Did Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga’s regular schedule make him an easy target for assailants? Nicholas Bamulanzeki arrived at the scene of last Friday’s fatal shooting moments after the MP met his violent death. This is what he found.
At around 7pm, I received a call from office breaking the news of Ibrahim Abiriga’s public murder. Reaching the scene in Kawanda at about 8:30pm, it was already cordoned off.
A few locals had gathered and Luke Owoyesigire, the Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson, advised them to stand back. But like myself, other journalists were not stopped from approaching the car in which the two bodies still lay.
Inside the famous yellow Beetle was a blood-spattered spectacle. The bullets had practically blown Abiriga’s head to bits. It was a blood-curdling sight.
Eyewitnesses said they had seen strange men riding on motorcycles moments before the attack. One boda boda rider who preferred anonymity described the shock.
“I was at our stage with colleagues waiting for customers when we heard gunfire. We dispersed in different directions,” he said.
“I then heard a loud bang. After a few seconds, bullets rained again but none of us could tell what was happening because there was no person raising any alarm. When we came out of hiding after hearing boda bodas (motorcycles) disappearing in the distance, we got to learn that Abiriga had been killed.”
Another boda boda rider who had abandoned his bike just a few metres away came back to claim it but was stopped by police officers who said it may be used as an exhibit.
He kept a distance but seemed confused by the situation and kept asking journalists to help him retrieve his bike. However, he lost all hope when Internal Security Organisation Chief Col Bagyenda Kaka arrived at around 9pm and was quickly followed by Abel Kandiho, his Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence counterpart.
They ordered police to spread the cordon wider and called in forensic experts, who started combing the area around the car as more security personnel arrived in numbers.
Internal Affairs minister Gen Jeje Odongo and his deputy Mario Obiga Kania also arrived shortly afterwards. Everyone spoke in hushed tones, sometimes whispering into their phones. There was no wailing or sobbing, just bewildered and anxious faces, some clearly full of fear.
There were many gun-wielding security operatives, some in plain clothes. From a layman’s point of view they seemed uncoordinated over who should do what. I wondered how easy it would be for a criminal to infiltrate us. Police dogs were brought much later.
More than two hours later, and after much forensic work, police and other security personnel formed a ring around Abiriga’s car to block photojournalists from taking pictures as the bodies were transferred into an ambulance.
The security chiefs then headed to Abiriga’s home a few metres from the spot he was killed in Kirinyabigo, Kawanda in Wakiso district.
Here, the family was still in shock. I noticed they had prepared to break the Muslim fast but no one bothered to even look at the food. One lady kept asking for answers but none came from the contingent that came to console them. Instead, ruling party official Lydia Wanyoto kept assuring them that the killers will be caught.
Apparently angered by the lack of solid information, the lady stormed out of the house. As the tensions mounted, discussions shifted from Abiriga’s death to why would someone target him?
Much later as Abiriga’s death sunk in, locals camped around Abiriga’s house in groups of four to ten discussing the slain MP’s last hours. A man I later got to know as a chapatti seller said Abiriga had a strict routine during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“He always passed me on his way home at around 6:30pm to catch up with the family to break the fast. He never missed being around his family,” he said. “Perhaps that is why the assailants found it easy to target him because he was a strict timekeeper in the evening,” he said.
“Abiriga was a relatively new resident here, rarely travelled at night and used to make several stopovers to greet locals, especially village children.”
By midnight, the whole village had turned into some sort of security hub. Anyone without proper identification had to do a lot of explaining before being let go. I showed my identification eight times.
Several locals fled the place when it became apparent that troops from the elite Special Forces Command were in the area in preparation for President Museveni’s visit to the late Abiriga’s home the next morning.
I also had to find my way home.
MEANWHILE, Sadab Kitatta Kaaya reports that at about 5pm that fateful Friday, Abiriga had telephoned John Aleku, the chairperson of the MPs’ drivers, asking him to drive him home because he was not feeling well. His intention was to drive back home in his trademark yellow beetle Volkswagen which had been parked in the Parliament yard for days.
The dark grey double cabin truck, which he had used that day was to be driven back home by his driver. Aleku said he was away, and therefore, Abiriga had to drive himself home with his bodyguard and brother, Saidi Kongo with whom they died.
As expected, his killing has shocked the country. It has also opened the window for all sorts of political speculation. The late Abiriga was a loud supporter of the Constitution Amendment (No.2) Bill, which, despite countrywide opposition to it, lifted age limits for presidential contenders as well as extending the term of office for MPs and local government leaders.
The MP was among the 28 other ruling party legislators who worked closely with Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi to piece together the bill that gave Museveni a new lease of political life.
After the bill was passed on December 21, 2017, several NRM MPs reported receiving death threats although there is no hard indication that Abiriga’s killing has anything to do with the controversial amendment or politics for that matter.
But even as investigations are underway, Museveni issued a statement late on Sunday, claiming that the Arua Municipality MP had been assassinated because of his commitment to the National Resistance Movement party.
“Assassination means that you are already defeated. Your ideas cannot compete with ideas of the victim in terms of development. That is why you decide to kill him or her. That will not help you. Others with the same ideas will continue,” the statement said.
“Why kill somebody because you do not agree with him? Why don’t you defeat his ideas with your ‘better’ ideas?
“Can these pigs ask themselves one question: ‘Why doesn’t NRM assassinate its opponents? Is it because we do not have the guns or the capacity?’ ”
The president’s statements have not helped the fear spreading amongst those who promoted the Magyezi bill.
“Considering what is on social media, the fact that we have been receiving telephone calls from anonymous people which is the reason why we were given security, you can’t take Abiriga’s killing away from his support of the age limit bill,” said Amolatar Woman MP Doreen Amule.
Amule and Kyaaka South MP Jackson Kafuuzi seconded Magyezi’s bill. She told The Observer that she is particularly worried that the anger within the population is directed at individual MPs.
“It worries me, some people have taken it to be so personal, we are targeted personally as individuals not collectively as parliament yet the bill was passed by parliament,” Amule said.
But for his part, Magyezi largely disagrees with connecting the killing to NRM politics.
“The nature in which he was killed is not any different from the way the others were killed. The sheikhs, Joan Kagezi, Kaweesi, etc...the age limit bill was not there when they were being killed,” Magyezi said.
“We are still speculating on why he was killed, who killed him and I think we should let the investigations to be concluded,” he added.
Principal State Attorney Kagezi, Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, and a number of Muslim leaders were all gunned down by still unknown assailants riding on motorcycles. Abiriga becomes the latest high-profile victim of the mysterious killings.