GULU-UGANDA: The Chairman of Uganda’s Electoral Commission has written a letter instructing the Gulu District Returning Officer and the police to investigate “alleged interference with electoral process” by a serving army officer, Brigadier Charles Otema-Awany.
In his letter dated January 18, 2016, Dr. Badru Kigundu said the Gulu District Returning Officer should investigate the allegation against the Brigadier and submit his findings to him (Badru Kigundu) within three days of receipt of the letter.
“The Commission should appreciate your response to the same within three (3) days from receipt of this letter, to enable it respond appropriately to the concerns raised in the said complaint”. Badru Kigundu’s letter said in parts.
In her petition dated January 12, 2016, to the Electoral Commission Chairman, the incumbent Member of Parliament for Gulu women Ms. Betty Aol Ocan complains that Brigadier Otema-Awany has been all over the district campaigning for NRM and their candidate for the Gulu women seat as well as dishing out cash and other goodies to groups of voters.
“The guidelines on elections are quite clear; that serving public officers are not allowed to take part in partisan electoral activity. The voters are not to be enticed by cash incentives as the Brigadier has been doing”. Said MP Aol, who is seeking re-election under the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party ticket.
She faces stiff opponent, Ms. Catherine Lamwaka, of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, on whose behalf Brigadier Otema is alleged to be campaigning. A recent story on the Independent Daily Monitor newspaper captured Brigadier Otema in a photograph, giving out money to some voters in Gulu district.
In her complain the Electoral Commission Chairman, Ms Aol alleged that on January 7, 2016, Brig. Otema-Awany gathered 12 groups of voters at Police Primary School in Gulu Municipality and gave them 12 million shillings (about $3400 dollars) asking them to vote for President Museveni and Catherine Lamwaka. Ms. Aol appealed to Dr. Badru Kigundu to “restrain Brig. Otema-Awany from interference in electoral process in the spirit of free, fair and peaceful elections”.
“I have compiled details of his activities since December 2015 up to date. I would be most grateful if action is taken to restore sanity in the electoral process in Gulu District”, concludes Ms. Aol.
In a related development, the Member of Parliament for Aswa County, Mr. Ronald Reagan Okumu, also registered numerous complaints against Brig. Otema-Awany for disrupting his rallies in Aswa County. Mr. Okumu, who has represented Aswa in Parliament since 1996 and seeking re-election, lists six different locations where his campaigns were interfered with by Brig. Otema-Awany, Catherine Lamwaka and one of his opponents, Mr. Christopher Acire.
In a February 02, 2016 letter which was addressed to the District Returning Officer for Gulu district, Mr. Okumu alleged for example that, on January 27, 2016, Brig. Otema-Awany, Catherine Lamwaka and Christopher Acire reportedly interrupted his program in Paibona Parish, Awach sub-county.
“It is not a healthy development. We have filed a petition. The NRM is threatening people. Brig. Otema moves with impunity bribing voters. I am very disappointed by the way the electoral process is moving”. Mr. Okumu told the media from the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) on February 04, 2016.
Brigadier Otema has however described the allegation has total “lies” and that he was involved in partisan politics. During a meeting with the media from his Acholi Inn Hotel in the heart of Gulu, Brig. Otema however admits moving to meet and help Village Savings and Loan Associations, commonly called “Boliicup”.
“It is very unfortunate if mature people can speak lies like that. I am grateful that this thing has come out like this. Personally I was disturbed with the recording of Democratic Party President General, Mr. Norbert Mao mentioning my name in his campaigns. Why is he inciting people against me” He told the media.
Brigadier Otema explained to the media that he is the Chairman of BONGO TRADERS, the organization that has been assisting village groups with loans; and that he was always invited to witness the opening of their cash boxes.
“I have been receiving invitations by bollicup groups as the chairman of Bongo Traders to go and witness box opening and to offer advice on how to run a business. When I am interacting with the community, I answer questions and explain myself. If they (opposition politicians) don’t want me to go to the community, then they should stop inciting people against me”. He said.
He bragged that his business empire is worth 10 billion Uganda shillings ($3million dollars) and he feels proud of helping the community by giving out a token of support to communities using his own money. He denied allegation that he was dishing out government tax payers’ money to the voters.
“I am not selfish with my money as others. If you abuse my mother, then I will also pay you in the same coin. I will accept nothing less. The court will decide”. He said.
Both the Gulu District Returning Officer and the Police have denied ever seeing or receiving the copy of Dr. Badru Kigundu’s letter but the returning officer said the police was investigation the allegation against Brig. Otema-Awany as filed by Mr. Reagan Okumu.