Ugandan Lawyer earns night in jail for begging food from president Museveni
After eating his last meal on April 7, 34-year-old Brian Bakampa sought to get more food from President Museveni but instead ended up in police cells
On Sunday, April 5, a simply written letter by one Brian Bakampa, a lawyer, seeking sustenance through the lockdown period from President Museveni made rounds on social media.
In the letter posted on his Facebook account, Bakampa said he was in need of financial help to buy a gas stove and food, since his only food supply was running dry two days later, on Tuesday, April 7.
He beseeched the President for help and also gave notice that he would walk to State House Nakasero and camp there, instead of starving in his house, if no help came through by Tuesday.
The 34-year-old did not waver in his pursuit and when called to share what transpired next, Bakampa doesn’t hesitate.
He delves into the story of how he refused to starve.
On Tuesday morning, having received no response from the President, Bakampa said he ate the last morsel of food in his two-roomed, Shs200,000 rental in Ndejje, Entebbe Road, and at 9am set off to State House Nakasero to personally seek audience with the President.
Like a man on a mission, clad in his yellow, red-collared shirt, khaki trousers and office black shoes a look he thought conducive for the mission he was at his destination by 12:50pm.
“At the main gate, I stated my purpose to security officers there, and they told me that offices here were generally closed and I couldn’t get help. They instead advised me to go to the Presidents’ office at Parliament,” Bakampa explains.
The proposal was appealing, so he hit the road again, and by 1:30pm, he was washing his hands and having his temperature taken at the first entrance into the premises.
At the second gate, however, after having his name and purpose of visit stated to the Presidential Police Guard (PPG), he was confronted with hostility.
“I was told I couldn’t enter. They started shouting at me to leave, but I refused. They hurled insults at me, and that was the story for the rest of the day. I told them I was here to see the President, and if he isn’t in office, there must be somebody I could talk to, but I wasn’t going to leave,” he explains.
When he was told to leave the precincts of the offices, Bakampa did but camped at the road going to the offices, directly opposite Serena Hotel.
“They kept coming to me, asking questions; told me to remove my shoes, my shirt, asked to show them my IDs, wallet and I humbly complied. They called some of my relatives and friends – I think they just wanted to know whether I am a terrorist, criminal or just a mad person,” he adds with a peal of laughter in his voice.
Later in the evening, the PPG came to him with some advice. The Office of the Prime Minister was functional and that he could go there for help but when they couldn’t let him go in, he remained camped where he was till it was night.
Taken into custody
“It was 7:30pm and I think they wanted to change shifts, so the PPG came to me again with another piece of advice. ‘How about we take you to Central Police Station (CPS), spend the night there and tomorrow during working hours, you can come to OPM?’ They suggested and since it was getting late and I had made my point, I accepted. They drove me in their car, under those metallic seats, to CPS,” the lawyer says.
At CPS, the PPG didn’t want to go on record as the complainants, Bakampa says, reminiscing that for guidance about the matter, a certain lady was called.
She was dressed like a civilian, perhaps the CID officer on night duty, and after a brief recount of what had transpired throughout the day by the PPG officers, she ordered that Bakampa be taken in.
“Charge this one with being a public nuisance and send him down there,” Bakampa quotes the woman as saying.
In the cells, other inmates welcomed him, and a spot where he would sleep allocated. “On the cement, I only had an old, smelly, dirty cockroach-infested blanket. Of course, I was hungry, but after such a long day, I managed to sleep,” he says.
At 6am on Wednesday, he woke up with a grumbling stomach, a headache and thirst. Too hungry to even move to the place where the morning roll-call was, he was just helped by a fellow inmate to get there.
“When she reached my name, the lady doing roll-call asked ‘Who is Bakampa Brian?’ and I raised my hand. Her next comments were, “It is this idiot here who wants free food from the President and yet he looks fat! Hasn’t he been eating?” Bakampa recounts. He says that even when he asked an officer in charge of the cell to get him some medication and food, he blatantly refused, which he believes was an abuse of his rights.
“And when things normalise, I am actually going to sue the Attorney General concerning some police officers at CPS who violated my rights, for breach of suspect’s rights while in police custody. I would have sued them individually, but I don’t know their names,” he says in a serious tone.
Pulling off a joke?
When asked whether this wasn’t just a case of seeking attention or pulling off a joke, Bakampa spares no details.
“My work is drafting legal paperwork, and documents like company registry and that way, I am able to earn. Since the Covid-19 lockdown, I have not been earning anything and I have been broke. My rent is due for two months now, and I had run out of food. I sincerely needed help. But we live in a pretentious society where people like me – the educated – fear to come out in the open and state that they are actually down and they need help,” he says in a serious tone.
It is his former university (Makerere) classmates that came to his rescue. They mobilised and sent someone to stand surety for him on police bond and on Wednesday at 3pm he left CPS.
“I thought it was better for me to be in prison and be assured of at least one meal a day, however inadequate it was, than starving at home,” Bakampa says.