38 COU bishops escape death over Ntawo land

Cotus
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali interacts with Maj David Matovu, the Mukono Resident District Commissioner, at Ntawo on the occasion the bishops were besieged by squatters. Looking on is Mukono DPC Fred Ahimbisibwe (Photo by Alex Taremwa)

BY ALEX TAREMWA 

Police on August 23 rescued the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Most Rev Stanley Ntagali, 38 other provincial bishops and Uganda Christian University (UCU) staff, including the Vice Chancellor, Dr John Senyonyi, in Ntawo after a mob attempted to torch the bus in which they were travelling.

The bishops who were at the university for a three-day bi-annual Provincial Assembly had gone to inspect the UCU land in Ntawo to establish the extent of the problem of squatters and later deliberate on the way forward.

While in Ntawo, the bishops were shocked to learn that the over 800 squatters, including some government officials, had settled, illegally on over half of the 649 acres of land that Hamu Mukasa had given the Church of Uganda before it also donated it to Bishop Tucker Theological College (BTTC), now UCU, in the early 1920s.

The scenario 

The UCU bus parked at Ntawo Trading Centre, triggering off whispers from amongst the locals. One by one, they began to converge.

The bishops then moved out to inspect a chunk of cultivated land which UCU Holdings, an investment arm of the university, had cordoned off and halted further operations pending investigations but the locals had defied the order and proceeded to plant maize on it.

The archbishop re-echoed yet another call for government intervention in the matter to ensure that the university uses its land for the intended purposes of research and development.

He further advised the squatters to use lawful means in case they had issues they needed addressed rather than resort to violence and vandalisation of university property.

After Ntagali briefed the bishops and the press, the delegation headed back to the waiting bus to head off to another location but the residents would not let them off that easily.

One resident warned the bishops not to set foot on the land again or else their lives would be in danger. The clerics looked on in shock as residents shamelessly shouted profanities at them.

Moments later the residents began to gather firewood and attempted to burn the university bus but the driver was quick to whisk it away, parking about three kilometres away.

It should be noted that on a previous incident, the Director Facilities and Capital Projects of UCU, Dr Abel Kahwa, was attacked by an angry mob but he fled into a resident’s house. The mob turned their burning rage to a university vehicle he had travelled in and vandalised it.

Police arrives late 

Amidst all the chaos, the police, despite having received prior communication about the bishops’ visit to Ntawo, had not deployed its men.

It took a distress call from the Mukono Diocese bishop, James William Ssebaggala, to the Resident District Commissioner, Maj. David Matovu, for the police to rush to the scene.

From the police patrol van emerged the Mukono District Police Commander, Fred Ahimbisibwe, who admitted having received prior information about the bishops’ visit to Ntawo but had been delayed in a meeting with senior police officials. He apologised for the incident. So did the RDC who came moments later.

The vice chancellor however was not amused by the police’s laxity to provide security for the archbishop and his team despite their knowledge of the volatility of the situation on the ground.

“If the whole archbishop can be denied security, who then is secure?” he wondered.

Moments later, the police arrested a man disguised as a drunkard who was taking pictures of the proceedings and making constant calls to unknown people before escorting the bishops back to the university.

Minister apologises to bishops 

Ms Mary Karooro Okurut, the minister of General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister, who represented Dr Ruhakana Rugunda at the official opening of the 23rd Provincial Assembly, apologised to the bishops for the “regrettable incident,” pledging Government support in resolving the Church’s land woes.

“The Government has learnt of the regrettable incident that was going to be such a tragedy for the country. We have already instructed the relevant arms to take action because this is not a matter that we can fold our arms about and watch it happen again,” she said.

The Standard has since learnt that the Provincial Assembly adopted a resolution to lease out all Church of Uganda land to investors as one of the strategies to safeguard it from illegal encroachment.

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