ENTEBBE- The ground handling staff at the airport looked on puzzled as a unit of about 20 UPDF servicemen mounted a guard-of-honour to receive the remains of former UNLA commander, Lt Gen Bazillio Olara Okello, at Entebbe International Airport yesterday morning.
All the Entebbe airport staff saw from a distance, was a big casket draped with the Uganda national flag, brought out from a Kenya Airways flight number KQ-416 that had touched down at exactly 12am on Friday.
It was the remains of Lt Gen Olara Okello, the late former commander of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), brought back into the country after nearly 25 years since his death.
Lt Gen Olara Okello had a mixed reputation as both a feared and charismatic figure, perhaps even, few still recall, the role he played in Uganda’s liberation history.
Present at the airport were a small group of the deceased’s relatives led by Dr Saverio Pido, a family elder and Olara-Okello’s son Phillip Ocan Olara.
The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) was represented by Brig Gen Charles Otema Awanyi, the Chief of Logistics and Engineering, Brig Gen Joseph Musanyufu, Chief of Personnel and Administration, Brig Gen Wills Byarugaba, Chief of Training and Recruitment, and Col Dan Opita, a Garrison Commander in the UPDF Airforce.
Others included Col Mubarak Nkutu from the Airforce and Col Innocent Oula, an army representative in Parliament.
Gen Olara Okello succumbed to diabetes in exile on January 9, 1990, in Omdurman hospital in Sudan and was buried in Omdurman, near Khartoum.
Burial is scheduled today in Madi-Opei Sub-county, Lamwo District, according to relatives and the UDPF which took over the burial arrangements.
Brig Gen Awanyi explained to Saturday Monitor that the army, through the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, had received a directive from President Museveni to take over burial arrangements.
However, the family says the traditional rites will be performed as planned even as the army conducts the ceremonial military sendoff.
“The Commander in Chief, the President, wanted the late to be given a State burial and he reserves the right to decide on who should be given an official sendoff,” he said. But above all, he added, “Gen Okello, remains a historical figure in the history of our country so we think he deserves it.”
The deceased’s son, Mr Ocan, said it is a good gesture by the government to have agreed to return the remains of their father because they felt that over a long period of time, he was never appreciated and under looked.
Lt Gen Olara Okello was a former UNLA Northern Brigade commander and later member of the Military Council that ran government for six months following the second overthrow of President Milton Obote in 1985, with Lt Gen Okello as the commander of the UNLA.
Lt Gen Okello was exiled to Sudan and sought asylum in January 1986 when the National Resistance Army under the command of President Museveni toppled the Gen Tito Okello Lutwa government.