It was a sunny but breezy Saturday afternoon when I rode through Lira’ s Golf Course to access Rachele Comprehensive School in mid-July 2019. But a sudden flattening of my bicycle tyres in the middle of the sprawling 30-acre estate forced me to brake and take a rest under one of the big mvule trees.
But this facility, sitting north-east of Lira Town, is unforgettable for Saturday, August 13, 1988, when two former Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) soldiers were publicly executed by the NRA, now UPDF.
The pair had reportedly participated in the killing of two family members of Bishop Tom Okello, the current chairperson of National Fellowship of Born-again Pentecostal Churches (NFBPC).
Although the incident happened when Bishop Okello had left for further studies in USA, he claimed the two men went to Lira Bus Park and hired his pick-up truck for a shady business deal.
Last week, Bishop Okello and Mr Fred Olot, spoke to Daily Monitor and narrated how the pair killed their victims and were in turn executed by firing squad in a public park in Lira Town.
Though they had not known Capt Geoffrey Omara and his bodyguard Pte James Oyugi, the two were members of the defunct UNLA.
Capt Omara hailed from Kamdini while his bodyguard Pte Oyugi came from Aber village.
Bishop Okello and Mr Olot said the turn man, also the Bishop’s brother-in-law and the driver, agreed a deal to drive to Kiryandongo District to pick up some foodstuffs and deliver to Lira Town.
But the plan for the August 5 journey that kicked off in the night, changed the moment the travelers arrived at Tochi Bridge, three kilometres from Kamdini Corner.
Nicknamed Kondo (armed robber), Capt Omara forced the driver to stop by the bridge as he excused himself to go for a “short call”, but soon emerged from the bush and back of truck, armed and menacing.
He then ordered the driver to divert to Kungu Road where they drove for 300 metres and ordered that the driver and the turn man be killed.
“By some strange chance, a one, Patrick Adupa, one of Capt Omara’s friends from Amwa Village, appeared om the scene and pleaded to be allowed to shoot the two victims,” Mr Olot said.
“It would be Adupa’s first time to shoot a human and kill. Adupa was thus given the go-ahead and he quickly shot dead the pair,” he said.
Capt Omara, 34, had trained in Egypt and North Korea between 1982 and 1985 and was regarded a seasoned soldier.
Mr Olot said the next hurdle was to get rid of the dead bodies before daybreak.
They then decided to bury the bodies in a potato plantation after Capt Omara made the suggestion at around 10:30pm in the night.
Upon burying the bodies, the trio drove the vehicle towards Kamdini Corner, but soon ran out of fuel.
They then branched off to the home of an Arab man at Kamdini Trading Centre to buy fuel but the man declined to serve them.
The trio then drove back towards the bridge and drove into the bush near the River Nile and parked to catch some sleep.
But news soon reached Lira Town the following day about what had happened the previous night as residents also discovered the bodies in their gardens. The security agencies then swung into action to investigate the matter.
“Intelligence took charge to search for the vehicle and the dead bodies. By then, Mr Ojede Obaa was the district administrator, a position now referred to as Resident District Commissioner (RDC).
Two trucks loaded with soldiers quietly moved to Kamdini by midday of the August 6, 1988.
The armed soldiers deployed in groups to comb the entire area in search of the suspected killers.
Close relatives and neighbours gathered in shock at the Bishop’s Lira home at Junior Quarters as the security officers delivered the bodies that had been exhumed from a potato garden.
Luckily, one group of soldiers landed on a one Jolly Joe Ongar (RIP), Capt Omara’s brother, who they threatened to kill him, but he quickly revealed Capt Omara’s hideout.
He led the soldiers to a nearby bush and to their luck, the soldiers found Capt Omara in a deep sleep with his gun by his side.
One soldier sneaked up on him and quickly snatched his gun before they loudly called out his name.
Confused, Capt Omara dived in the direction of his gun, but realized he had been surrounded by soldiers.
Trembling, Capt Omara could no longer resist arrest. He was tied, interrogated and tortured by the soldiers before he could reveal the names and whereabouts of his other two accomplices.
They were then brought to Lira Town and driven in a truck to the residence of Bishop Okello where the bodies of the two men they killed were laid out on a mat inside a garage as neighbours poured in to condole.
From the bishop’s home, they were taken to Lira army barracks where they were interrogated for several days (between August 6 and 12 in 1988) as security sought more details about their activities which others suspected was linked to some rebel activities.
It was discovered Capt Omara and company had involved themselves in some rebel movement but had abandoned it and surrendered to the NRA.
Investigations established that Capt Omara and his men had waylaid and robbed travellers.
“On the 13, Mr Ojede Obaa summoned the town dwellers at the Golf Course for an emergency meeting that was scheduled for 2pm but was delayed until 3.10pm when the district leaders addressed the people,” Bishop Okello said.
When the 5th Division commander, then Col Fred Tolit spoke, he gave a general remark about the security situation in the region under the new government (NRM) before Mr Ojede rose to speak.
“Mr Ojede Obaa himself stood up and told the gathering the reason for the meeting and asked their opinions over the Kamdini killings the previous week while he narrated the account of the killings,” Mr Olot said.
Just like the Jews shouted to Pontius Pilate demanding for Jesus’ death, the people shouted back in response, “kill the!”
With that, Mr Ojede asked the people to turn eastwards of the Golf Course and in less than a minute, a military truck appeared, driven towards the gathering. It carried the three men who were now draped in black shorts, black shirts and black hoods and had their legs and hands, Mr Olot said.
With many soldiers assisting in the process, the trio were then tied to trees now sitting on the road reserve of Lira-Aloi Road, about 5 metres apart from one another.
Gripped with fear, one of the suspects (Pte Oyugi) yelled as he pleaded with the soldiers, saying he was only an escort to Capt Omara and did not want to be killed since he was following orders.
Orders were quickly issued to soldiers to untie Pte Oyugi and make him climb and sit upon the truck so that he would properly see what would happen to his two friends.
“An officer then showed up two minutes later to raise a red folded paper and went back when the first set of bullets were fired. Mr Adupa uttered a cry but his head immediately slumped on his chest just like Capt Omara,” Mr Olot said.
The crowd, perhaps fearful, started melting away , then more rounds of bullets rang out to finish of Capt Omara, who the doctor said was not yet dead after feeling his pulse, he added.
Although the bodies were driven to the army barracks, it is reported that they were taken up on Ngeta hill by the army who bombed them to shreds.
Bishop Okello, however, told Daily Monitor that no reconciliation has ever happened between his family and that of their offenders.
“We have never reconciled not even as clans since that incident. If it were the law of today, we would have dragged government to court because those were government soldiers,” he said.
He said the shooting was not fair to the suspects who should have been produced in court for formal prosecution instead of shooting them in public.
“I have never traced whether it was constitutional by then, but what I know is that it was not fair for them, they should have prosecuted them in courts of law and sentenced formally than shooting them. I would have demanded that they instead take them to court because that was simply ignorance and arrogance,” he said.
Some dark days in history
The 1966 crisis
The 1966 crisis was the first test for the country that had only gained independence four years earlier. It was as a result of tensions between Executive Prime Minister Apollo Milton Obote and Kabaka Edward Muteesa II, who also doubled as the president of Uganda. Scores of Buganda Kingdom loyalists who tried to fight back were simply massacred.
Amin’s military regime (1971-79)
The next dark period for Uganda was between 1971 and 79, when Gen Idi Amin took power as president. It is claimed in those eight years, some 300,000 people died in the hands of his henchmen and several thousands fled to exile.
On July 11, 1989, more than 60 boys and men died of suffocation and hunger at Okungulo Railway Station in Mukura, Ngora District (then Kumi). They had been crammed into train wagons for about three days without food or water. The dead were part of about 280 suspected Uganda People’s Army (UPA) collaborators who had been rounded up in a security swoop that started on July 5, 1989, in Kapir and Mukura sub-counties.