Wednesday’s hearings in the commission of inquiry into issues of land mismanagement turned dramatic when locals of Nabiika village in Nakaseke district lost their cool and began hurling insults at John Mugerwa the LC3 Chairperson who was appearing as a witness.
Mugerwa is accused of colluding with officials in the army as well as investors to give away over 400 acres of land with disregard of the bona fide occupants who were customary owners.
In his testimony, Mugerwa claimed that he was approached in 2015 by Geoffrey Karugira, a businessman in Kampala who had bought the land to establish a yoghurt factory and chicken brooder to benefit the locals.
Later on, Karugira would sell the 428 acre of land to SPA Financial Services at Shs1 bn which then reportedly made fictitious agreements with alien residents to justify its ownership of the land in dispute.
Locals accuse SPA of then fencing off and grading the land which saw over 300 households evicted displaced.
On its recent visit to Nakaseke, the commission issued a notice stopping local leaders from engaging in further land transactions until its investigations were complete.
However, Mugerwa is reported to have defied the order and shunned the hearings for fear of being apprehended.
“When Karugira introduced the person from SPA to me, he said they were going to develop the land and create jobs for my residents. But I advised them to meet with residents because conflicts had arisen over ownership,” Mugerwa told the commission.
He also said that some of the residents had voluntarily given up their claims on the land after an official from the State House lands unit named as Susan Abo had sensitized them on land matters.
Unfortunately those in attendance contested this explanation.
It was Mugerwa’s inconsistent statements and misinforming the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire commission that angered the over 50 residents who attended Wednesday hearings in Kampala.
During a break, they surrounded Mugerwa and began exchanging bitterly, many of them referring to him as a traitor who has failed to protect the people he leads.
Among them was Nakaseke South Member of Parliament, Hon. Paulson Lutamaguzi who told journalists; “He (Mugerwa) has connections with police and Karugira and has helped wealthy people to buy huge chunks of land, bringing tractors in the night to displace locals. We want to know why army officers and their sons are grabbing land in Nakaseke.”
Nabiika village alone sits on over 1,500 acres of land but Lutaaguzi says other surrounding villages of Nalugule, Balatila Mizimbo, Manywa and Nzingu too have witnessed similar cases of land grabbing.
“That man (Mugerwa) is a very bad person. He threw me in a car bonnet before I was whisked away to Jinja Road police station in Kampala. When I got to police, I was charged with murder,” said Henry Matovu a resident of Nabiika who claimed that Mugerwa has threatened to kill him if he doesn’t vacate the land.
A bitter Hawa Naluwu, 60, scoffed at Mugerwa whom she said connived with Susan Abo the Private Secretary to the President in charge of Land at State House to compensate occupants with a meagre Shs300,000 per acre.
The entire village rejected the token except two people and several ghost occupants, she said.
“Susan Abo called us to her office in Kampala but we refused. Our ancestors were buried on that land. My husband inherited that land (15 acres) in 1940 before I was born,” Naluwu told journalists.
“I have settled there for the entire 30 years of my marriage. They are now evicting us. Where do they want us to go?” she added.
Many described the LC3 Chairman as a conman, a poor leader in whom they have lost confidence while some claimed he intimidated them.
When Abo appeared for the hearings in the afternoon, the same Nabiika residents mocked her accusing her of grabbing their land.
Justice Bamugemereire wondered how a person of Mugerwa’s character was elected to offer leadership to people.
She warned him against engaging in further transactions relating to land before the commission concludes its inquiry.