The jailed footballer who carried Archbishop Luwum’s body

Tuesday February 16 2016

John Ntensibe. File photo

John Ntensibe. File photo 

By Robert Mugagga

The story unfolds in Kampala’s Nakivubo World War II Memorial stadium around January 1977. A league match between fan following Express FC and arch-rivals Simba FC, an army side supported by many of president Idi Amin’s top military officers, was on schedule and as expected, the stadium filled to capacity. Previous encounters between the two often sparked fireworks and would end in draws or a win for the army side. Not that the army side was always superior but rather because of something else.

During matches involving Express FC and Simba, there would be a lot of intimidation. The army side would deploy soldiers around the pitch and who appeared armed to the teeth while big guns would, at times, be stationed outside the stadium for every Express player and fan to see. Because of this, the Express players often found it hard to beat the army side in fear of what may befall them. This time around, the Express players were determined to win the match at all costs. “We all agreed that we had had enough. No more fears and come what may; this was one match we had to win. We even assured the club’s officials about our determination when they offered us a mchomo roasting fete a night before,” says John Ntensibe one of the Express players.

In the Express FC line-up was Ntensibe, an agile left winger who had three years earlier emerged the league’s top scorer. Ntensibe, who at the same time played for Uganda’s national football team popularly known as the Cranes was one particular player that would partly be responsible for the banning of Express FC by Idi Amin’s sporting army officer, Major Abdallah Nasur. Later, Ntensibe ended up in jail at Makindye military barracks with another player and some club fans.

On the match day, Express FC played like real warriors and managed to gun down the army side by a 2-1 margin with Mike Kiganda and John Ntensibe scoring for the victorious club while another Uganda Cranes player Godfrey Kisitu replied with Simba’s consolation goal. To the surprise of everyone, nothing much happened at the end of the match. Only that one senior army officer was heard seriously complaining, “Who are these people to defeat and shame a football club belonging to the army of the Republic of Uganda?

Ntensibe and others get arrested
The following day, some Express FC players went to Nakivubo stadium to watch a football match involving other clubs. As John Ntensibe entered from the pavilion side, a group of Express FC fans spotted and cheered him, apparently in appreciation for a good job done the previous day. Some approached and gave him money which filled both his jacket’s pockets. A group of army officers was watching everything from the pavilion and seemed not amused. Maj Nasur Abdallar who also doubled as the league’s disciplinary committee chairman immediately ordered that all Nakivubo stadium gates be closed with immediate effect. Ntensibe was arrested and taken to the pavilion where all his money was taken away by the army officers who questioned the intention. Arrested too was another Express and Cranes player Mike Kiganda and the club’s best known cheer lady “Maama” Becker Kazibwe, among others.

All those arrested were thrown into Makindye military barracks on the outskirts of Kampala where many of Idi Amin’s political prisoners were being detained and at the same time executed. A few days later Major Nasur announced that Express FC had been banned from Ugandan football with immediate effect and advised its players to join other clubs of their choice. According to Major Nasur, the money given to Ntensibe by Express fans was actually meant to fund Tanzanian- based exiled Ugandan rebels that were trying to overthrow the regime of Idi Amin; something he said was a very serious treason offence. Also arrested along with them were club officials such as Kezekia Musisi Ssegwanga, Hajj Kasujja and Tucker Lwanga who were, however, later released on bail.


The arrested Express players and fans spent about three months on detention at Makindye barracks, a place where they witnessed horrible killings of innocent Ugandans from all walks of life. “When our relatives and friends learnt of our arrest and detention at Makindye they gave up all hope, saying it was just a matter of time before we faced the executioner. We survived on many occasions as Ugandans of all professions were brought in and killed before our own eyes,” recalls Ntensibe.

In particular, he attributes their survival to three military officers and staunch football fans namely Col Gabdiel , Major Madudu and Lt Ssebi who felt pity knowing well these were mere footballers and supporters who were innocent but simply being victimised for Simba’s earlier defeat on the pitch. Fortunately for the detainees, Lt Ssebi was attached to Makindye barracks and he always made sure that they were not tortured much or even killed. On arrival at Makindye, Ntensibe and colleagues, however, were put in a division of inmates that dealt with dead bodies of the just executed.
These were required to remove and carry bodies of such people to waiting vehicles for burial outside Kampala and at times would even be taken along to help in digging the graves. One notable burial site was Namanve forest along Kampala-Jinja highway. Ntensibe says the killing styles they witnessed at Makindye are beyond description.

“Some would be hit with iron bars on their heads just like pigs in a slaughter house and others simply had their bellies opened with bayonets as intestines fell out!. The lucky ones would simply be shot at and died instantly.” He says the executioners seemed to enjoy seeing their victims weeping, pleading for mercy and let alone passing on.
They always made sure we watched everything and often warned that this was a lesson to whoever tried to tamper with their government. The majority of the soldiers and some civilians manning the torture and execution chambers belonged to Amin’s Kakwa and Nubian tribes though there were also a few from other tribes.

Archbishop Luwum and the two ministers
Ntensibe and colleagues will never forget one particular day in February 1977 when three bodies were briefly brought and kept at Makindye before being taken away.
He says these seemed to belong to high profile people because this time around, high profile officers accompanied them to Makindye and looked uneasy and very bitter. According to Ntensibe, the first one to be brought in the “store” was the body of former minister Erinayo Oryema whom Ntensibe could recognise well. He seemed to have been tortured and beaten badly with a swollen face and fresh bullet wounds all over his body.

Discovering the body
Next came that one of a very tall man whom Ntensibe later came to know as being that of Public Service minister Charles Oboth Ofumbi. Ntensibe says there was not much difference in the body’s appearance to that of Oryema only that he was almost naked with only torn dirty trousers. “We, however, got a major shock on seeing the third body. It obviously belonged to a religious man who was dressed in religious attire and with a red collar around his swollen neck.

Because his face was in a very bad shape, apparently as a result of torture (being a Catholic) I first mistook him to be Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga who was then the Archbishop of Kampala. However on more careful observation, I came to realise that this one was much taller and darker.”
Ntensibe is the one who carried the archbishop’s body to the store or cell and according to him, he seemed to have died a few minutes or hours before since he could still feel the warmth of the body. The archbishop’s body had a very deep bullet wound in the head and it appeared he had died after being shot in the head or face because unlike the other two, the rest of his body appeared a bit alright.

“After dropping the archbishop’s body in the room and realising that I was alone with no one watching, my mind told me to remove the collar from the archbishop’s neck, something I did and put it inside my pocket. The reason I did this was to prove to fellow inmates that a man of God had also not been spared and if possible, show it to the rest of the world after being released,” he reasoned.
Ntensibe later gave the collar to Mama Baker Kazibwe to keep but who misplaced and lost it a few weeks later. Ntensibe had, however, heard one barracks soldier telling another that the body belonged to Anglican Archbishop Janan Luwum.

Ntensibe and two other inmates were later ordered to carry the three bodies to a waiting army vehicle, where about three senior army officers, including an army officer, Isaac Col Maria Mungu he knew so well, were busy instructing someone to take them somewhere.
Throughout his detention at Makindye, Ntensibe got an impression that Amin’s soldiers, whereas they enjoyed torturing people and killing them, they feared touching dead bodies, one reason they would always let the inmates deal with them.

He says apart from the three VIP victims, they would be cases when inmates would be executed in big numbers and in this case, some inmates would be taken along to assist in the burial somewhere outside Kampala during the dead of the night.
Unfortunately, for those inmates going on such delicate missions, that would also be their end as they would eventually also be killed for fear of disclosing what they had seen.

Who is John Ntensibe?

Right from childhood, football and John Ntensibe were inseparable. Coming from a large family, it was hard to sustain all the children in school. Lucky for Ntensibe, the second born child of the family, his football talent helped solve the schooling puzzle. The boy was exempted from paying school fees from Primary Three at Buyoga Primary School in Masaka District up to tertiary level, except for two terms he spent at Bukalasa Minor Seminary in Masaka
After sitting for Primary seven in 1968 and passing well, Ntensibe a devout catholic joined Bukalasa minor seminary. Here there were no football favours and he had to pay school fees whether he liked it or not. Because the family could not afford so he left only after only two terms and went to Busuubizi teacher training college in Mityana.

At the end of the course, Ntensibe graduated to become a grade two primary school teacher majoring in Mathematics. He was later posted to Kajuna primary school in Masaka where he taught and played football for big clubs and institutions in the area. There was one soccer match he will never forget. It was around 1971 when he featured for Masaka ministry of works in an away match against Kasajjagirwa military barracks where Amin’s sporting officer major Nasur Abdallah was the commanding officer. Ntensibe’s team defeated the soldiers 3-1 with the player scoring twice.
At the end of the match major Nasur was so angry and ordered the barracks’ gates to be closed before the visiting team checked out. He ordered that four of the best players from the ministry of works team be given military uniforms and declared that they had become soldiers with immediate effect.

“Luckily for me I had sensed danger and sneaked out of the barracks undetected immediately after the final whistle,” recalls Ntensibe. It proved a wild goose chase when Nasur later ordered a search to be conducted throughout the barracks premises to arrest the player (Ntensibe) who had scored the two goals. This is how some players from Ntensibe’s team ended up joining the army and later playing for Simba FC. The likes of Abdu Wasswa and John Ssebiranda. Ntensibe, who was top scorer in the 1974 Uganda national football league with 14 goals and yet used to play all matches coming on as a substitute will ever be remembered for his powerful left foot.

In 1973 Ntensibe was part of the Cranes team that toured Brazil under the ABC sponsorship deal. He was injured and thus unable to travel with the Cranes team to the 1978 Nations Cup in Ghana. He says that the Cranes team did well in Ghana simply because most of the players knew one another so well having played together for a long time. From Express Ntensibe briefly played for Nsambya FC before hanging up the boots around 1980. Born at Kayirikiti, Nyendo in Masaka in 1949 to Augustine Kakooza and Tereza Namubiru, Ntensibe was the second born child in the family of nine boys and five girls. He is married to Ted Namazzi and the two are blessed with five children.

“Ted Namazzi was my first girl friend in primary school at Buyoga. Our love has come a long way and we got married in 1972 when I had just left Busuubizi TTC. The only time we forgot about each other was when I briefly attended the seminary,” he recalls. Ntensibe is surely a man of great responsibility in his home area at Najjanankumbi.
He is the LC 1 chairman at Quota village, the LC II chairman of Najjanankumbi II, the parish development chairman and also Naads representative in the area.