By Markson Omagor (Author)
After two years out on court bail and hearing of my case at the Anti-Corruption Court, Tuesday 20th February 2012 was the D day for the trial Magistrate to acquit me or so I thought. The two years had been years of agony fueled by uncertainties (Every month I reported to court as a court bail requirement, I would never be sure whether I would return home) as a result two days prior to the reporting date were nightmares- I could neither eat, drink nor sleep. The resultant effect was a bad ulcers.
So when Judgment day arrived, I was excited; one because I thought I would be set free – this was because I believed I had convinced court that I was simply a sacrificial lamb, two because I wanted to have the case rested so I could map out my life.
So I set out from my Mbale home the same Day together with one of my brothers, Geoffrey Okello and used a public means. We arrived in Kampala shortly after 10:00AM and rushed to the Anti- Corruption Court in Kololo using a boda boda. By then, I was sweating quietly through my armpits probably due to the increased rate of the heartbeat.
I remember taking the stairs up to the 1st Floor where Sarah Langa SIU (Langa is now Registrar of Courts), the then Presiding Magistrate had her Chambers two at a time. Geoffrey was actually finding it difficult to catch up with my pace. My adrenaline was at its highest. I was anxious to know my fate. Meanwhile, a host of my friends were already contributing money for my ‘celebrations’ after the supposed court victory back in Mbale.
The Court Clerk I had always met whenever I went for the court hearings was the same we met seated at her desk showing no emotions altogether. I thought I should have been able to see some telltale signs in her disposition but she disappointed me. She called me by name and informed me we were too early for the judgment.
“Please find where to pass your time and be here by 2:00PM prompt,” she told us.
Call it naivety, blind optimism or whatever, the action of letting me free until 2:00PM on a day I could easily become a prisoner gave me a glimmer of hope. I had thought that if Court had chosen to convict me, it wouldn’t allow me move out of the premises. “What if I choose to run away, between now and 2:00pm is a long time, I can easily get back to Mbale and proceed to hide,” I silently started entertaining the thought without letting Geoffrey in. I was still panicky.
We were later joined by Matthew Okadoi, my immediate follower who suggested that we go to his home and have lunch there instead of loitering around the court. I quickly bought that idea because it was a good distraction and besides it provided room to the escape temptation.
Matthew had a very delicious meal prepared for us but as the clock ticked towards 2:00PM, my anxiety levels quadrupled. I failed to eat the delicious meal placed before me and instead developed an impromptu diarrhea. So the little I had in the stomach got deposited in a latrine at Matthew’s home.
Fast forward, we were back at the open courtroom by 1:30PM where we impatiently also waited for my Counsel to show up. It was not till 2:15PM that (Counsel showed up full of confidence. He actually assured me victory was ours and I should be preparing to slaughter a cock.
“No, no Counsel, it can’t just be a cock, it has to be a bull,” I told him trying to brighten up. But I also meant it. I knew the impending judgment would build or destroy my life.
At exactly 2:30PM, the amiable Court Clerk came for us from the open court room saying the Magistrate was ready with the judgment and was going to deliver it at her Chambers. Inside the Chambers were apart from the Magistrate, IGG Prosecutor, a one Okoth, the Court Clerk, Geoffrey my brother, My Counsel and myself. But I also realized that outside the Chambers was a police officer, and I thought it was a bad omen.
When Langa therefore started reading the judgment, I had smelt a bad smelly rat already. By the time she was concluding, I knew against all my prayers that I was a convict.
Indeed she found me guilty on both counts of causing financial loss to government and abuse of office. Then she paused and asked Prosecution to submit. Okoth (for IGG) submitted that because the offences for which I was convicted are rife, I should be given a deterrent custodial sentence. He also invited court to invoke the provisions of Section 46 of the Anti-Corruption Act that would disqualify me from holding a public office for 10 years.
Then my Counsel was asked to submit before the sentencing. By that time, I was literally dead, I don’t even remember my actual feelings, but one thing I remember, the good Magistrate offered me a seat. So the sentencing got me seated.
As usual, these Counsels after losing a case begin pleading the presiding Judicial Officer, and to me that was just bullshit.
I had him plead that I should be treated as a first offender, a father with four children to take care of and therefore I should be given a lenient sentence and most adequately a fine.
THEN SHE RULED
“This court will treat the convict as a first time offender and a father,” she started by massaging my emotions.
“I do appreciate the provisions of Section 46 of the Anti- Corruption Act as submitted to by the prosecution. However, this court is reluctant to invoke the same,” that ruling brought back my attention to the sentencing. At that point, I convinced myself that not all was lost after all.
Then the big moment:
“In view of the foregoing, the accused is sentenced as follows; 1. Count One to 12 months imprisonment.
Count Two to 12 months imprisonment and both Counts to run concurrently.”
And that was it, a police officer who had been patrolling outside the Chamber’ door quickly strode in and held me by the hand leading me downstairs where I was handed over to a Prison Warder. So just like that, I had walked away from freedom to a life I had tasted for a month while in remand more than two years back.
Two questions bothered me though and one was answered by my Counsel who kept pestering me to allow him file for an appeal. He told me concurrently means, I will serve the two sentences at the same time.
The second question was answered by the Prison Warder who turned out to be very nice to me. He told me 12 months ideally mean 8 months if I behave well inside prison.
Having got the two answers, I told my Counsel I was done with any court business and I was not appealing. He thought I was joking until I told him again inside the Court Cells that I had had enough trauma both psychologically and financially that I was not willing to go through the same experience again.
(We meet again on Friday: Movement to Luzira, and first day experience behind the high walls)