Mbukure: The man who prayed for inmates before execution

Hailing from Kyeizoba Village in Bushenyi District, I was born to the late Yeremia and Dorothy Mbukure.

Besides being a church teacher, my father Yeremia Mbukure was a peasant.
I started my education at Kyeizoba Primary School, unfortunately by that time it was not a full primary school and when I reached Primary Five, my father transferred me to Kyamuhunga Primary School, 18 miles away from home.

But even this one did not have Primary Six. The next year I had to change schools again to Ruyonza Primary School, where I completed by primary education before joining junior secondary.

In 1955, I joined Mbarara Junior Secondary School – now Mbarara High school – where I did my junior school. Unfortunately, I did not join secondary school thereafter. From junior school I went straight to Masaka Nursing School.
However, the choice to go to medical school was to avoid a long spell of training as a clergy, a path I had been aised to take by the chaplain at Mbarara Junior Secondary, Rev Ruhindi, who later went on to become a bishop.

I was his assistant while at junior school. However, I opted for medical school because it would take just two years compared to becoming a clergyman. It meant I was to start out as a lay reader first, then go back to college to become a deacon, work for some time and go back to school to become a priest.

After two years at Masaka Nursing School, I was posted to Mbarara Hospital as a nursing orderly in 1960. By then there were few nurses leave alone male nurses. People like me who were not used to working under ladies found it hard, the white nursing sisters were a bit harsh, but this did not stop me from enjoying my work.

Joining the prisons
During my stint at Mbarara Hospital I admired the uniform of two of my friends in the prisons’ service. Having realised my admiration they convinced me to join the service.

Besides my friends in the service, I was also encouraged to join prisons by a one Mr Wise, the head of Mbarara prisons. I regularly interacted with him at the hospital when he brought prisoners for treatment. He assured me that once I joined I would remain a medical officer.

My friend’s admiration and encouragement from Mr Wise gave me more urge to join, but I never knew the difference between the police and prison service. My ignorance of what I wanted to do was shown in my application when I stated that I wanted to join the police-prison’s service.
I was called to Luzira Prisons Training School for six months training and after the training I was again sent to Mbarara Prison as a prison warder. I stayed there until 1964. It was while there that I had the honour of saluting the Uganda flag as it was being raised for the first time and the union Jack being lowered.

From Mbarara, I was posted to Fort Portal’s Katojo prison until the end of 1965 when I was posted to Luzira Murchison Bay prisons.
At Murchison Bay, I was initially working as a receptionist. This meant that I was responsible for receiving new prisoners, record the ones going and coming from the court. I made sure that first time prisoners were issued with prison uniforms and their property were well kept.

Religious calling
While at Murchison Bay, I got the urge to join Theological College and become a priest. My intention was that after ordination I would leave the prison services and serve in the West Ankole Diocese.

In 1972, I applied to join Bishop Tucker Theological College – now Uganda Christian University. The Commissioner then, a one Sentamu, was ready to release me, but his deputy Sebi bin Muhamed was not willing.

Sebi called me to his office, dissuading me from joining the theological college as I had been lined up for promotion. But I stood my ground to go for priesthood.

By the time I joined Theological College for a four-year priest training course, I was at the rank of a Sergeant. I was thus granted a study leave.

One year later, I was told by the prison service that they had convinced public service to sponsor my studies at the Theological school as a government sponsored student and that I continue getting my salary and keep working for the service.

What was not clear was whether I would be able to retire as a civilian priest after my studies at Mukono or remain in the prison service.
The Archbishop of Kampala Diocese, then Janani Luwum, called me to his office at Nakasero and told me: “We feel you should be ordained and continue with your service in the prisons.”

I was ordained as a deacon in 1975 before completing my course and made the chaplain of the Luzira prisons. At that time, there was a civilian chaplain, Rev Canon Kyagaba, who was the head of Anglican chaplaincy in the prison’s services countrywide. I was to learn from him before replacing him.

When I took over the chaplaincy of the Church of Uganda in the prison services, it was hard at the start. I had to attend to the spiritual needs of the inmates not only in Luzira but all prisons in the country, on top of attending my lectures at the College. I also had a family to look after.

Life as a prison Chaplain
Jesus said “am sending you to be as cunning as a snake and as humble as a dove (Matthew 10:16) I had to be very cunning because the people I was dealing with were not going to be easy to deal with. But I was working with colleagues from other faiths – the Muslims and Catholics.”

By the time I became chaplain, there were people in the condemned section right from the colonial days. Ministering to a person who was going to die in a few hours was not a pleasant thing.
But once they had been sentenced, they had no quarrels with the prison officers their quarrel was with the police and the judges.

They had a good relation with the prison officers and the chaplain who took care of their spiritual needs. As a result I did not have a hard time dealing with those sentenced to death but I had a hard time at the time of execution. This was the most difficult moment of the job, though I had been mentored into the job by my predecessor Rev Canon Kyagaba (RIP).

Once one had been condemned to death that’s when we started the process of preparing this person for that moment to meet hisher creator. What was surprising was that those facing execution were braver than me counselling them.

There was an incident when the late Archbishop Janani Luwum visited Luzira and met with people in the condemned section, he said to them, “I came here to counsel you but instead you have counselled me”.

The hardest time for those on death row was when they had exhausted all stages of appeal to reverse their fate and even the clemency from the president had not been granted.

Once the president had confirmed the death sentence, it became difficult to counsel the affected person.

When the presidential consent for the execution was received, the individual was given enough notice to prepare for death. During this time one is allowed to call the relatives to see them for the last time. When they come they are also counselled.

During my time as a chaplain only one prisoner refused to pray with us in his last days. For three days he said: “I don’t want any priest, Imam, or father I don’t want to pray, leave me alone.” We would go to his room and greet him we had to respect his will.
For others, I would go to their cells with my bible and other books, sit down on a blanket because no chair was allowed into the cells, read the bible and pray with them.

Executions
During my reign there was no execution within the prisons of people not convicted by the civil court. The one and worst execution outside civil court conviction and done outside the prisons was during the Clock Tower public executions.
Three of those to be executed were known to me. One was a friend and a fellow prison officer, the other two were known to me outside my work, that connection made it hard for me to say farewell to them.

When time came for them to be taken for execution at Clock Tower, the Catholic priest and I did not want to go there. Rev Kyagaba came to my house in Luzira and insisted I must go there and see these people off. I reluctantly wore cassock on and went to Clock Tower, Entebbe Road.
While there, we were called to say the last prayers with the victims and the general public. After the prayers, they were each tied on a pole, orders to fire were given and they were shot. That was the worst time in my work life.

Those killed within Luzira were prepared differently. We had a stage where we stop we didn’t witness the very last moments.

As a chaplain, once I had said the last prayer I handed the inmate to the hangman to do his job. The person would walk into the execution room only to come out through another door a dead body.

I was attached to many of them during the counselling period and many would accept their fate and say they are ready for death because God had willed they die that way.

I remember about five prisoners who openly confessed to the sentence, saying they deserved because of their crimes. Others maintained their innocence, saying they did not deserve to die they died bitter and angry people. I witnessed three executions at Luzira excluding the one at Clock Tower.

I have no regrets for the time I served as a chaplain instead I have great joy for the job I did of winning souls to God. In case there is anything I failed to do in God’s sight I ask for His forgiveness.

But to the best of my ability, God enabled me to play my role in reforming prisoners’ lives, and also the spiritual lives of the prison officers.

Leaving prison service
When I indicated my intention to retire in 1982, the commissioner prisons refused my resignation. I went to the public service and applied for retirement because having served for more than 20 years I qualified for retirement. The public service granted me my request and the commissioner could not over rule them.

Upon retirement from the public service, the then Archbishop Silvanus Wani with whom I had worked with before the death of Janani Luwum, asked me to remain in Kampala Diocese since during my service as a chaplain my allegiance was in Kampala and thus I could not go to West Ankole as I had wished. Wani made me Kampala Diocesan secretary.

My last days with Janani Luwum

As my archbishop he was a very friendly and a personal friend. I would go to his house and he would come to mine.

As workers we always worked together, he was responsible for Anglicans across the country. I was responsible for Anglicans in the prisons across the country.

Towards his death I was on a tour of western and mid-western Uganda. While in Kasese, he rang me, asking where I was. That’s when he told me about the raid at his Namirembe residency, and aised me to move carefully. I instead cancelled my journey to Masindi and I came back to Kampala, I went to see him and comfort him.
A few days later, I met him when we were called to Nile Conference Centre (now Serena).
President Idi Amin came and addressed us. During his address, Amin told the soldiers and those gathered that Archbishop Luwum and two ministers had wanted to kill him and had kept arms at the Archbishop’s house. The said arms were put on display at the Conference Centre compound.

He asked the soldiers what to do with such a person. They responded in Swahili wuwa wuwa wuwa ( kill kill kill). It was at that time that all the religious leaders were sent to committee room B.
That was the time of preparation for the celebration of the Church of Uganda centenary.

Of all the Anglican Church leaders in the room, it was only me with the centenary celebration lapel badge. When the late Bishop Wasikye saw it, he told me: “remove that badge it may be one of the things causing us problems.” I obliged and removed it.

While there we heard the National Anthem being played downstairs and knew the meeting was over.
As soon as it ended four men came to the room where we were seated, and said mwende nyumbani (you go home). We all stood up to move out, but they moved to the archbishop and told him that His Excellency wanted to see him.
I recall Bishop Kivengere telling Bishop Wani: “Let us accompany our archbishop, he cannot go alone when meeting the president.” The four men protested, saying since he would not delay, he should go alone.

As we waited outside on the pavement of the Conference Centre, the same men found us outside and told us to leave the place. We all dispersed, that was the last time I saw Archbishop Luwum. I left the Conference Centre at about 6:30pm.

At home I told my wife what had transpired at the Conference Centre and she said: “Do you know that man may kill our archbishop?” I said it cannot happen. I was not comfortable at home and at around 11pm, I travelled to Mukono where I stayed that night. The following morning, I rang someone at the Theological College who told me that the Archbishop was dead.

When I got the news, I knew my life was equally at stake because I had a good personal relationship with Janani Luwum.

Just a few weeks before, he had been visiting the condemned section at Luzira and he had told the inmates to prepare themselves to meet their creator. He told those sentenced to death, “You can never know either you or myself who will die first, but how prepared are you to meet your creator.”

About Mbukure
Born in 1940
Completed junior school in 1955
Joined Masaka Nursing School in 1958
Joined Mbarara Hospital in 1960
Joined the prisons services in 1961
Joined Bishop Turcker Theological School in 1973
Ordained Deacon in 1975
Married with seven children

In church Service
After prison services in 1982, he joined full time church work as a diocesan secretary for Kampala Diocese until 2005 when I retired.
As a diocesan secretary, his work was mainly managing and administration of the diocese, recruitment and training of the Kampala Diocese staff.

lubegah@ug.nationmedia.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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