When Kampala Woman MP Nabilah Naggayi told the media last year that she was happy to end her “abusive marriage” with FDC, what she did not reveal at that time was that her real marriage, too, had literally ended years ago.
Not that she needed to.
Last week, the Makindye Chief Magistrate, Lorna Tukundane issued an order instructing Nabilah’s husband, Isaac Ssempala to stay away from the legislator.
Nabilah had run to court seeking protection from Ssempala whom she accused among other things of “slapping her” in public.
In truth, long before the order was made, Nabilah and Ssempala had been leaving apart for more than 10 years, according to multiple sources including family friends and relatives.
“Their marriage died in 2008,” one relative told The Nile Post.
The two had gotten married a couple of years earlier when Nabilah had just been elected Kampala Woman MP.
“What remained was keeping up appearances. So the court order does not have any meaning.”
Indeed, anyone who has closely followed Nabilah’s political life will conclude that it has largely been one of managing perceptions and keeping up appearances.
It has also been one of springing surprises.
By the time she clocked mid 20s, Nabilah was a councillor at Wakiso district.
At the age of 32 years, Nabilah was leader of a political party, the Social Democrats Party (SDP) which she formed in the run up to the 2005 referendum on political systems.
SDP, according to press records, was one of those that opposed the return to multi-party system in preference to the “The Movement system”.
When the side supporting the retention of the Movement System lost in the referendum, Nabilah too changed sides.
She became an avid advocate of pluralism.
“Nabilah does not stick with losers,” said one political activist who has worked closely with her.
“She is very calculative.”
2006 Besigye wave
Yet Nabilah’s real political baptism occurred in 2006 when she surprised everyone, including herself, and became Kampala Woman MP.
She defeated veteran NRM politician Margaret Zziwa, who had occupied the seat for 10 years.
Political analysts at that time attributed her victory to two crucial factors.
The first was the political wave whipped up by Dr Kizza Besigye’s return from political exile in South Africa.
Besigye instantly became popular in Kampala and other urban centres where he electrified voters with his coarse voice and hard hitting message.
Getting his endorsement in areas like Kampala was a big deal and assured one of political victory.
The second factor was the change in the voting system.
For years, women MPs had been elected through a college system that comprised women leaders at various levels in the district. This system could easily be manipulated by candidates who had money and clout, like Zziwa.
In 2006, elections for the women MPs were opened up to adult suffrage meaning that every voter could cast his/her ballot for the preferred candidate.
This new system, combined with the Besigye factor, favoured Nabilah, a political novice.
Indeed, many voters in Kampala confessed that they had ticked in favour of the “the beautiful lady” whose symbol was a Kisumuluzo (key). Some could not even remember her name.
New life, new changes
Parliament changed Nabilah’s life in more ways than one. It also altered her marriage to Ssempala for good.
She earned some good money and hobnobbed with the political shakers and movers of the country.
She also travelled widely abroad and got exposed to new perspectives of life.
Nabilah’s first term in Parliament (2006-2011) was noteworthy for a number of reasons.
One, her stunning beauty became the talk in the marbled corridors of power as ministers and male MPs jostled for her attention.
Once when a parliamentary committee roasted Kahinda Otafiire over some discrepancies in his ministry, the then minister of Environment claimed that MPs found it easy to attack him because he “was ugly.”
“May be If I was beautiful like Nabilah, they would have been soft on me,” the controversial minister said on the steps of Parliament, trying to answer a question from a journalist.
Secondly, she failed to impose herself on the floor as many people had hoped.
Instead, she got mired in one controversy after another including the allegations raised by Erias Lukwago, the then Kampala Central MP, that Nabilah and other MPs had been bribed by businessmen Hassan Basajjabalaba to write a favourable report pertaining to his ownership of key city markets.
Nabilah denied the allegations.
Yet it was her nascent marriage that took the heaviest toll once she became a legislator.
Relatives and friends say once Nabilah joined Parliament her marriage to Ssempala was put on the back burner.
She hardly had time for him, due to the hectic legislative schedule, but she also felt that Ssempala was now “beneath her standard”, according to family sources.
While Ssempala was an accomplished businessman and hailed from a prominent family, Nabilah, according to one relative, felt “he was not a perfect fit.”
“She though he was not the kind of person she could discuss politics with or things to do with rules of procedure of parliament,” said a relative.
With time, Nabilah and her husband drifted apart.
One time, Nabilah decided to remove all Ssempala’s portraits from the living room, including photos of their wedding.
A muslim, Nabilah even started going for lunch hour prayer sessions at a make-shift born-again church on the Plaza Building, on Kampala Road.
Ssempala also had his grievances.
She accused her of disrespecting him and of having extra-marital affairs with other politicians including two senior officials who still serve in Museveni’s cabinet.
Once, Ssempala confronted Nabilah that she had travelled as a “spouse” of one of the politicians to a conference in Senegal.
“He felt betrayed. But he was powerless. Its Nabilah who had the name and the fame,” one of the relatives said.
Family members led by Latif Ssebaggala, the Kawempe North MP, on many occasions tried to reconcile the two.
Their efforts did not succeed.
In 2011, Ssempala decided to momentarily vacate the marital home in Buziga.
It is a decision he has lived to regret.
Enter Prof Baryamureeba
Nature abhors a vacuum, is a scientific truism that means “every space needs to be filled.”
So as Ssempala stepped out of the Buziga home, in came Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, the decorated professor of computer science and former Makerere University vice chancellor.
Baryamureeba, has never been shy to wear his ambitions on his sleeve.
In his statement issued last week, Baryamureeba said he met Nabilah in 2005 shortly before she became MP.
Baryamureeba was then a member of Bidandi Ssali’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP) while Nabilah was leader of SDP.
Soon their relationship moved to a level where the professor was too comfortable to extend loans, under very generous terms, to Nabilah.
In his statement, Baryamureeba says that he extended the loans to Nabilah as a friend to help her save the marital house which was under the threat of being taken by a commercial bank over a loan.
Around the time Baryamureeba was extending money to Nabilah in 2011, Ssempala’s business life was in tatters.
In 2007 as Uganda prepared to host CHOGM, Ssempala was one of the people who benefitted from the Kampala “beautification project” started by his brother, Nasser Ssebaggala, when he served as Kampala mayor.
Four years later, Ssempala’s businesses were reeling. To stop the bleeding, he sold some real estate but the situation did not drastically improve.
He borrowed until he could borrow no more. Then he decided to flee.
Sources told us that at first Ssempala believed that the relationship between Nabilah and Baryamureeba was purely business.
He started hearing rumours that the two were an item. In fact some of Ssempala neighbours started telling him that on some days, the professor would visit and leave deep into the night.
Ssempala decided to lay a trap.
Late one night in 2012, as Baryamureeba emerged from Nabilah’s home, his official university car was pelted with stones by unknown people.
Shaken, the professor drove quickly to the nearest police post and reported that he had run into thugs.
It turns out that that these were not thugs. They were youths hired by Ssempala to “teach” Baryamureeba a lesson.
The political end?
As Nabilah’s domestic life was unravelling, things, too were not looking good on the political front.
In 2015, Nabilah’s political career looked uncertain. Her relationship with FDC was shaky and it appeared that her political journey could be coming to an end.
She conjured up a multi plan to save what was left of her career.
Roughly, it involved working closely with the NRM while at the same time reaching out to the new kid on the block, Amama Mbabazi of Go Forward. Under the same plan, she was to keep on foot in FDC.
Like a businessmen would invest in multiple ventures to guard against risk, Nabilah, too, was trying to spread her political risk thin.
With a couple of days left to the 2016 presidential nominations, she found herself at State House.
Sources told us that the president had invited her together with other politicians, including some from the opposition, for a meeting.
Once the main meeting ended, Nabilah, stayed behind to attend a strategic NRM meeting.
This alarmed some senior NRM officials including Ruth Nankabirwa and Kasule Lumumba who feared that Nabilah would spill their secrets.
Museveni calmed them down and said “Nabilah was one of us.”
Now it was time to charm Mbabazi. On the eve of nomination, Nabilah paid for radio announcements calling upon her supporters in Kampala to accompany Mbabazi for the nomination in Namboole.
This left many FDC officials confused as they thought she was one of them. On D-day however Nabilah stayed on the sidelines and observed proceedings from afar.
Time to flip the plan. Next day, FDC’s Kizza Besigye was getting nominated. A determined Nabilah, sensing that Besigye was still popular in Kampala, injected herself into the party’s official delegation to Namboole.
Very early in the morning, she set out to Namboole and once inside the conference hall, she decided to occupy the seat that had been reserved for the person who would nominate Besigye.
The party had already chosen a supporter from Bukedea to perform this honour but Nabilah had other ideas.
She won the battle and was re-elected in 2016. She was re-born. Or was she?
In the 10th parliament, Nabilah was a no-show as she spent more time out of the country than on the debating floor.
As the 2021 elections approached, she figured out that she could not make back on the woman MP ticket.
She opted to stand for the Kampala lord mayoral seat.
Tired of her games, FDC told her to her face that they would not give her their ticket.
Bitter, she joined the National Unity Platform (NUP), a new kid on the block.
Yet by the time she decamped to NUP, it was all but certain that she was trying to clutch at a political straw.
Not even the umbrella wave that swept across parts of Buganda in the presidential and parliamentary elections could revive her fortunes as voters overwhelmingly rejected her in preference for the incumbent FDC’s Erias Lukwago.
She decided to nurse her defeat quietly. Then… Baryamureeba decided to re-open an old wound.