The death of Brigadier Pierino Okoya

Thursday November 22 2012

Brigadier Okoya (L) with President Milton Obote during the Obote I regime.

Brigadier Okoya (L) with President Milton Obote during the Obote I regime. Courtesy photo. 



Brigadier Okoya arrived in Gulu from Masaka on Friday January 23, 1970 and spent the night at his residence on Gulu-Kampala Road in Koro Village.

On January 24, the next day, he went to Grindleys Bank in Gulu to withdraw some money. He later proceeded to report to the Air Force Base commander in Gulu, Captain Smuts Guwedeko, to make him aware of his presence as a senior Army officer, as it was the routine in the army.

Brig. Okoya later on went to Palaro, his ancestral home, where he spent another night. He returned to Gulu on Sunday January 25, 1971 in the evening and went to the Air Force Officers’ mess. There he found the Base Commander and three other officers engaged in a conversation. The officers were Smuts Guwedeko, two Pilots; Lt. Andrew Mukosa, Lt. Motono, and warrant Officer Kasule, who was a technician in the air force. They all welcomed him as a senior officer.

Brig. Okoya wanted to buy one crate of beer and two bottles of teachers’ whisky but was told by the Base commander that the bar man had gone to the Barracks to bring more stock. He was advised to go home and instead send the driver to pick the drinks. Okoya followed the advice and he returned home as he wanted to have a rest since he was to attend a meeting in Kampala the next day.

He then sent his driver called Opige and one radio man to the mess, leaving him without any escort to guard him. The driver went to the mess and found the army officers were still engaged in conversation as before. The officers offered the driver and the radio man drinks to consume then before taking the share of their boss.

After taking their drinks, the duo collected the beers and the two bottles of whisky and headed home. On arrival, the driver found Brigadier and his wife Anna lying dead outside the house. This happened between 8:00 and 9:00pm.

The driver hurried back to the Air Force to report the incidence to the Base commander. Opige, the driver, recounted that as they went back home, they met the private car of the Base commander coming from Kampala Road but branching towards Custom Corner. The driver recalled the car as a grey Mercedes Benz registration No, USL, but could not remember the other numbers.

When the driver went to the mess, he found the Base commander already in his room. He reported what had happened at home as regards the death on the evening of January 25, 1970.The commander rushed to the Barracks to send a message to the army commander concerning the death of Okoya. By midnight, a special announcement was run on Radio Uganda to let the country know what had happened.

What exactly happened?
Before Brig. Okoya came to Gulu that weekend, at a Uganda People’s Congress Delegates Conference at Lugogo Indoor Stadium, an assassination attempt had been made on President Obote.

After hearing the information that the President had been injured in the assassination attempt, Brigadier Okoya, who was at the Officers’ mess at Acacia Avenue in Kololo took control of the President’s security, making sure he was taken to the hospital and accorded maximum protection.

What surprised Brig. Okoya was that Maj. Gen. Iddi Amin, the then army commander, could not be located and all his radio messages were closed. The following morning, Okoya and some officers went to his residence in Kololo but could not find him. Amin appeared later, saying he had been at his private home in Bombo.

The absence of Amin, after the attempted assassination of the President, embarrassed Okoya and during a Defence Council meeting chaired by Minister of Defence Felix Onama, Okoya blamed Amin for failing to take command at the time the head of state was in danger.

The heated meeting was held in late December 1969 and the murder of Brigadier Okoya was on January 25, 1970. This means one month had elapsed between the holding of the Defence Council meeting and death of Okoya. The government and the army instituted teams to probe the murder of the senior army officer. The Police put an investigation team headed by Mohamed Hassan, who was the Director of Criminal Investigation Department, assisted by other senior officers like Wawuyu and Ocungi.

On the other hand, the army put up a board of inquiry headed by Colonel Obol. Others were Maj. David Oyite Ojok, Maj. John Mwaka, Maj. Emmanuel Ogwal, Lt. Wooley Odong from the Air Force, who was the Secretary; and Lt. Lukwiya, who was Military Education Officer at Mbarara Simba Battalion.

Amin’s role
All investigations pointed to Gen. Amin as the mastermind of the murder. It was alleged that Amin used Smuts Guwedeko to murder Okoya. The former used the latter because he and Guwedeko were the best at shooting in the army. The Board of the Army also came out with a report that Amin used the Air Force to commit the murder.

Guwedeko and Kasule, the air force technician, were detained in April 1970 and taken to Luzira Prison. When Amin took over the government, the duo was released and promoted. Guwedeko was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and Kasule promoted to major.
All the people who were involved in the investigation of the murder of Brig. Okoya were killed by Amin.

The writer was a soldier in the former UNLA and resident in Gulu