Janani Luwum’s final hours

An illustration of Archbishop Janani Luwum being tortured at the State Research Bureau offices in Nakasero in Kampala. ILLUSTRATION BY KWIZERA

What you need to know:

Today marks exactly 37 years since Archbishop Janani Luwum was killed. Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega writes about his last hours at the Nakasero dungeons.

On the morning of February 16, 1977, just a few days after delivering a letter to President Idi Amin in which the archbishop and the bishops of the province of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire, Janani Luwum and other bishops were called to the Nile Conference Centre where a military tribunal had been instituted. Several people who had been arrested earlier, read confessions of being involved in a plot to overthrow the government.
That afternoon Luwum and two ministers were among the people who were arrested and taken to the State Research Bureau offices in Nakasero in Kampala.

According to the book ‘The Dungeons of Nakasero’ by WodOkello Lawoko, who shared Cell 2 (C2) with the archbishop for a few hours before he was killed, Lawoko talks of how he was transferred from C1 to create room for ministers Oboth Ofumbi and Erinayo Eryema who had been brought in before the archbishop.

He says: “State Research men continued hitting him with pistol butts as they stripped off his robes…, one officer by the name Hajji Kabugo removed the Ring of Office from the Archbishop’s finger and pocketed it , and the beating resumed after the Archbishop had been stripped down to his underpants. He kept on saying ‘I keep on telling you I’m innocent. I have not offended any person or plotted against any government in the world…”

Message to tormentor
The last premier of Ankole, James Kahigiiriza, who shared a cell with Luwum, states in his book ‘Bridging the Gap’: “When the Archbishop told the man beating him that he should remember that the power he has comes from God, the man slapped Luwum hard saying: “We nafikiri wewe Sheikh Mufti.” (Do you think you are Sheikh Mufti).

Besides the beating, the State research agents were tormenting him as though they knew the archbishop stood any chance of getting out of the torture chambers alive. “The pleas fell on deaf ears as the men continued to beat the archbishop, telling him in Swahili: “Wewe unasema wewe ndio mukubwa ya dini ya yesu, sijui jina lake ingine ni nani. Sasa womba yeye alitoa wewe kwa tabu ya jela (You claim you are the leader of the religion of Jesus, whatever his other name is, now pray to him and let him remove you from this suffering of jail.”

As if to confirm that the boys were doing a good job, the head of the bureau, Maj Farouk Minawa, joined his men in beating the archbishop. Out of anger at one point, according to Lawoko, Luwum told them: “I have told you time and again that I’m innocent, the power that you are welding comes from God. You may kill me if you want but you will pay very dearly in future for my part and that of many other innocent citizens of Uganda who have suffered or have lost their lives at your hands.”

After a short break from the beating, Kabugo returned and got the archbishop out of the cell, only for him to return after a few minutes fully dressed, but “what was missing was his watch, ring of office and the cross”. Back in the cell, according to Lawoko, Luwum told them “I think I was marked to be killed on Monday at Entebbe. In case God helps any of you to get out of here, Henry Kyemba knows all about what took place at Entebbe, because he was the one who invited me and moved with me all along…’.

However, Kyemba says there were no signs of bad things to happen during the Entebbe meeting. “It was a sort of a jolly function at State House; my taking him there had no indication of the things to come. We did not drive in the same car while going to Entebbe and I never attended any private talk Amin had with Luwum on that particular visit”.

A retired Ghanaian-born Church of Uganda planning and development chief, Kodwo Ankrah, remembers the archbishop’s mood after that meeting in Entebbe. “One Monday morning Luwum called me over to his office and said, ‘I have been to Entebbe meeting with Amin, and I have not liked what I heard from him.”

According to Lawoko’s account of the events soon after saying his last grace, Maj Minawa came down reading out names: “Sheikh ya prutanti Janani Luwum, Charles Oboth Ofumbi, Erinayo Oryema, Yonasani Okot, Elias Okidi Menya and Lawoko.”

“They were taken from the cell to the first floor where they were met with Amin in company of Bob Astles, and Planning minister Jumba Masagazi. Luwum and the two ministers were taken to [Maj Minawa] Farouk’s office as the rest of us were ordered to be kept at the reception opposite the office.

“From the reception we could hear the sound of kicking and beating accompanied by crying and wailing from the three victims. Amin’s voice was heard saying ‘You people were plotting to kill me and overthrow my government and you thought you would go away with it, but before you kill me, I will kill you first…’ Then Farouk appeared on the door of the reception area and ordered the two guards watching over us to take us back to the cells. Rudisha hawa chini upesi, batarudi badahi (Take them back down quickly, they will return later).

“As we passed Maj Minawa’s office we heard two gunshots followed by a brief silence. The guards warned us against talking about what we had seen or heard to other cellmates. This happened around 8pm.

“As we were whispering and receiving information from our new colleague, one of the guards who had escorted us back downstairs to the cell reappeared at the little wooden window and yelled out ‘Mimi ni Nyangao. Jina yangu ni Nyangao. Sasa Okot unajua pahali gani sarchbishop ameenda? Nyinyi ndio munataka ku pinduwa sherikali yetu sio? Munajua sasa pahali sheikh yako ya dini Lumu, sijui dini yake na wakina Oryema na Oboth Ofumbi yiko? Hawa sasa kwisha kalasi’. (Do you know where archbishop has gone? You are the people who want to overthrow our government, not so, do you know where your Sheikh Lumu, Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi are? They are already finished).

“At 10 the next morning, two new detains Nazarena Amone and Obonyo were taken into detention at Nakasero. They two were a caterer and manager at the Senior Officer’s Mess, originally Uganda Club and now Kampala Club. They had witnessed the ‘accident’ in which the archbishop and the two ministers were said to have died. They were arrested by Maliyamungu at their work place, accusing them of being rebels because they had seen the ‘accident’ happening.

Last moments with my father

One of my last interactions with my father was in early 1974 when I was going to start a new job in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. By then he was still the Bishop of Gulu. He told me his fellow bishops had whispered to him that he is to become the archbishop.
He, however, said to me: “I know the work is not going to be easy, mostly because of the government.”

I never attended his consecration in 1974 though he was willing to send me a ticket. I feared to come and he told me “if you don’t come I will understand”. However, later on in early 1976, I came back because I had to get a passport to travel to the UK for training. That was the last time I saw him.

During that visit I realised that he was not happy because of the troubles he was going through. He was managing a lot of crises, and anybody whose dear ones were either arrested or had disappeared ran to him for help.

He had a chance to run away, many people, including the British High Commission, were willing to help him run away, but he refused. Even my mother tried to pressure him to leave the country but he refused. The closest he came to running away was when he left his official residence and slept at Namirembe Guest House just for one night and but he returned home to the residence.