UPDF veteran takes to stone crashing, digging latrines after 30-year wait for pension

UPDF veteran Gabriel Ngobi, 54, at a stone quarry in Namasagali, Kamuli District. PHOTOS/SAM CALEB OPIO

What you need to know:

  • Between January and February this year, Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) conducted a nationwide verification exercise to identify veterans and survivors who had never received their payment from the government since the 1980s.  

A year after President Museveni assumed power in 1986 following a five-year guerrilla warfare, an enthusiastic 19-year-old Gabriel Ngobi who had, five years earlier, dropped out of Kavule Primary School, Namasagali in Kamuli District due to armed conflicts that rocked the country then joined the army.

After joining the army in 1987, RA81181 Ngobi was one of the troops deployed to fight Alice Auma Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.
“I was attached to 101 mobile brigade. We were deployed in Kireka, Bwerenga before being transferred to Acholi sub region to fight Lakwena and Kony. However, during a fierce battle with Kony-led LRA rebels I was shot in the leg. Most of my colleagues were shot dead but I was lucky to survive. I spent half a year in a military hospital,” the 54-year-old primary four dropout narrates.

Retired from army

Days after he was discharged from the hospital, Ngobi was retired from the army in 1992 on medical grounds.
He only recalls being given 30 iron sheets by the army and told to open a bank account as one of the requirements to access his pension and other army benefits.
“I later got a job as a private security guard and used part of my meagre earnings to open a bank account which was eventually declared dormant and closed. I was forced to sell the iron sheets to redeem my piece of land I had mortgaged for a loan I acquired to pay medical bills when my wife and two children were hospitalised,” he narrates before lamenting:” We sacrificed a lot for this country; served it with dedication and passion, only for the fruits to be enjoyed by people who seem not to care about the peace some of sacrificed our blood for.”

With chronic chest pain which he says started while still in the army as a result of carrying big guns, Ngobi wallows in poverty as his eight children stare at him for all the basic needs, including education which he has failed to provide any of them.
“For all the services I rendered to this country and Mzee Kaguta (President Museveni) all I can show are a service certificate, my eight children and my stinking poverty. I have had to endure immeasurable pain in chest and shot leg to fend for my family. This world is funny. Instead of being killed by a bullet I am being killed softly by poverty,” he bemoaned.

Pension chase 

Ngobi says in the last three decades, he has been to several government offices in attempt to get his pension but all efforts have been in vain as no one seems to care about his situation.
“I lost the security job. To survive now I have to dig pit latrines in the neighborhood at a fee and also crash stones. One of my eyes is partially blind because I was hit by stone particles,” he says.

His wife, Rose Nabukonde, said despite the hardships they have been through as a family, Ngobi is a resilient, loving and caring husband.
“Like any responsible father, he’s always advising our kids to live honest lives. Part of it, I think, is because of his army training and religious background,” a smiling Nabukonde says.

What others say

Namasagali Kavule zone chairperson and the ex-soldier’s confidant, Abdu Magid Kirungana recalls Ngobi disappearing from the village in the late 1980s only to resurface as a soldier.
“Before we knew it, he was shot, hospitalized and forced to retire from the army. He’s a tough disciplinarian and an honest man. I only worry for his life because the stone quarry may one day collapse on him. What puzzles us is that if Mzee (Museveni) cannot look after his fighters, how does he convince us that security is valuable? It is ironical how Mzee values those who are fresh graduates forgetting his core fighters who ushered in the regime and were better trained,” Mr Kirungana said.

Mr Magid Bagoole, the Kamuli District veterans’ chairperson corroborated Ngobi’s story saying he’s duly retired and like many of his colleagues in in the district, he is yet to receive his benefits from the army.
According to him, accessing pension and other benefits from the army is a nightmare given the bureaucratic system.
“Many retired soldiers in the district have been frustrated and died before accessing their pension and other benefits. We need to credit most of these veterans for being very patient. Some deserters join criminal gangs, robberies etc but these well trained veterans just keep doing odd jobs with loyalty and respect to their army uniform which the government must look into and reciprocate,” he said.

What UPDF says

The army spokesperson Brig Gen Felix Kulayigye when contacted about Ngobi’s plight said the ex-soldier should go to Kamuli Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)’s office or zonal pension’s office in Jinja District for help.
“If the CAO does not have information, link him with the zonal pension’s officer who sits in Jinja who will give him actions and procedures to take,” Brig Kulayigye said.
Between January and February this year, Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) conducted a nationwide verification exercise to identify veterans and survivors who had never received their payment from the government since the 1980s.  

Brig Kulayigye’s predecessor, Brig Flavia Byekwaso at the time said the army also aimed at identifying the right beneficiaries since 2016 when the government decentralized payment of pension to mother ministers and build a database that would help in reintegrating and giving support to all veterans who fought for the country and ensuring payroll integrity for smooth payment of pensions and gratuity of 68,000 retired soldiers.

“The Ministry (of Defence) inherited a list that was being used by the public service but this payroll to date has never been validated, yet there are very many changes of many people who have gone off the payment. Others died but the families kept quiet while many are ageing. This exercise will help us to know the actual beneficiaries. We want a clean payroll this time,” Brig Byekwaso told journalists then.


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