Mr Benon Alyao, 73, sits on a plastic chair at Lira Central Police Station with a plaster on his head. Two other middle-aged men sit next to him. In their company is an elderly woman. The four look pensive and disillusioned.
They have been left homeless after being banished from a place they called home since they were born for allegedly practicing witchcraft.
The four, together with others, were arrested as suspects in a murder case. Gunshots were fired at Mr Alyao’s home and a person killed. He, together with his children, Nelson Aporo, 42, Patrick Ocero, 39 and wife Josephine Akello, were then picked by police. Police later learnt that the bullets were allegedly intended to finish the old man but accidentally killed one of the assailants.
Residents of Ewop ‘A’ Village in Abwocolil Parish, Amac Sub-county, Lira District are complaining that Mr Alyao’s family is at the forefront of witchcraft that has claimed a number of souls.
Out of control
The situation worsened on June 30 following the death of Rev. Tom Ocero who was working at Akalo Parish in Kole District. Rev. Ocero died at Lacor Hospital where he was admitted suffering from a cancer-like ailment. A group of people including a brother to the Reverend, Patrick Ogwang, reportedly mobilised and attacked Mr Alyao’s home that night armed with machetes and guns.
They forced the house open and Ogwang, the mobiliser entered and attacked Mr Alyao with a machete. But Mr Alyao overpowered Ogwang forcing him to flee. As he fled, his friends mistook him for Mr Alyao and instantly opened fire on him in rapid succession and shot him dead.
Police were informed and nine suspects were rounded up including the family of Mr Alyao. After interrogation, Mr Nelson Okello allegedly confessed to the murder. A former Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) soldier, Mr Okello led police to recover two guns, one of which he used in the attack. Central North Police spokesperson Henry Alyanga corroborated the report. He said the case of murder is registered under CRB 1981/2011.
Mr Alyanga said the community of Ewap ‘A’ village had been pointing accusing fingers at Mr Alyao, accusing him of practicing witchcraft.
“Alyao is being accused of being responsible for the death of many people in the village,” Mr Alyanga said. “When Rev. Ocero fell sick, it was alleged Alyao was responsible.”
Mr Alyanga said police got information that following the death of his brother, Ogwang mobilised his colleagues to go and kill M. Alyao. He said Ogwang went with three others to attack the home of Mr Alyao.
“Ogwang himself entered the house and cut the old man with a machete, there followed a scuffle and Ogwang came out but was mistaken for the old man and his colleagues sprayed bullets at him killing him instantly,” the police spokesperson said. He said the following day, Mr Okello surrendered to police and confessed to the killing. Five magazines with 149 rounds of ammunition were also recovered together with the machete used in the attack.
Mr Alyanga said Mr Okello and Mr Dick Ebil have been transferred to RRU headquarters in Kireka, Kampala for further questioning. But Mr Alyao has denied practicing witchcraft. He claims he is being witch-hunted.
Son speaks out
However, his elder son, Mr Aporo, said: “I even tried to talk to my father about this but he could not listen.” He said the recent hatred towards their family was sparked off in June when Celestino Alagi died under unclear circumstances. “All the deaths are being blamed on my father,” Mr Aporo said. Some of the ailments that cause death, Mr Aporo said, start with swellings on the legs, and then wounds that become septic and eventually the victim dies.
Now the residents have since banished Mr Alyao from the village allegedly for fear of more deaths. The LCI Chairman of Ewap ‘A’ Village, Mr John Okwir, said the people of the village do not want the family in the area. “Our problem is with Alyao. He is a witch, he kills people,” Mr Okwir said. Over two dozen residents, who had last Saturday evening gathered at Ewap Trading Centre, had no kind words for Mr Alyao.
Mr Okwir said there have been many cases of people becoming hysteric and shouting uncontrollably. He said in most cases, “prayers are held and the charms say they are brought by Mr Alyao”. He said in one incident, Mr Alyao’s daughter, Ms Agnes Akec, 28, was possessed by some spirits and started running around removing charms from their home.
Four charms were removed and Ms Akec said they were brought by her father. During this gathering, Mr Alyao admitted bringing the charms to protect his home. But his clan warned him to stop the habit.
Last year, Mr Alyao’s son set his father’s house on fire. As the father came out, Mr Aporo hit him with a club and he fell down unconscious. The matter was reported to police but the community intervened and police dropped the case against Mr Aporo. Mr Aporo accused his father of being responsible for the death of his two children.
Mr Alyao told police he would stop witchcraft. He called a witchdoctor one Ali who came and removed some charms from his home. His clan again warned him to stop the practice.
On May 17, the community held a meeting in which it was agreed that on June 30, another meeting would be held to name the witch responsible for deaths in the village. Minutes of the meeting were recorded by Denis Oyugi.
Unfortunately, on the night of June 29, the house of Oyugi was set on fire and all the documents and property got burnt including minutes of the village meetings.
Mr Oyugi’s wife, Susan, was seriously burnt and is admitted at Lira Regional Referral Hospital. The same day, Rev. Ocero died. The scheduled June 30 meeting was disrupted. There was lot of anger in the village according to the chairman. This prompted some people to organise to kill Mr Alyao but they ended up killing one of their own.
On June 30, a team of security officials led by RDC Susan Akany met the community in Ewop ‘A’. The villagers told the team that Mr Alyao is the one responsible for problems in the village and they do not want him and his family.
During this writer’s encounter with the villagers at Ewop Trading Centre on Saturday July 16, they maintained the same. “We don’t want them (Alyao’s family) here,” said a member of the village. “There is no law that can be used to prosecute a witch, we are tired of these people and the only thing to do is to get rid of them,” said another resident who preferred not to be named.
Experiences from Ewop
* Mr Michael Okwir, 32 said one day he was making bricks when Mr Alyao pointed his walking stick at him. Since then he has been experiencing strange things. He said he could hear knocks on his door when, actually, there was no one. “I always hear the sound around and when I pray, it disappears,” he narrated.
* Mr Epwo Enacimo Okwir, 67, claims Mr Alyao caused the death of his father, Onacimo Okwir, in 1989 and mother Jenecio Alaba Okwir in 1998. He also accused Mr Alyao of being responsible for death of his two nephews in one week in October 2010. “We are better now without him. He should not be allowed back in this village,” Mr Okwir said. Mr Okwir said, as Mr Alyao’s clan leader, he is ashamed.
* Mr Denis Opele, 20, said one day Mr Alyao found him digging and pointed his walking stick at him. Since then, he has become very extravagant and violent to his friends. He also complains that his money gets lost mysteriously.
* Mr Tom Charles Ocen, 50, a catechist of Ewop St. Paul Church. He says he has been praying for people in the village who become hysteric. Mr Ocen said in the past five years he has been in the village, he has participated in the burial of eight people allegedly killed by Mr Alyao.
* RDC Susan Akany said she went to the village with other stakeholders and tried to sensitise the community to accept the family back in vain. “They are insisting that Mr Alyao is a witch and if he returns to the village, they will kill him,” Ms Akany said on Tuesday. “We have now handed the matter to Lango Cultural Foundation,” she added.
* The DPC, Mr Robert Semata, said he is stuck with the family for fear that if he releases them, they could be lynched.