New Vision (Kampala)

25 January 2013

Uganda: Ogola Feels He Can Be Useful to the Govt

At 73, the sparse hair on his balding scalp and the beard on his chin are all salt-white. When he smiles his face seems to fragment into wrinkles. Although age has taken its toll on his body, Boniface Okoth Ogola's memory remains razor sharp.

Far from the swift and strong built fi gure that Ogola was in his prime, he is now frail, trudging around with his back almost arched.

He did not seem to be unduly alarmed when I visited his home, on a seven-acre farm at Maguria, on the Tororo-Mbale road in Mukujju sub-county, Tororo district.

Jennifer Ogola, his wife, radiates sits calmly besides her husband. Ogola headed the police during the second regime of president Milton Obote until Tito Okello Lutwa took over power.

The appointment did not surprise him, for he had been a career policeman ever since he joined the force in 1961.

He had risen through the ranks and several promotions and by the time Idi Amin's government was overthrown in 1979, Okoth Ogola was more or less the most senior officer, since many had fled, been killed or retired in the turbulent regime of Amin.

"I myself had survived those days only because I kept my head down. I went for studies which Amin's offi cers were not interested in as they only wanted to be promoted without the work," Ogola says.

Having been a head prefect at both Kisoko High School and Nabumali High school, he was a natural leader. He also had risen through the ranks of Police and had been personal assistant to the Inspector General of Police twice.

So he was ready for the difficult job which he did for five years. He was not dropped when Lutwa came to power, but he took leave and while he was away, the National Resistance Army came to power.

Like many high-profile personalities, who worked with regimes ousted out of power by military takeovers, Ogola feared retribution for his loyalty to the fallen government.

He did not trust the new military government of Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Army (NRA) to be different from many military governments in Africa that persecuted officials of previous regimes. So he fled and stayed away for 23 years, leaving his wife and children behind.

Work as IGP

By the time Obote's government was overthrown in 1985, Ogola was almost breaking down with fatigue. Two years after their appointment in 1981, his deputy Inspector General of Police (IGP), who passed away after a short illness.

Yosam Banturaki's death left a vacuum that was not filled for reasons that were best known to the appointing authority.

For almost five years, Ogola could not go away for leave that he was entitled to annually. His accumulated leave came to 270 days. After the military government of Tito Okello Lutwa set in, Ogola pleaded with the authority to approve his leave.

Although Okello considered the request, fi nding a competent person to temporarily fi ll Ogola's shoes became an arduous task.

His request was endorsed months later when Luke Ofungi, a former senior Police officer and minister, who had fled to Kenya during Amin's regime, was nominated and recalled to serve in the capacity of acting IGP.

This was a relief for Ogola, but little did he know that a lot was about to change. "Going on leave was like a thunderclap warning of an impending storm.

Toubled Leave

NRA launched a serious offensive against the Uganda National Liberation Army and they happened to be a few miles away from Kampala.

Then a few months before Ogola went on leave, in early 1985 his father, Aloni Owino passed away. On arrival at their ancestral home at Rubongi in Tororo for the burial, Ogola realised that they needed more cooking equipment, for thousands that had turned up for the funeral.

He instructed the then Police quarter master, to requisition for cooking utensils and transport them from Kampala to Rubongi.

After the funeral, the Police cooking utensils were not readily ferried back to Kampala, due to transport constraints as, at the time, the NRA guerilla war had intensified and army authorities took up most of the Police trucks to ferry troops to the battlefi eld.

However, shortly after he had settled back home in Tororo for leave, he was urgently summoned to the Police headquarters in Kampala by Ofungi.

"In what you would regard as humiliation, I was accused of two criminal counts of stealing Police saucepans among other cooking utensils and abuse of offi ce," says Ogola.

"A dozen junior officers had been mobilised to interrogate me over the alleged theft saga, and compelled me to show cause why I should not be prosecuted."

When he presented his case during the interrogation everybody around was convinced that it was pure witch hunting. Still it took the intervention of some senior Police officers, who could not stand seeing their boss humiliated to stop the drama.

They put up a spirited defence, including tabling a formal communication on the matter that he had left in his file before going on leave.

Ogola was allowed to return home, but years later he learned that the move had been a conspiracy to ruin him. They had left instructions to have him jailed.

Hounded out

He could not stop pondering over the abortive arrest scam. But little did he know it was a preceding episode that would see him flee the country.

When the NRA guerrillas captured Kampala, Ogola was still on leave. "In the confusion of the liberation, it happened that my successor had one morning set off for work from his residence in Kololo travelling in the official car of the IGP.

At Lugogo by-pass, a section of liberation soldiers, who had mounted a roadblock signalled him to stop. The soldiers ordered him out of his vehicle and told him to walk for the rest of the journey. His escorts during the confusion had also been disarmed," narrates Ogola.

He adds that during the fracas, the charged soldiers accused Ofungi of impersonating the real IGP, Okoth Ogola.

Ofungi pleaded with the soldiers insisting that he was serving as IGP in acting capacity. Eventually, the irritable soldiers reportedly confiscated the official IGP car and took it to Lubiri.

The car was always seen being driven by senior army officers on routine operations within Kampala. Ogola was told that Ofungi blamed that humiliation and harassment squarely on him and vowed to teach him a lesson.

Days after the incident, it became routine for armed personnel to attack his home. On one fateful night when he had sneaked away after a tip-off, armed men came to his home and harassed his wife and children, demanding to know where Ogola was hiding.

Even when he had temporarily sought sanctuary at relatives homes in Tororo the hunt for him continued. "I increasingly felt small and vulnerable.

I had sleepless nights," recalls Ogola. He then fled the country through Malaba border to Kenya.

Exile in Kenya

For months he lived Nakuru in Kenya with a relative, thinking he was safe. But soon his tormentors came looking for him.

He had to leave for Pennsylvania in the US. Days after his departure, armed thugs attacked his host in Nakuru and battered the family for failure to produce the former IGP.

Why Obote's gov't failed

Ogola considers three factors to have been responsible for the fall of Obote's second government in 1985.

"Obote was a resolute believer in adages and one of them fondly on his lips was: 'You don't kick the ball until it reaches your feet'. Ogola adds, that security and intelligence organs would furnish Obote with credible information on security, but he always gave the impending trouble the benefit of the doubt.

Secondly, like in his tragic first government in 1970, toppled by Idi Amin, Obote failed to resolve internal bickering among his army generals.

Take for instance Tito Okello Lutwa who always complained that Smith Apon Acak openly regarded him with contempt.

Resolving this issue was to become an administrative nightmare, as Obote seemed to have had a soft spot for Acak, a Lango like him, instead of sitting both of them down to sort out the mess.

Acak's popularity within the army was low, as opposed to Lutwa who had much influence over the soldiers, as the military coup in 1985 was to prove.

Ogola adds that there were claims from especially Acholi generals, that, more than any other tribe, soldiers from Acholi were dying in great numbers fighting the NRA guerillas.

"The army generals felt that, like in the 1971 coup in which scores of Acholi soldiers were massacred, they had been turned into sacrificial lambs, while Langi soldiers lounged in the barracks even when the war intensified.

Ogola, however, remembers Obote as a workaholic who would work in the office up to as late as 3:00am.

Police of the 1980s

On the atrocities that reigned in torture chambers in places like Nile Mansions, Ogola says although the Police was believed to have had the most efficient and effective intelligence wing (Special Branch) under David Kanywamusai, they had a defined constituency.

"Our investigations were limited to homicide and robbery among open public crimes, and nothing else. It was the exclusive role of the then defence minister, Paulo Muwanga, to handle peculiar cases of investigations.

No other government security organ could be briefed or consulted on such matters," he explained. The former Police boss, however, observes that in his days, appointments were based mainly on seniority and ability.

The force then hardly recruited cadet officers in order to keep the force effective and united. "The underlying secret behind the criteria was not only encouraging hard work and unity but everybody in the force was conscious of what may appear on his file, because a dented record counted so much when it came to the promotion of an officer," explains Ogola.

Back to school

When Ogola left for the US, with his background in the forces, he got a security job at and lived quietly there. As the years went on, he saved some money and decided to overcome the redundancy by going back to school.

He enrolled at Edison State College in New Jersey for a degree programme in political science, which he completed in 2000.

He later studied for a degree in law at the University of London, which he was awarded in 2005. In 2008 he obtained a third degree in Management of Human Resources from the same institution. With all these academic upgrades, Ogola feels he can be of good use to the present government.

"I won't mind if I am occasionally invited to lecture senior police officers. Being in exile for 23 years has not rendered me rusty," he says with hearty laughter. He finally ended his exile in the US and returned home in July 2009.

His return was a result of several audiences he had held with big wigs in today's government whenever they visited the US. He needed a guarantee of his safety should he return.

"In a special way I wish to appreciate the President, former Vice-President Gilbert Bukenya and my brother and old friend Ruhakana Rugunda for the moral and financial support among other arrangements for my return," says the former Police chief.

Since he returned he has tried to process his gratuity for the 20 years of service in the Police force. But he was told that only the President could approve his gratuity.

"I have tried to reach out to big shots in the Government to present my plight to President, Yoweri Museveni, because I'm surviving on family savings," Ogola explains.

Away for more than two decades, Ogola finds Uganda a considerably changed society, and very peaceful.

"There is a lot of physical development almost everywhere," compliments the old man. He is grateful that since his return, no security operative has shown up before him with intention of harassing him.

Nonetheless, he confesses that he maintained a clean record when he served in the past government.

The lonely years

Ogola's family had to adjust from the comfortable life they had lived when he was a high-ranking government official. "It was awful to wake up when the bread winner, who had pampered me throughout my marriage life, was no longer there.

I became distressed as I could not stop weeping. Providing for the big family was an enormous task," recalls Jennifer. However, there was no time for wallowing in self pity. She had to pick up pieces and settled on her husband's farm at Maguria.

She took a bank loan and acquired Friesian cows and slowly started making the new life work. Slowly but steadily she was able to learn to live the hard way.

Jennifer tried her hand at various projects, including farming to sustain the family. She learnt to tame her loneliness, but there were times that fate struck unforgivingly.

In the period Ogola has lived in exile, three incidents remain vivid in her mind. On March 8, 1986 barely a month after the departure of her husband to exile their daughter Juliet Nyandiro Ogola passed away.

She was in S1. That same year, on November 9, another daughter Harriet Awor Ogola then in Primary 6 also died after a short illness. In May 15, 1995 the couple lost their eldest daughter Lydia Ogola. She had completed university and was working in London, UK.

Like his wife, Ogola was devastated. Over the years, some of the children found their way out of the country and they are now adults all of whom, except one are university graduates. Some are working abroad and in Uganda.

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