Driver speaks on Engola shooting

The driver, Mr Sam Odongo. Photo/Courtesy 

What you need to know:

According to the driver, Mr Sam Odongo, the soldier’s sudden eruption into violence, which left the minister dead and his aide-de-camp (ADC) Lt Ronald Otim writhing from gunshot wounds, caught them unawares and stirred a tumultuous escape.

The military guard, who shot and killed the 64-year-old junior Labour minister, (Rtd) Col Charles Engola, reported on duty early the fateful day with more-than-usual ammunition strapped in magazine pouches, which he concealed with a coat.

 According to multiple accounts including a detailed version offered by Mr Sam Odongo, the minister’s official chauffeur of 15 years, Pte Wilson Sabiiti downgraded the previous evening from chief bodyguard to a regular escort on Tuesday, camped by the gate in silence.

 The minister lived at a rented house in an isolated and bushy part of Kyanja, a residential neighbourhood northeast of Kampala.

 Mr Odongo said they did not suspect anything ominous on the fateful day because the military guard was generally a reticent character.

 The soldier’s sudden eruption into violence, which left the minister dead and his aide-de-camp (ADC) Lt Ronald Otim writhing from gunshot wounds, caught them unawares and stirred a tumultuous escape, the driver said in the firstdetailed eyewitness account of the last hours of commotion at Engola’s home.  

 As the rising sun cracked through the eastern horizon, casting longer shadows on the ground in the opposite direction, Pte Sabiiti held his AK-47 assault rifle tenderly and gingerly while darting glances from side to side.

 Mr Odongo had cleaned the minister’s official vehicle, ignited and moved it to position in front of the house where he left it idling as he waited behind the wheels.

 Lt Otim moved into the house to brief Col Engola who, according to another source, had ordered him to drop Pte Sabiiti as his chief bodyguard.

Mourners gather at the late Col (rtd) Engola’s home for a vigil last evening. PHOTO/Steven Stage.  

According to a family member, who asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media, the minister spoke of Pte Sabiiti’s questionable conduct on duty including during the International Labour Day celebrations in the eastern Namutumba District, where he guarded him.

 Details of what he had allegedly done wrong were not readily available.

 The claim, however, dove-tailed with separate accounts we reported yesterday that a UPDF general and Mr Mike Mukula, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party’s national vice chairman for Eastern Region, had separately rejected the soldier over unspecified misconduct.

 Col Deo Akiiki, the deputy UPDF and Defence spokesman, yesterday said they, in the aftermath of the allegations, scoured official records and found no evidence of written complaints against Pte Sabiiti, who shot himself dead at a nearby salon after killing the minister.

 The guard, he said, despite holding the lowest rank in the military had been good at his work that his superiors selected him to undertake an intermediate Non-Commissioned Officers’ (NCO) course at the Junior Staff and Command College in Jinja, where he outperformed officers in the ranks of sergeants, corporals and warrant officers for who the training was designed.

 The training is to “educate officers in the art of leadership, tactics and integrated all arms operations at battle group level”, according to information on the college website, preparing them for staff and command positions. It remained unclear why he then wasn’t promoted even after excelling on a course for his supervisors.

 Pte Sabiiti brought the enhanced skills to bear on Tuesday, but for the wrong reason, whose motive is being investigated by a plethora of security and intelligence agencies, among them police and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) that has reportedly seized the guard’s mobile phone handset to map out his contacts and communications.

Police officers keep guard in Kyanja after bodyguard Wilson Sabiiti shot and killed his boss State minister for Labour, Employment and Industrial Relations Col (rtd) Charles Engola at his home on Tuesday. PHOTO/ISAAC KASAMANI. 

  In Mr Odongo’s reconstruction of events at the Kyanja home that fateful morning, aides and family members busied themselves ahead of Engola’s planned departure for a Cabinet meeting at State House Entebbe.

The minister’s weekly sittings, usually on Mondays, was moved to Tuesday due to the International Labour Day observance falling on Monday.

 Col Engola, for an undisclosed reason, elected that day not to move to Entebbe with a lead escort vehicle, prompting the bulk of his security detail to stay at their rented premises some distance away from the minister’s residence. 

 Lt Otim, alternately called an ADC and personal assistant- to the minister, arrived and sat on a chair in front of the principal’s idling car.

Pte Sabiiti had opened the gate and he drove in, in the lead car, which was not heading to Entebbe that day.

 The aide-de-camp went into the house, briefed the minister and returned to sit on the same chair, driver Odongo said, before the newly-assigned bodyguard only identified as Ssenyonga followed to the house where he exited with Engola’s bag, which he placed in the car.

 Shortly afterwards, the minister walked out and got into the vehicle where Lt Otim stood at salute and holding the door ajar for him.

Mr Odongo, who was behind the wheels said by this time Pte Sabiiti, had moved and taken a position in front of the garage but behind the minister’s vehicle.

 And Pte Ssenyonga was unfurling the flag on the car from its ceremonial flagpole holster when he heard Pte Sabiiti cocking the gun. He then charged on and shot a standing Lt Otim, with whom he reportedly had had a brief exchange, and the ADC fell.

 Witnesses said Col Engola then appeared to reach for his pistol on the waistline as he exited the vehicle and Pte Sabiiti shot him, leaving some of the investigators last evening second-guessing whether the minister was a primary or secondary target.

Left to right: State Minister for Higher Education John Chrysestom Muyingo, UNESCO Uganda Secretary General Rosie Agoi and State Minister for Primary Education Joyce Kaducu at the late Col (rtd) Engola’s home last evening. PHOTO/Steven Otage.  

 One source said the guard had the opportunity to shoot Engola before the aide, if that was his aim, and they are investigating whether Pte Sabiiti turned on him fearing the minister could put him out of action.

 Mr Odongo said the attacker was wild by this time and Ssenyonga, the new chief bodyguard, who had left his gun in the co-driver’s side when he went to unfurl the flag, had fled to take cover at an unknown location.

 The driver said he was trembling and wailing simultaneously as Pte Sabiiti fired more shots at the ADC and the minister, who had both fallen by the left side of the vehicle.

 “We heard another bullet on Mzee’sside behind me. I heard another bullet firing into the car. From there, I was inside the car with nothing to do, but just crying on the steering wheel since I am not a soldier,” said the man who has chauffeured the minister for more than a decade.

 “Get out quickly,” he said, quoting the shooter’s order. “Then Pte Sabiiti began firing in the air,” he said, “So, I opened the door while crying and pleading. I said ‘don’t shoot me, just leave me.’ I opened the gate and ran away.”

 It was unclear where Pte Ssenyonga was hiding or why he or other guards did not respond with speed since Pte Sabiiti trekked from the minister’s residence to the nearby Kyanja Ring-road trading centre while discharging bullets in the air and shouting.

 Col Deo Akiiki said all the soldiers guarding the minister on that day had accounted to the army on their whereabouts during the attack, and that a counter-attack was likely hamstrung by the limited space for manoeuvrability.

 “The distance [of possible engagement] was so short to have a freedom of action,” Col Akiiki said, citing the space on the compound between where the principal’s car parked and the gate.

 There was no indication that the UPDF planned action on the guards promptly withdrawn and replaced over concerns that the killing of the minister by their own had traumatised them.

 The shooting dead of Col Engola, a former fierce army commander, by a guard on Tuesday prompted some of the Cabinet members, among them Moriku Kaducu (Primary Education) and Dr Chris Baryomunsi (Information) to ask for evaluation of all escorts for mental fitness for their guard jobs.

 They claimed, without evidence, that Pte Sabiiti was likely mentally disturbed which was unnoticed.

Isolated incident

UPDF and Defence Deputy Spokesman Col Akiiki, however, said there was no need for panic over an “isolated incident” of the fatal onslaught on a principal by a military protector.

 “This [killing of a minister by own guard] had never happened before [in UPDF history],” he said, “One soldier out of a 50,000-strong [force] doing what had never happened raises [the need for extra] vigilance, but it should not be sending panic everywhere.”

 Lessons had been learnt from the fatal incident, he noted, and the army will go back to the “drawing board” to prevent a recurrence.  Col Akiiki assured the VIPs whose security is entrusted to the army that they were in safe hands.

 In a message shared on social media last evening, President Museveni, who is the commander-in-chief of the UPDF, noted that he was waiting for the findings of ongoing inquiries to decide on the next course of action.

 Both Col Engola’s family and the UPDF dismissed claims that Pte Sabiiti flew in rage over unpaid salary amounting to Shs4m. Col Akiiki said the military owed him nothing while the minister’s side said the guard’s allowance, which a source put at Shs300,000 per month, was paid on April 28.

 Security agencies involved in the investigations declined to provide preliminary updates, insisting on being given space to do a “thorough and expeditious” job. There was scant information about Pte Sabiiti, where he hailed from and when and where he will be buried.