are over congested for instance they have an average of two buses yet the number of prisoners is close to 4,000.
Murchison Bay was built in 1947 to accommodate 604 prisoners and hasn’t had any rehabilitation and major change in terms of infrastructure.

So Luzira prison has dilapidated infrastructure, the toilets are archaic and pre-colonial. But at least you have continuous running water in the toilets but they aren’t flashed. The toilet doubles as a bathroom and it is a very small toilet, about 3 feet across.

I donated my mattress
I had a one-inch mattress that my family arranged for me; the authorities don’t want big mattresses because the space is small.
But there are people who sleep on mats provided by the prisons because they can’t afford a mattress.

I was particularly humbled by somebody who before I left said, “please give me your mattress because I hardly sleep, this floor is killing me.”
I gave it to him.

Dr. Kamugisha slept on my left, another engineer who I won’t name slept on my right. Kamugisha has hypertension and a number of complications, his pressure kept fluctuating.

His conditions were abnormal. Even the engineer had high blood pressure and it was also fluctuating. I had to look after them. At night I would wake up three or four times to see that they are sleeping well.

Jokes in Luzira
I was okay and had a peaceful state of mind. I remember cracking jokes of those who were snoring. I would tell them that the frogs from the swamp would complain because it was too much.

At night when you wake up to ponder you would hear these people, the mentally impaired snoring at different levels. You could hear people dreaming, having nightmares which shows that someone is worried.

At 4 a.m. the bathing starts because there is a queue of many people wanting to bathe. For me I normally bathed at 6 a.m. my usual time. In Luzira, the night starts earlier at 4 p.m when you are locked inside, and at 5 p.m most prisoners are snoring.

The ventilation is poor; air circulation inadequate. So the rooms are very hot, you can’t use a blanket yet bed sheets are not allowed because they fear that prisoners can hang themselves using bed sheets.

Concerning health my problem with Luzira was tuberculosis (TB) or upper chest respiratory infection. Because of the poor ventilation, if somebody with TB in early stages is brought into the general congested halls then you have a big problem.

I think there should be a questionnaire aimed at ascertaining if one has an infectious disease. There should be separate rooms for such people.

I ate prison kawunga
I think the provision of welfare still lacks in Uganda prisons.
The feeding in Luzira is not the best because prison is ill-equipped and under funded. It is an average meal, very basic- posho and beans, dry tea and may be porridge.

The law doesn’t allow any food to be taken into prison, people would get into difficulties of adulterated food being given to prisoners and if somebody died in custody it would cause problems. So I was eating prison food. But there is no torture and harassment and I did not hear of cases of sodomy (gay sex) in Luzira.

Pending massacre
Another thing that I noticed is that there are about 500 people who have been sentenced to death waiting to be hanged in Luzira.
This is a worrying number because the day they hanged them all at once it will be a massacre.

And about 40% of Luzira inmates are charged with defilement. Some people have been in Luzira for between four to seven years without any trial.

Some of their cases are misdemeanours for which if someone was to be charged their sentences would not exceed nine months, at most two years, but they have stayed there too long. Remember justice delayed is justice denied.

Different worlds
We are basically living in different worlds. The conditions in Luzira are extreme. An average meal a day of posho and beans, a cup of dry (black) tea with very little sugar; prisons can’t afford milk and they don’t have enough recreation activities.

They can’t have football, television sets, books to read, newspapers are limited to those who can afford to buy them. I want to see that Luzira and any other detention centre should be for correction purposes; to rehabilitate people so that they come out of incarceration better people.

It should be a reform centre. Luzira is filled with mostly young people at their prime. An opportunity to read should be offered and a tertiary institution should be built there.

Even long distance learning should be availed so that those who can pay and are sentenced for a long time can come out with a first degree, master’s degree or PhD such that when they are out they aren’t liabilities but can help this country.

It is true there are those who get spiritual healing in Luzira by turning to God but also there are others who become hardcore criminals, they get hard.

In fact I am told there are those when they come out, they commit other crimes and they are returned to Luzira so it means prison hasn’t helped them.

When you see 500 people condemned, it means there is something fundamentally wrong. There is need to improve the prison industry because this is free labour especially of young people to be used.

The prison industry needs more support. I want to see the parliamentary committee of Defence and Internal Affairs, ministers of Internal Affairs, the Prime Minister visiting this industry, talk to prisoners and listen to their complaints.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea if the president himself went to see the life in Luzira and see how it can be corrected. Jesus spent a lot of time visiting people of this nature. The less privileged people of our society should be helped to become better citizens.

Then another thing that I noted is that it is very difficult for the elderly and disabled to use toilets. It’s one way where you have to squat and it is a trying time for someone who is either disabled, or advanced in age.

Everybody, even you; all people are potential prisoners, so you can’t say; I will never be a prisoner or go to prison. It is a question of a decision being taken or you being caught on the other side of the law.
Remand shouldn’t be a punishment, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So this argument that somebody should remain on remand yet there is a provision of bail in Article 23 of the Constitution .

Blessing in disguise
Experience is the best teacher. So the arrest to me was a God given opportunity for me to see the conditions in Luzira. I now have the experience of having been in Luzira and nobody can tell me and I take it as a fairly tale, it is something I have gone through.

I have seen the realities of Luzira, the suffering in Luzira, the challenges people go through. I appeal to other people to feel for those who are in Luzira. I think we need to give an opportunity to those who are there and have been detained for a long time to have a speedy and fair hearing.

I want to see that justice is done not for the rich, it should be for all. Even me as I go through the trial of my case I want to see a quick trial so that I am given the opportunity to prove my innocence to the rest of the world.

I have already told you that there are people who have been in Luzira for over seven years without trial, do you call that fairness?
Do you see it as just? There is also need to provide legal aide to people who don’t know the law.

I recently read a judicial review by the Court of Appeal in Mbale that acquitted two young people who had been sentenced to death in Mbale.
If nobody had taken that case, if they did not have the money to pursue it they would have been hanged.

How many more do we have in that state, who don’t have legal aide to address their grievances before courts of law? That is the injustice I am talking about.

Reflections
Prison is not a good place. Your human rights are withdrawn.
Then being there knowing that you are innocent is worse.
Thirdly, you are not allowed to communicate; you are not allowed a phone. Allowing these facilities as it is done in other countries is something we must review in the Prisons Act.

But the positive as I have said is that I have been able to experience the other things, major setbacks people go through and there is need for us to review the conditions as I have already said. Actually I wanted to stay there a bit longer.

I would have loved even to start my trial in Luzira and be acquitted while in Luzira if that would have satisfied those who had sent me to Luzira, but my lawyers managed to get me bail. Being self willed kept me going in all this. I am a very strong willed person once I am convinced about something.

You remember when the Barlonyo massacre took place people were going there and getting blood pressure but me I went there without putting on a mask. When I went to fight Joseph Kony in the outskirts of Soroti Municipality all the people left but I remained.

So in prison my mind was convinced that I am innocent. I am a very strong willed person, even if you put me in Luzira for 30 years I will come out as strong as I am.

But prison was a difficult, trying time for my family and friends. I was sentenced by the various opinions but I think now that it is before an appropriate organ of the state, I am looking forward to the earliest start of this trial.

You heard people on radio; there are those who thought that we were guilty; others thought that we were untouchables. But I am happy that it is before courts of law, I want to see the trial.

No regrets
I don’t regret having been arrested as I have said. It is something I have been looking forward to. But now I want it behind me. I want a speedy trial because it affects my family, children, friends, travel and my political party.

My last word is that I thank all who have stood by me through this trying time. The Baganda have a saying that Tosala gwa kawala nga to nawuliriza gwa kalenzi [Meaning you can’t make a judgement before you listen to both sides]. The truth will come to light.

Those who stood by me in this trying time; I am for ever indebted to them. Whereas the law is clear that you are innocent until proven guilty; some people stayed away but others chose to be with me, those who stood by me are heroes in my heart.

I want to thank my friends from all over the world, the leaders across who put aside their party colours, and stood by me. I thank the Movement leaders who were with me, the MPs from various ideological fronts. The truth will come out. I have lived a sincere and honest life.

I will prove my innocence and honesty before courts of law so that the people of Uganda and the whole world can know the truth.
I also want to say that no body knows the truth except God.

mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com