Radio Uganda manager survives Clock Tower execution

Sunday September 8 2019

Executed. A condemned man is prepared for

Executed. A condemned man is prepared for execution by firing squad on accusations of plotting to overthrow Idi Amin. On September 9, 1977, a dozen high profile Ugandans were executed by firing squad at Clock Tower. FILE PHOTOS 

By Felix Ocen

Exactly 42 years tomorrow, 12 former senior government officials were executed by firing squad at Clock Tower, Entebbe Road, in Kampala.
The initial order from then president Idi Amin was that 16 people be executed, all of whom had been accused of plotting to overthrow his government. Three people were later pardoned and released, leaving 13 on the death row.
Out of the 13, however, one person escaped a night before their execution. He was Apollo WodOkello Lawoko, a former senior manager of Radio Uganda.
Lawoko’s narrow escape saw him flee the country to Kenya from where he sought political asylum. Kenyan authorities, however, refused to grant him asylum.

Meeting Amin
In his book The Dungeons of Nakasero, Lawoko recounts how he met then Sgt Maj Amin during the early days of independence when the latter arrived unexpectedly at a gathering at Lawoko’s home one morning.
Amin sat patiently as he listened to Lawoko discuss with other guests. He told Lawoko that he decided to pay him a visit because he liked his English and Luo radio programmes very much.
Amin had carried along crates of beer and whiskey which he presented to Lawoko, saying Lawoko being a person of that capacity could be receiving many guests at his home all the time, so the beer and whiskey were to help him entertain them. Henceforth, the two became close friends. Lawoko also remembers Amin as a tremendous chap to have around as a friend.
Lawoko, however, recounts several incidences that could have warned the world, and more specifically the British who eventually supported Amin’s coup against Obote, of who Amin really was.
First, between 1952 and 1953, the British sent him to quell the Mau Mau rebellion which was raging on in Kenya at the time. He is said to have summarily executed several dozens of the rebels, especially in the Kenya highlands.
Again he was sent to combat cattle rustling in Karamoja between 1958 and 59 where he commanded an operation that left a countless number of Karimojong dead in the semi-arid areas of Moroto. These, together with several incidences like the raid on Lubiri in 1966, were enough warning to the world.

Friendship turns sour
Lawoko says he later met Amin at a tea party in Entebbe when he came in with a young lady whom he introduced as a “cousin”. Her name was Kay Adora.
Amin later requested Lawoko to give her a job at the radio. Adora got the job and Amin would pick her up in the evening after work. One time Adora came to work with a swollen face and told Lawoko that Amin had beaten her. She then warned Lawoko to keep his distance from Amin because he was capable of doing anything harmful to him.
Sometime later, Amin stormed the Radio Uganda premises, demanding to see his wife who was presenting a live programme. He promptly knocked down the programme manager who tried to explain to him why he could not enter the studio. He proceeded to the studio yelling madly, grabbed Adora by the collar of her dress and dragged her to his car and drove off. Henceforth, Lawoko tried to keep his distance from the volatile soldier.

Inside the dungeon
Amin was said to be extremely insecure and vindictive. Several years later in 1977 when he was at the peak of his presidency, according to the book, he had Lawoko arrested by his notorious State Research Bureau on the charges of treason and had him thrown in the dungeons in Nakasero, Kampala.
He would go on to spend 169 days, not only enduring torture, but also witnessing murders and detention of several people including archbishop of the Church of Uganda Janani Luwum, then Lands minister Lt Col Erinayo Wilson Oryema and then Internal Affairs minister Charles Oboth Ofumbi .
That same year Lawoko, along with others, was committed to the military tribunal on charges of treason. He was accused of plotting to overthrow the government, but by a strange twist of fate, he was declared not guilty by the illiterate head of the tribunal, Juma Ali, aka Butabika, and set free.
However weeks later, he was rearrested and thrown in solitary confinement at Fairway Hotel in Kampala from where he escaped on the night before the Clock Tower executions.

The execution
According to Robeson Ben Otim Engur, then aged 17, in his book Death in the Afternoon, the day began normally, but the general population in Kampala was aware that the government had scheduled the day for the execution of some people accused of treason.
The accused were Abdalla Anyuru (former chairperson of Public Service Commission), Ben Ongom (businessman), Lt Ben Ogwang (former intelligence officer, Malire Regiment), YY Okot (former chief of Education), EN Mutabazi (former superintendent of prisons), John Leji Olobo (senior relation officer, ministry of Works), Elias Okidi Menya (former general manager, Lake Victoria Bottling Company).
Others were Garison S. Onono (former principal of Bobi Foundation School), Julius Peter Adupa (former principal of Lira Polytechnic School), Daniel Nsereko (former Assistant Commissioner of Police), Peter Otoa (former principal officer Luzira prison) and John Kabandize (former senior superintendent of prisons).
Engur writes that he left home casually in Kololo and went to the city and, together with four others, decided to go to Kisenyi, a slum near the firing squad ground (Clock Tower).
They spent some time waiting for the prisoners to arrive. He says all of them were naïve and thought that the act of executing someone by firing squad was so colossal and immense that Amin would not carry it out.
“At 1pm, the rain clouds gathered and from nowhere and without warning, the sky opened and it began raining while we were inside drinking local beer. Honestly speaking, I have never seen such torrential rain. It was so heavy that the whole of Kampala City flooded and yet unusually for torrential rain, it poured out for over an hour. We all concluded that it was God expressing annoyance and displeasure about the impending firing squad,” he writes.
He says by close to 4pm, the Clock Tower ground was covered by a mammoth crowd and soldiers were everywhere. Then a prisons vehicle arrived, escorted by heavily armed soldiers.

An illustration of Amin asking Lawoko to get

An illustration of Amin asking Lawoko to get Kay Adora a job at Radio Uganda

Advertisement

Metallic barrels
There were 12 posts with metallic barrels erected at the grounds. The posts were to be used for tying up the accused while the barrels were intended to stop stray bullets.
The vehicle stopped and the 12 accused emerged from it. They were frogmarched and all had hoods covering their heads and faces. It was hard to distinguish between the men unless you knew them personally. They were led and tied to the pole with their hands behind their backs.
Engur says at that point Capt Chandia, whom he knew very well, carried out the final inspection on the accused to confirm the men had been secured properly on the standing posts.
He says they kept looking at the clock with the hope that the men would be pardoned by the president since it was the holy month of Ramadan.
Finally three religious leaders emerged from the crowd to carry out the final blessings for the men’s souls. Within minutes, soldiers with rifles had taken up firing positions in front of the accused.
The firing squad commander stood beside the soldiers and gave the order.
“Take up firing position,” he shouted then he paused.
“Aim,” then he paused again, looking at his watch. At exactly 4pm, he gave the final order “fire.”
This was followed by sporadic gunfire that lasted for some seconds and stopped. He repeated the process two more times and then they finally stopped.
However even after three rounds of shooting, according to the book, one of the accused, who was later identified as Lt Ben Ogwang, a Langi from Lira was still alive. His head was shaking vigorously.
The execution commander ordered all soldiers to take aim at Ogwang before they all shot at him at once. Ogwang’s head then lowered softly. He was dead.
The army doctor then came forward to establish if the 12 men were indeed dead. After confirmation, the bodies were then untied, put in coffins and loaded in the prisons truck before being driven to an unknown destination.

List of the 12 executed

The accused were Abdalla Anyuru (former chairperson, Public Service Commission), Ben Ongom (businessman), Lt Ben Ogwang (former intelligence officer, Malire Regiment), YY Okot (former chief of Education), EN Mutabazi (former superintendent of prisons), John Leji Olobo (senior relation officer, ministry of Works), Elias Okidi Menya (former general manager, Lake Victoria Bottling Company).
Others were Garison S. Onono (former principal of Bobi Foundation School), Julius Peter Adupa (former principal of Lira Polytechnic School), Daniel Nsereko (former Assistant Commissioner of Police), Peter Otoa (former principal officer Luzira prison) and John Kabandize (former senior superintendent of prisons).

Advertisement