Of Former Chief Justice Wako Wambuzi’s Trials and Triumphs [opinion]

Dr Suleiman Kiggundu, the former governor of the central bank and managing director of the defunct Greenland bank, died without telling his story. By then, he had become a fierce politician who perched in car windows to preach ‘good governance’ to whoever cared.

This was a dramatic departure from the bespectacled gentleman who wore immaculate pinstriped suits and rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty of the world.

From the air-conditioned boardrooms of financial institutions to Luzira prison, the public would have wanted to know what he thought was his undoing, what mistakes he made, and injustices suffered, if any. But it was never to be.

Former attorney general and minister of justice, Abu Mayanja, an engaging debater, too died without recording his life into a book. Former speaker of Parliament, the amiable James Wapakhabulo, too didn’t write a book! The list of such people is annoyingly long.

However, former chief justice Samuel Wako Wambuzi has decided to be different. His book, The odyssey of a judicial career in precarious times: My trials and triumphs as three-time chief justice of Uganda, was launched at Serena hotel by former premier Apolo Nsibambi last Friday.

This book is not only Wambuzi’s life but it also takes the reader through his forty-something year journey, serving as a prosecutor, acting director of public prosecutions (DPP), judge of the High court, chief justice of Uganda, president of the East African Court of Appeal, and then chief justice of Uganda.

From a Kaliro village boy whose feet soles were gnawed on by kitchen rats to a super swimmer but who would not dare President Idi Amin into a swimming contest at Kampala club. Wambuzi was born on January 23, 1931 at Namalemba, in the present-day Kamuli district. His mother, Milyamu Naigaga, died a year after he was born, leaving the young Wambuzi to be raised by his stepmother.

At 84, Wambuzi retains his humour, sharp memory of a judge, reliving events, and principles as if they happened yesterday. His humour is effortless and it’s draped in concealed sarcasm.

His choice of short sentences and cliff-hanging storytelling devices, keeps the reader yearning for more. Wambuzi’s story is an enigmatic parcel of history. From a village musician who went around performing in Kaliro, Namwendwa, Kamuli, Bugembe, Iganga, Namutumba and many places in Busoga to a student in Makerere University College and Kabete Veterinary School, where in each institutions he excels in essay writing contests but flanks examination meant to qualify him into a profession.

To-date, Wambuzi has no explanation why he used to excel in some subjects yet miserably failed final exams. The honesty and humour with which he narrates his ordeal at Makerere is riveting.

“I remember three instances implanted in my mind. The first arose in a physics lecture. We were studying electricity and we were required to draw a circuit diagram connecting a number of cells with minimum crossing of wires.

My circuit diagram was selected by the lecturer. He copied it on the blackboard for all to see. I felt very proud and elated as a sprouting future physicist. But lo what happened the next day?” he says.

The next day, they were studying probability and the lecturer asked the students to tell him what happens when the coin is thrown into the air one hundred times how many times does it land on its head and tail?

He remembers the students offered answers, which ranged from twenty, thirty, seventy, and were rejected by the lecturer. Then someone shouted “Fifty” and the lecturer shouted: “Brilliant”. Wambuzi, who had been earlier praised for his brilliant circuit diagram, wanted to know how the student had arrived at the answer.

“Sir, how do you get fifty?” he asked. The lecturer’s response was demoralizing.

“Some people are born fools,” was the response and he continued with his lecture. This response disturbed Wambuzi who mused to himself “Yesterday, I was the brightest student, and today, I am a fool how interesting university education must be!”

Wambuzi had wanted to join Makerere medical school. But he didn’t do well enough to gain entry into the medical school. Instead, he was sent to Kabete in Kenya to study veterinary medicine. Again the unexplained “jinx” of excelling in essays but failing examinations followed him at Kabete.

There was an essay contest on the control of trypanosomiasis. This contest was open to the entire school and his essay emerged the best. But when the end-of-year examinations results were pinned on the notice board, his name was recommended to be discontinued from the course.

“I recalled the Makerere physicist’s remarks about my performance – that some people are born fools I mused in my mind. Indeed history does repeat itself. How strange, I produce the best essay in the entire school of veterinary medicine but at the same time, I am recommended to discontinue the course! All the world is indeed a stage and all the men and women merely players with their exits and entrances and each player in his or her time, playing many parts,” he says.

But Wambuzi did not feel sorry for himself. In-between, he married his sweetheart Gladys Nsibirwa and started work with Uganda Electricity Board (UEB). Wambuzi’s story is one of resilience.

In London, he juggled being a student and a porter at King’s Cross railway station to augment his shoe-string budget. He graduated with Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Hull, London.

Indeed, the 244-pages book is a chronicle of a life that has been wallowed in troubles but resurrected with triumphs. His experience as a three-time chief justice can only be gleaned from these pages.

Life has been good but also sometimes slid into near-despondence. The East African Community collapsed and Wambuzi lost his job as president of the Court of Justice. He succeeded a man, Benedicto Kiwanuka, who had disappeared without trace.

President Milton Obote not only sacked him but also stopped him from practicing law. This is a must-read for judicial officers, historians, journalists and all Ugandans.

The author is the finance director, The Observer Media Ltd.

Source : The Observer

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