Kampala — Forty years since the slaying of Archbishop of Uganda Janani Luwum by then president Idi Amin, the army officer who the dishonourable duty of burying the man of God was given to, has spoken out about how they went about laying him to rest.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Monitor, retired army officer, Lt Col Yefusa Bananuka, says the burial of the cleric was much more complicated than pulling the trigger at Nile Hotel on the evening of February 16, 1977.
According to Lt Col Bananuka, who commanded Chui Battallion based in Gulu, top government security operatives toyed with the idea of dumping the body of the clergyman into River Nile at Karuma to forever conceal the macabre death in the stomachs of the crocodiles.
But Amin's vice president, Gen Mustapha Adrisi, opposed the idea and instead assigned Lt Col Bananuka, currently living in Ibanda District, to oversee the burial of Archbishop Luwum and the former minister of Lands, Housing and Physical Planning, Lt Col Erinayo Wilson Oryema, who was killed on the same day for the same alleged crime.
Another minister, Oboth-Ofumbi, was also killed for the alleged crime on the same day and at the same place. He was later buried in Tororo District.
Lt Col Bananuka says Lt Col Oryema was buried at night by the soldiers and workers on his farm. His body was wrapped in goat skins.
Aswa County Member of Parliament Reagan Okumu says burying the dead in the hide of a goat is an Acholi tradition exercised when an individual dies under unclear circumstances.
On February 15, 1977, the day before Archbishop Luwum was killed, Gen Adrisi sent a military message to the four battalion commanders, now the equivalent of division commanders to select and send 10 soldiers from the lowest rank of Private to Major to Kampala.
According to Lt Col Bananuka, these selected soldiers were supposed to be at the International Conference Centre, now Serena Hotel, by 8am on February 16 with their bosses.
"When we got to the Conference Centre the next day, we found so many soldiers and all commanding officers of the four battalions," he recounts.
Also in attendance were clergymen who were being addressed by Gen Adrisi. Shiny silver suitcases with the Church of Uganda (CoU) centenary wordings had been paraded in front of the gathering. Inside the suitcases, there were guns.
"The vice president, Gen Mustapha Adrisi, was addressing the crowd saying Church of Uganda had been planning to overthrow the government while disguising that they were celebrating their centenary," Lt Col Bananuka says.
Gen Adrisi told soldiers that the guns had entered Uganda through Malaba border post and had been intercepted at the archbishop's residence at Namirembe Cathedral.
The gathering was later ordered to enter the Conference Centre hall. A few minutes inside the hall, Archbishop Luwum entered through the VIP entrance. "He was dressed in his clerical clothes but had no headgear. Amin later arrived through the same door," Col Bananuka says.
After entering the hall, president Amin immediately started addressing the soldiers. He told them that there were people in Church of Uganda trying to overthrow his government.
He then pointed a finger, moved close and touched Luwum's left shoulder and said: "He is the one trying to overthrow the government," Lt Col Bananuka remembers.
President Amin asked soldiers: "What would you do to such a person?" the soldiers shouted in unison, "Wuwa [Kiswahili meaning "kill"]," they roared back. He asked again: "What do we do to him?" and the soldiers replied; "Wuwa" and after the third time, he told the soldiers that he was going to investigate the matter.
"He [Luwum] looked on and kept quiet. He didn't say a word but in his eyes, you would see he was bothered. I think he realised death was coming," Lt Col Bananuka says.
President Amin ended the meeting and told the soldiers to go back to the gardens for a drink and food. Lt Col Bananuka, who says he had known the late archbishop during the time he spent in Gulu as a battalion commander, was worried.
"I immediately sensed that something bad was bound to occur," he recounts.
Lt Col Bananuka and his driver drove to Gulu after the meeting. But on arrival at about 8pm, he heard on Radio Uganda that the archbishop and two other ministers (Erinayo Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi) had been killed in a road accident.
At 3am on February 17, Lt Col Bananuka received a call from Gen Adrisi asking him whether he was still in Kampala or had gone to Gulu.
"I told him that I was already in Gulu. He told me to get ready to receive the bodies early morning and organise for their immediate burial," he says.
But at 5am, Gen Adrisi rang again and said the bodies would not come that morning. Gen Adrisi confided in Lt Col Bananuka that there had been a plan to dump the bodies in River Nile at Karuma, but he opposed the idea.
"He told me that he was against the idea because what would government tell the families and international community about the whereabouts of the bodies after announcing on radio that they had died in a motor accident,?" Lt Col Bananuka recalls.
Gen Adrisi later rang Lt Col Bananuka and told him the bodies would come on February 18 and he was ordered to organise the burial.
The bodies arrived in the evening of February 18 as he had been informed in two new lorries driven and escorted by people he described as "strange looking men".
"They had long teeth, were tall, dark and were dressed in a unique army uniform. It was not our usual army uniform," he says.
The order from Gen Adrisi was that the bodies should be buried on February 18, and not spend a night in the barracks.
But he told his boss that it would be possible to bury Oryema that evening in Anaka, now Oyam District, because it was near Gulu.
He informed Gen Adrisi that it wouldn't be possible to bury Archbishop Luwum on the same day because his village, Mucwini in Kitgum District, was about 100kms away and, therefore, it was not possible to travel and bury him on the same day.
He contemplated taking the body and burying it at night but later, Gen Mustapha agreed to the proposal to bury the archbishop the following day.
On that evening of February 18, Lt Col Bananuka dispatched soldiers with Oryema's body for burial. They found only workers on his farm. His family members were all in Kampala. The workers dug the grave as others slaughtered two goats to get the skins in which they wrapped Oryema's body before burying him.
"They removed the body from the coffin and wrapped it in the skins of the two goats and buried him. It was about 9 pm. My soldiers returned and told me all that had happened and I also relayed that information to Gen Adrisi," he says.
The next day, he dispatched another group of soldiers led by an officer at the rank of a Captain with Archbishop Luwum's body to Mucwini. The only person they found at home was his mother.
Luwum's mother didn't know about the death of her son. She was shocked to see soldiers asking her to point to a place where they should bury her son.
Like Oryema, Luwum's family members were in Kampala and didn't know that the body had been taken to Mucwini for burial.
The identified place was very rocky. They dug using hoes, shovels and pick-axe but could only go two feet deep. On the second spot, they dug only three feet. After digging the third spot and going three feet deep again, they gave up and buried him in that shallow grave.
"They left the mother wailing," he recounts.
That day, Lt Col Bananuka had put his troops on standby for fear of reprisal from the community in Acholi, but the soldiers returned from the burial to Gulu barracks at about 6pm without any incident. However, that same evening, he received a call and on the other end of the line was a furious president Amin.
"Some people had deceived him that I had given the body to Americans through Nimule (in South Sudan) and that it had been flown to America. After talking to him and confirming I had buried the archbishop, I continued to sip at my cup of tea. Unknown to me, I had been surrounded," he recalls.
Apparently, six military Jeeps with machine guns mounted on top, surrounded the barracks and the fighter jets flew over Gulu barracks. They also flew up to Nimule at the border with Sudan.
The head of the arresting team, came pointing a gun at him and asked: 'Maiti ya archbishop iko wapi' (Where is the archishop's body)? He replied: Wanakwisha ziika (He has been buried). He again asked: "Walizika wapi?" (Where was he buried)? , Lt Col Bananuka replied: "Kwa kijiji yaake" (At his hometown).
The soldiers who buried him were hurriedly called to explain. Even after explaining and confirming that they had indeed buried the archbishop at Mucwini, the arresting team was not satisfied.
"They drove at night in a convoy to Mucwini. They exhumed the body to confirm whether the body was in the grave. After seeing it, they came back to the barracks," he says, adding: "That's how I survived".
Lt Col Bananuka was later suspended for one year over reports that Langi and Acholi soldiers alleged to be anti-Amin wanted to work under him. But he was recalled in 1978 and sent to Moroto's Gonda Battalion. Amin had disagreed with Gen Adrisi. "Amin told me that Gen Adrisi wanted to overthrow him," he says on his return.
He fought the Tanzanian and Uganda National Liberation Army forces in Mutukula in 1979, before fleeing to Kenya when Amin was overthrown.
Who is Lt Col Bananuka?
Birth.Lt Col Bananuka, was born in 1942 in present day Bushenyi District, but now lives with his nephews in Kabagoma, village in Ibanda District. His wife died in 2009.
He lives in a three-bedroomed house, which he built in 1975. But Lt Col Bananuka says when Amin was overthrown in April 1979, the roof of the same house was burnt down and his 60 head of cattle slaughtered by people in his village. He was arrested in 1979 after the overthrow of Amin and was charged with murder of a person whom he said surprisingly turned up in court during his trial.
Career. Lt Col Bananuka's love for soldiering was ignited in 1960 while a student at Kahaya Memorial Vocational School in Bushenyi.
"It was in Bushenyi when I saw a military brass band. I was mesmerised. That's when I made a decision to join the army," he says
Lt Col Bananuka then enlisted in 1963 during the national army recruitment drive in Bushenyi and went to Jinja for training.
- In 1964 Bananuka was promoted to Lance Corporal
- In 1966 he was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to Lubiri army barracks in Kampala.
- In 1969, Bananuka returned to the Jinja School of Infantry for a cadet course, completing in 1970, becoming a Lieutenant and was transferred to Bombo army barracks to become the officer in charge of training.
- In 1971, he was promoted to the rank of Captain, based at Bamunanika Palace in Luweero District, which had been turned into a barracks
- In 1973, Bananuka was promoted to the rank of Major.
- In 1974, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and transferred to Gulu army barracks to become the first commanding officer of Chui Battalion, which he started. Chui was the Fifth Battalion to be created. The 1st Battalion being in Jinja, 2nd Battalion in Moroto (Gonda), 3rd Battalion in Mubende, and 4th Battalion in Mbarara.
- In October 1978, Lt Col Bananuka was recalled and posted to Moroto to become the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, also known as Gonda Battalion.
- It was while there that the Amin government was overthrown. Lt Col Bananuka then escaped to Kenya and was arrested as a prisoner of war together with 51 other soldiers and detained at Luzira Prison for four years.
- After his release in 1982, Lt Col Bananuka retired to the village to start a new life.
- When the NRA took over, President Museveni through Brig Tadeo Kanyankore, asked Lt Col Bananuka to re-join the army but Lt Col Bananuka declined because of the trauma he had undergone.