On Friday, April 5, Patrick Zizinga got a new lease on life when Nakawa High Court set him free. He had spent 11 years locked up in Luzira Maximum Security Prison for a murder he did not commit. He had been sentenced by the same court in December 2004, for the murder of Annet Nakiwala, his supposed wife, on October 19, 2002. He spoke to Elvis Basudde and Charles Etukuri about the false conviction and his future plans.
Briefly tell us the events that led to your arrest and conviction
Sometime in 2001, after getting letters of administration to manage the estate of my late grandfather, Nsimbe Mulyankotta, Isoke Baguma, the then Minister of Lands called and asked me to go to his office with the land titles. As I approached the Constitution Square, I was grabbed, thrown onto a pick-up and taken to Jinja Road Police Station.
I was searched and asked to surrender the land titles, but I had not carried them with me. They held me for about five hours and asked me to report back the following day with the titles. I refused to oblige. After a week, I was arrested and accused of stealing land documents.
I was released after being interrogated, only to be re-arrested later, but this time accused of murdering my wife. At Katwe Police Station, it was discovered to be a trumped-up charge as my wife, Agnes Nakibuuka, whom I married in 1990 and with whom I have grown up children, was alive. I was released after the identification parade when Ibra Sekatte, the deceased’s boyfriend and Edward Zimula, a witchdoctor, confessed to committing the offence.
I was shocked a few weeks later when I was re-arrested and charged with the same offence. On December 17, 2004, Justice Carolyne Atim Okello of Nakawa High Court sentenced me to death for murder.
What immediately went through your mind?
The moment Justice Okello pronounced the death sentence, I was devastated. I was immediately handcuffed and spent the whole day in the handcuffs. Even when my wife brought food, I ate it with handcuffs on.
When they brought a lorry to take me to Luzira Prison, I prayed for the lorry to crash along the way, so that I would die instead of being hanged. It was very painful leaving my young children.
How were your first days in prison?
They were not easy at all. The food was strange. The posho was brown and the beans were full of sand and stones. Prisoners were dying almost daily. There was a time there was a dysentery epidemic that claimed 10 inmates. The prison administration tried their best, but there was not much they could do. Getting medicine for the sick was a miracle.
What went through your mind every day as you waited for your appointment with the hangman?
I cried for two months, but later on, fellow inmates advised me to seek spiritual support from some inmates who were prayerful. I was particularly comforted by Chris Rwakasisi, Africa Gabula and Pastor Walusimbi. Many other inmates gave me spiritual and moral support.
Some believed my story but others were not convinced. After a lot of encouragement, I gained courage to face my challenges.
Barely a year after I was sentenced to death, I learnt that Zimula had sold off most of my land. I decided to take him to court. I wrote to the commissioner of land registration, who stopped the transaction and put a caveat against my 351 acres of land.
How long did it take you to accept your circumstances?
You can never settle when you are on a death row because you do not know what is coming next or when you will be picked up by the hangman. However, I had hope that the day would come when I would be free because I had believed in Jesus Christ — that He would get me out of this bondage because I believed He knew I was innocent.
What gave you that hope?
The Jesus Christ I encountered in prison. By the time I was thrown in prison, I was an ordinary Christian, but I met Christ in prison. Fellow prisoners and religious leaders preached to me and I surrendered to Christ. In 2006, after losing my appeal, I saw the goodness of God and I was sure He would have a final say on my situation.
When the Court of Appeal confirmed your sentence did you lose hope?
Shortly before the judgment, I got information that a certain senior security officer was overheard saying that if the judges of the Court of Appeal released me, they would be in trouble. The judges were intimidated by the top security personnel, and by the time the judgment was passed, I was pessimistic. But I had another feeling that there were some courageous judges and the Court of Appeal would release me.
Why did you opt for mitigation?
First, the conditions in prison were deplorable. Many times there were some attempts on my life. There was a time my milk was tampered with. When I tasted the first packet, I realised that there was a problem with the milk and I poured it. When I observed the second packet, it had been cut and re-sealed with super glue.
On opening it, I saw that the milk had even changed colour. Many times, I went without food for fear of being poisoned. I resorted to packed foods like biscuits.
Secondly, I had a chronic illness. I have a fragment near my spine, making part of my body paralysed. I can only sleep on one side. It is a long-standing problem and prison doctors could not operate on me.
The Supreme Court also failed to raise the five judges to hear my bail application, meaning my appeal could not be heard due to lack of quorum. I told my people that instead of waiting to die in prison, I would rather go for mitigation.
Many of my friends and lawyers opposed it, saying mitigation was tantamount to saying I was sorry, or confessing the crime which I never committed. It was a tricky situation.
What was your level of education before imprisonment and what have you achieved so far?
By the time I entered prison, I was an S2 dropout. Being in prison opened the court world to me, yet I did not understand the court language. That inspired me to go back to school. But above all, I must say that God intended that I go to prison and study because I would not have made it outside.
In 2005, I enrolled for S3 and in 2006 I sat O’level exams and got a first grade. In 2008, I sat A’level exams, doing economics, divinity, history and entrepreneurship. I got 14 points. We used to teach ourselves since we did not have teachers. It was the grace of God that a person on death row could get three principal passes.
Zzizinga (second left) celebrates with his wife (third left) and other relatives after his release.
Then, Kampala School of Theology, working together with Pastor Joseph Sirrah’s ministry, Prison Resource Mobilisation and Management Centre introduced a diploma in Christian ministry. I enrolled and in 2011, graduated with a diploma.
After that, I applied for distant learning to the University of London International law programme for a degree, becoming the first condemned inmate in Luzira to study a degree in law from abroad. The prison administration encouraged me; the director of African Prison Project introduced me to that university.
Last year, I started the programme and I was supposed to do my exams last October, but unfortunately, when I went to the Court of Appeal, Elias Kisawuzi put the hearing date on the day I was supposed to do my exams. I pleaded with him, but he would not change his mind. I would have been far now.
What are your feelings towards those who accused you?
In 2011, when I was graduating before the justice and constitutional affairs state minister, Fred Ruhindi, I told the world that although these people had malicious intent, I had forgiven them in the name of Jesus Christ. I have never reversed that decision.
How do you intend to use your prison experience?
I was wrongfully arrested and convicted. There are so many innocent people languishing in prison and many are on the death row. What I have seen in the Ugandan criminal judicial system is unique in the sense that when the truth comes out revealing that the victim is innocent, he becomes an enemy of those in authority.
This happened to me. I am lucky that I am out with God’s blessings. Many are not lucky like me. I am studying law and I am going to use it to help the innocent in prison.
I have been well integrated into the community. I was warmly received.
What are your future plans?
I want to rebuild my family and further my education. After getting my first degree, I intend to pursue a masters and if possible, a PhD. Above all, I have to serve God.
THE GENESIS OF HIS TROUBLES
On October 20, 2001, the residents of Kawotto in Kajjansi woke up to a gruesome murder. Body parts of a woman identified as Annet Nakiwala were found scattered near a shrine belonging to Edward Zimula.
On October 21, children who were playing football near the shrine stumbled on the other body parts wrapped in a polythene bag.
A file was opened at Katwe Police Station and several suspects were arrested, including Ibra Sekate (the deceased’s husband), Edward Zimula (witchdoctor), Serwada Vincent, Tomusange Isobotheth and one Ssalongo.
On October 29, 2001, an identification parade was carried out at Katwe Police Station and the bereaved family identified Sekate as the person who was last seen with Nakiwala the evening she was murdered. Zimula was also identified, having been seen with Sekate, a day before Nakiwala’s murder, walking with the deceased to the shrine.
Patrick Zizinga was also arrested at his home in Wakaligga, but was shortly released after the identification parade, as the prime suspects had been picked out.
Zimula and Sekate were charged with murder and remanded to Luzira Prison, but were granted bail by court.
In a twist of events, Zizinga was arrested and accused of killing his ‘wife’ Annet Nakiwala.
In May 2002, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions changed the file and what was initially Uganda vs. Sekate and Zimula was changed to Uganda vs. Zizinga Patrick alias Tyaba Kyafa and others. A summary of the case indicated that Zizinga had murdered his official wife.
During the trial, the name of the deceased was changed from Agnes Nakiwala to Madinah Nakiwala Agnes — the name of his official wife — who is still alive today.
Was this deliberate?
In 2004, Zizinga was condemned to death by the High Court. At the time of his arrest, his land title of Block 380 plot 1 and other important documents were confiscated by the arresting officer ASP Vincent Etyang.
On October 16, 2009, Zizinga wrote to the commandant of the Land Protection Unit in the Police asking for his intervention after unscrupulous people started partitioning and selling off his land.
The Police findings indicated that the accused had a running dispute over a huge prime property situated along Entebbe Road with Zimula and they had clashed on several occasions over ownership of a 350-acre prime piece of land in Kajjansi.
An investigation by Sunday Vision at the lands office shows that Block 351 was shared out among top big Government shots and some handled this case, including the arrest of the accused.
Despite Justice Remmy Kasule issuing an interim order stopping all the transaction on this disputed property, the land grabbers, with the help of an army colonel, evicted the accused’s relatives and continued selling the land. A former presidential aide who runs an outlawed outfit also wrote to the commissioner of lands threatening her with severe action if she failed to register the new transfers that had been effected on the disputed property.
In 2011, the DPP wrote to the Police, instructing them to carry out fresh investigations after receiving several petitions from concerned members. A report was compiled by William Musambwa, an investigating officer and examined by the Moses Binoga, who was the head of the homicide unit. The report exonerated Zizinga.
The Police report also questioned the role of the earlier investigating officer. The report further notes that there was no impartiality and the intention, according to the evidence adduced on file was to cover up the main suspect. Despite vital body parts being found in possession of one of the suspects who was released, no effort was made to ask him to explain how the body parts got into his possession and for what purpose they were intended for?
One of the main witnesses who was called up to testify against the accused during his defence, Rogers Kasirye, immediately disappeared and there are possibilities that he was kidnapped and probably killed as he was leaving the court premises. The other witness for the defence, Agnes Nalutaya, who was a sister to the deceased, fled to Dubai for fear for her life and only returned recently.
On October 26, 2011, the deputy CID director, Godfrey Musana, wrote a summary on what action the Police had taken after they received a letter from the DPP, ordering for fresh investigations. He observed that the old case file at Katwe Police Station had mysteriously disappeared and that some witness who testified in favour of the accused had disappeared.
He also observed that the deceased’s real husband Sekate changed his residence after he was released from prison and it had been difficult to trace him.
- In 2001, on his way to meet Isoke Baguma, the then Minister of Lands he is arrested, thrown onto a pick-up and taken to Jinja Road Police Station.
- On October 20, 2001, residents of Kawotto in Kajjansi wake up to a gruesome murder of Annet Nakiwala and her body parts are found scattered near a shrine belonging to Edward Zimula.
- On October 29, 2001, an identification parade is carried out at Katwe Police Station and the bereaved family identify Ibra Sekate (deceased's husband) as the person who was last seen with Nakiwala the evening she was murdered. Zimula was also identified, having been seen with Sekate, a day before, walking with the deceased to the shrine. Patrick Zizinga is also arrested at his home in Wakaligga, but is shortly released after the identification parade, as the prime suspects in the murder had been picked out.
- A few weeks later, Zizinga is arrested and accused of killing his wife ‘Nakiwala Annet’.
- In May 2002, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions changes the file and what was initially a murder case is changed from Uganda vs. Sekate and Zimula to Uganda vs. Zizinga Patrick alias Tyaba Kyafa and others.
- On December 17, 2004, Justice Carolyne Atim Okello of Nakawa High Court sentences Zizinga to death for murder.
- In 2006, Zizinga loses an appeal against his incarceration.
- On Friday, April 5, Patrick Zizinga is released after the Nakawa High Court sets him free after spending 11 years in Luzira Maximum Security Prison.
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Zizinga: surviving deathrow, forgiving tormentors