Sunday April 20 2014

Ayigihugu: The daring advocate

Ayigihugu at work in

Ayigihugu at work in the 1990s. Courtesy photo 

By Alex Rezida

Kampala- On Thursday April 10, the iconic criminal lawyer Protasio Sebutozi Ayigihugu was laid to rest at Mbalwa, Namugongo in Wakiso District; having succumbed to pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung) on Tuesday April 8.

Ayigihugu was born on August 15, 1932 at Bugara village, Bufumbira, Kisoro District to the Sebutozi family. He was the last surviving among his siblings!

He graduated from the then Makerere College as a teacher. While teaching at Police Training School (many always referred to him as a former police officer whereas not), Ayigihugu and Henry Kayondo (RIP) – who would also emerge as a top criminal lawyer – were selected to go and study law in England as part of a wider scheme to prepare Ugandans for post-independence public service.

On return, Ayigihugu served as a State Attorney in the office of the Director of Public Prosecution where he rose to be the acting Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).

However, one morning, Ayigihugu woke up to news that Amin had appointed the late Francis Ayume (RIP) as the DPP – an office Ayigihugu was holding. Ayume was pretty much his junior! Ayigihugu then resigned to set up the firm, Ayigihugu & Co. Advocates; a firm that was to be revered!

At the time of his resignation, concerned friends and family members were worried that Amin may view his resignation as a slap in his face and advised that he goes to exile. But Ayigihugu stood his ground. They then urged him to lie low and discard his BMW car (they weren’t many those days) but he retorted, saying it would be a contradiction to lie low and be a legal practitioner at his level!

True to his word, Ayigihugu bore firm allegiance to his professional calling with valour in the days when many would not dare. In those days, it was not teargas! In his eulogy, Justice Bart Katureebe, J.S.C, whose first job was with Ayigihugu & Co. Advocates in Amin’s era, told of an experience when he advised Ayigihugu not to consider taking on instructions to defend an accused in the Military Tribunal for personal security reasons.

Ayigihugu in turn asked: “If we all decline who will serve the voiceless in the face of State coercion?” A few days later, Katureebe was awed when Ayigihugu turned up in the chambers with the accused in tow after securing his release from the tribunal.

Ironically even today, with no comparable risk, there are lawyers that will flinch at the possibility of appearing in the Military Court Martial.
But Ayigihugu’s valour in Amin’s time was not without scars. During the requiem mass at the Uganda Martyrs Basilica at Namugongo, Justice Remmy K. Kasule, J.A, a much younger legal practitioner and human rights activist then, told of a time when Ayigihugu and the late Sam K. Njuba were arrested for inquiring about and representing those arrested for contravening the Amin era miniskirts/dresses decree.

On arrest, the two were taken to Naguru [Public Safety Unit offices] where broken bottles were used to clean shave their heads. Ayigihugu was later bundled into a vehicle and while at Clock Tower en route to Makindye, the vehicle slowed down. Ayigihugu flung the door open and fled for his dear life. His athletic self could never have been handier as he fled.
With his captors still stunned at the sudden and dramatic act, Ayigihugu, a former footballer, sprinted into the crowds which made him an impossible target. He remained underground until DPP Ayume interceded on his part and secured assurances from President Amin that he would not be arrested.
As if reading from Isaiah 50:4-7, “The Lord has given me, the tongue of those who are taught that I may know how to sustain with a word, him that is weary”, Ayigihugu resumed legal practice unabated - for the Lord did give a Learned tongue.
After the fall of the Amin regime on April 11, 1979, a number of high ranking Amin era officials were arrested. Many of them were to face trial. Many of them ran to Ayigihugu to defend them. Defend them he did with the same agility as if he hadn’t literally run out of their claws. I saw the last of those that were his clients come out of the gallows on pardon when I started working with Ayigihugu & Co.

Advocates after Law School in the 1990s. It was Nassur Abdallah, the former governor of Kampala!
During Obote II regime, the high profile cases Ayigihugu handled were those of the Amin era officials. Post-1986 Ayigihugu was on the scene, this time with a couple of high profile individuals of the Obote II era including former Security minister Chris Rwakasisi. NRM is still around.

Ayigihugu is not. Still, he defended high profile NRM’s own including one of the accused in the famed Evaristo Nyanzi treason case. It was Ayigihugu’s mastery at defence in Uganda vs Major John Kazoora that ultimately led to the amendment of the law on the now statutory definition of embezzlement.

To many, Ayigihugu was the prominent bad one that got criminals off the hook; betraying the human streak at being judgmental. Come their turn or that of one of their own, they invariably vacated the judgment and to Ayigihugu they would go. For Ayigihugu the professional he was, he never personalised any case. His doors were always open to the very low and the very high in society.
But what made Ayigihugu stand out tall? There were many attributes. I will only mention those that I know and I did know him. Other than being a brother to my grandmother and having been inspired by him to become a lawyer when I was 15, I clerked under him and later worked with him.
The most basic attribute was his unnerving simplicity. He put you at ease - employee and client alike. This simplicity made him a leader without a title!

Ayigihugu was meticulous in preparation and surgical in execution of his plans. Reading the Art of War by Sun Tzu later, the lessons learnt from Ayigihugu kept unfolding; it’s awesome to realise how Sun Tzu’s text applies to court battles.

I recall a time when we had what on the face of it was a simple civil suit arising from a road traffic accident. The type you analyse the police sketch plan and proceed. Ayigihugu called me in. In front of him was the client. We went through the required preparation and case strategies.

Ayigihugu then said that we ought to visit the scene of the accident at Entebbe and with the driver, reconstruct it as much as we could before appearing in court. With hindsight the shine and result of that case would never have been the same without the locus reconstruction. After Judgment, he reminded me that as far as a lawyer’s contribution to a case goes, 60 per cent is won or lost at preparation.

The mentor
Pupilage under Ayigihugu ran for a relatively long time. He exposed one to all at hand without limit. He made one take client and witness statements extensively in his presence and tagged along with his juniors to court at all times.

To date, I still draw a line on the right hand side of court notes and witness statements to create space for critical cross examination or re-examination points. Gradually he let one argue an application in a case in his presence until one was weaned off.

Ayigihugu was one to reckon with. A great lawyer, a great teacher, a great mentor and a great parent.
He was grateful to God for the gift of the profession he embedded in him. Always advising clients that admitted to having issues to repent and be at peace with, God, his duty being to present their case and mitigate their fate while assuring the deserving ones of a worthy defence.
May his soul rest in peace!

The author is a partner at
Nangwala Rezida & Co. Advocates.