When Frying Pun seeks an interview, no one says no. Even the dead allow us time in the purgatory, an Indian will abandon a meal of okra and spaghetti to attend to us and a woman in labour will postpone her tribulations for a few minutes. But not these suspects. From e-mails to Facebook and then Whatsapp and calls, the journalists faceless blogger Tom Voltaire Okwalinga names in the pensions scandal chose to behave like they were too engrossed with stabbing Mozambicans in Durban, South Africa, to care.
All we were begging for is just a few minutes in our searing pun but Stanley Ndawula, Muherereza Kyamutetera, Chris Kiwawulo and Simon Masaba would have none of it. But trust a Musoga man to come up with a brilliant idea: Henry Mbago suggested we book into Golf Course Hotel and call these guys from therein, that they would come running. We did. The rest, as they say, is the pun.
Like expected, Ndawula was first. He charged in like a Nigerian evil spirit, darting his eyes from corner to corner and within 0.006 seconds of walking into the suite, his eyes had scanned the entire room. It was written all over his face that he was disappointed there were no Benjamins (the green banknotes you call US Dollars) around.
“Relax, mate,” The Frying Pun extolled. “The money has been sent to First Street Industrial Area for someone to exchange.”
“So you are not giving us dollars, but the Uganda Shilling that is germinating mold from loss of value against the Dollar like some fertile farmland in Kibaale?” Ndawula charged. “Have you heard of Cairo International Bank? It’s trending dollars and you are talking about shillings.”
We were at pains to explain that it was Obey’s father who sent the money there because that is where he preferred to channel dollars to be taken to the forex. Just when he was relaxing, we broke the real bang: “It’s not about money, just some clarification we need on the allegations flying around like UFOs in Russian military airspace.”
Kiwawulo and Masaba showed up like Siamese twins. The sweat on their brows meant they were nervous. Like Ndawula before them, they scanned the room before settling in seats. Then the man who would pass for a pimp in a dingy Mexican alley because of his burly size stomped in. Kyamutetera, aka Kyamu, smelt of a mixture of both Johnny Walker and an aftershave, He was suave in a beige jacket atop a brown corduroy pants. The man exuded confidence.
“You have all read the TVO expose. It’s damning enough for any right thinking member of the public. What did not happen, really?” The Frying Pun said.
After some awkward silence that made Frying Pun fidget like a man with a boil in the groin trying to take up a seat, Kyamu came first, thumping his chest and announcing: “I always eat money… my money.” Kiwawulo excused himself to the toilet, and Masaba feigned a phone call and walked out to ‘pick’ it. Ndawula picked at whatever hair he had on his chin for a while before asking why Andrew Bagala and the many others named by TVO are not in the room, but only them.
“Bagala is as broke as village policemen deep in Adjumani who have not received salary but dry ration of posho and beans for the last six months,” The Frying Pun said. “His own toilet complains that he serves them poor feeding with lack of balanced diet. Such a man cannot have received dollars. Besides, TVO does not name him in dollar bracket, but rather as a double agent, which we also dispute because if he were an informant, he surely would be earning from it. Let’s leave him out of his for now.”
“So what you believe is that we, that is, Andrew, Chris, Simon and I received bribes?” Kyamu asked, laughing rather loudly. “I’m surprised you guys suddenly now think TVO is an authentic source. He who alleges must prove.”
“Kyamu, we might be forced to add fire so the pun is hotter than this if you keep this up,” The Frying Pun said.
“Are you threatening me? I am Kyamu, who are you to threaten me?” Kyamu was not in good moods. “If I had pocketed the $130,000, I would be happily waiting for another crisis. But since when did dog biting man become news? Again, is it the $130,000 causing excitement? In PR, I would see these guys as clients. I don’t moralise about my clients, I don’t take sides. I help them to tell their story. Besides, they would be mere suspects.”
“So, Kyamu, you pay journalists to write favourable stories about your clients, is that what you imply, huh? A mere admission that you picked a hefty envelope to pay journalists or whoever else involved in the scandal would make you an accomplice before a fact should the law prove there was bribery involved.”
Kiwawulo walked back in. Masaba was still on his phantom call.
“I did not say that I took money, nor that I pay journalists at that, and it seems you are desperate to find us guilty,” Kyamu said. “We are being accused by a faceless nincompoop and now everyone has bought into it. But for me, my philosophy is that when people scratch you over and again, think of them as sandpaper. It can scratch you and it will pain, hurt real bad, but when all is done and dusted, you emerge shining while the sandpaper becomes useless.”
“Oh, Kyamu, so you are happy to play the fat sow that lures white ewes to roll in the mud with it but you don’t care about teachers who served this country diligently for decades but on retirement have never received a coin of their pension because their file disappeared without a trace? Imagine their misery, helped by a bunch of greedy chaps masquerading as journalists who help thieves loot with impunity…” Frying Pun broke off as Masaba walked in. Kiwawulo was wiping what seemed like sweat or tears or both. He looks an emotion kind, so he must have been weeping. What we can’t tell, though, is whether it is because of the harrowing conscience or just drama.
“Waiting for the next client as I laugh at a hoard of pretenders like you. I can actually represent Ndawula Stanley. Sometimes when the odds are against you, when burden of proof is on the accused instead of the reverse, when some faceless TVO has your name in the dock, when you are being mob-justiced by everyone, you need an Olivia Pope. You need a voice. And that’s when I come in and boy-oh-boy. I don’t come cheap.” Obviously, Kyamu was enjoying himself.
That is when we remembered Teddy Ssezi Cheeye. The former publisher of Uganda Confidential is serving a ten-year jail sentence for misuse of Shs120 million meant for Global Fund activities. Cheeye was convicted by the Anti-Corruption Court on April 8, 2009, and also ordered to refund Shs100 million to the Global Fund. Tell all this to Kyamu made him soften his stance and Ndawula muttered something inaudible about his lawyer. Kiwawulo was by now weeping freely like a child buying time between hunger and a game. When he managed to say something between the sobs, it was: “I did not take any money… I’m a product of my hard work.”
To save us more of Kiwawulo’s dummy, we decided to shift to the battle-hardened Kyamu and the pensive Ndawula instead. “Ndawula, for your case, it is easy to nail. A Mercedes Benz and four other cars that you parked in your compound in Kisaasi when you had just bought the palatial residence about three years ago, you did invite me there and regale me in some yummy tales of how you were chilling in a suite at this very hotel for two months as your house was being dusted up…”
“My lawyers are studying the developments for better advice on how to respond to any formal allegations against me, not through you or the faceless TVO. By the way, TVO, is the most wanted creature in Uganda, why don’t you go interrogate him instead?” Ndawula asked.