Col Ibrahim Abiriga has stirred a defiant reaction across his family in the aftermath of his cruel death in June, with the former Arua Municipality MP’s family determined to keep his candle burning bright.
His wife, Amina Sijali Abiriga, says she will not be cowed by the fear of death. She plans to run for the same parliamentary seat at the next general election in 2021. JONATHAN KAMOGA, IRENE NATUJUNA & UTHMAN LUBEGA write.
When we visited the family last week, Amina, as would be expected, spoke about the heartrending grief, great loss, uncertainty which lies ahead but also revealed her determination to join politics.
In the living room of Abiriga’s home in Kawanda, she sat in the favourite chair her husband used to occupy and speaks about a desire to finish what he had started in Arua municipality.
The Electoral Commission is organising a by-election to fill this now vacant position and she believes that if she were to join the race, she would win with a landslide. But she cannot run just yet because she does not have all the necessary qualifications.
“We got married when I was just 18 years old and I then dropped out of school in senior three. We were both not [thinking] of going back to school; so, I cannot stand now because I don’t have the papers,” she said.
The widow remembers how whenever she told him about going back to school in the early days of their marriage, his friends would advise him that since his wife was young, he risked losing her to younger boys if she went back to school. Abiriga heeded their advice until when he joined parliament and had a change of heart: he wanted her to go back to school but she was pregnant.
“Now I want to go back and start from where I stopped because first I have to get a decent job and look after the children and also get papers to take me to parliament in 2021. I know he is out there watching me and I do not want to disappoint him,” she said. However, by 2021 she may not have gotten the requisite senior six academic qualification.
But how is she coping in the immediate aftermath of her deep loss? It is hard, she told The Observer, opening up about how life used to be before. Right from his resident district commissioner days in Yumba and Arua, Abiriga used to move with his brother, Seyyid Kongo, as his bodyguard.
On several occasions while at Abiriga’s Kawanda home, Kongo too stayed with his wife. Kongo would casually joke about his vow to go wherever his elder brother went and that one day they would die together.
“I would then ask him, so what would happen if one of you died first and he would reply that the other would also die. Then I would get mad and tell them that that was not the right way to joke. Who would you two leave me with if you died together?” Amina remembers saying.
Indeed, the two brothers died together on the night of June 8 when unknown assailants showered a hail of bullets at the yellow VW beetle car they were travelling in near their home in Kawanda.
The cheerfulness which used to fill the air in this home has been replaced by a profound emptiness. Also, for one to enter the homestead, you have to go through several security checks. You have to identify yourself, give the reason for your visit and sign in the visitors’ book. The home is guarded by at least six police officers.
This is how Amina remembers what happened on that dark day.
“I was in Arua. I talked to him [Abiriga] on phone [on June 8] and he sent me money to buy food and to prepare for Eid [on June 15]. He said that I should buy all I needed for a week and I asked him whether he was going somewhere that week. He just told me, ‘You don’t know God’s plans,’” Amina said.
Two hours later, she received a call that her husband had been shot but she dismissed this as fake news propagated by social media. And she switched on the television and saw a live broadcast of the incident.
“I wanted to drive from Arua but that was not possible in the condition that I was in; so, I moved the following morning. I never believed that,” she said.
“It is so lonely out here now,” she said.
But it is not just the loneliness, the 29-year-old housewife with three children now has a huge responsibility of fending for more than nine other children her late husband left her with. Some live in Kawanda, others in the village in Arua. In total, Abiriga had 24 children, some are with their mothers but Amina thinks one day they will be brought to her.
“The children are disturbing first because they are young and I have to explain to them that their father was killed. I tell them he is dead every time they ask me where he is,” she said. “If you asked Junior where his father is, he will tell you that he was shot and is now in heaven.”
Amina worries that with time, she might not have the resources to fend for the family. When they got married in 2007, Abiriga asked her to stay home and take care of the children.
“The money we are using now is that which was collected as condolence fees. If it gets over, I don’t know what we shall do then. Government promised us help but I don’t know when it will come. I am talking to them,” she says, covering her teary eyes with the hand and part of the yellow veil on her head.
From Abiriga’s favourite chair next to the corridor that goes into the bedrooms, Amina says she always breaks down and cries. She wants the visitors who come around to comfort her, not those who come to remind her of the good old times.
“I sit in his chair and most times when I want something that I cannot get for myself, I say look, if he was here, he would have provided this, then I miss him the more,” she said. “The children also miss those things; they tell me that daddy used to buy for us chicken wings and pizza, which I am not giving them now.”
The children are in school because the term is still on and Abiriga had paid fees for this term but what will happen when they come home, and what will she do next school term? For now, there is some hope. She pointed out that government has been in touch with all the schools where the children are studying.
Abiriga was known for his trademark yellow dressing, a tribute to the ruling NRM party he belonged to. Most things around the house like plastic chairs are also yellow in colour. Did he pay the ultimate price because of politics?
“They killed him because of his beliefs and he died because he was working for his people,” his widow says. “If they want to kill me too, I am ready because I would have died serving my people too. I will wear that yellow colour to let people know that he is not entirely dead.”
She adds that her husband had received death threats from several people and believes he knew those who killed him. He could have even confronted them and asked them why they wanted to kill him.
“That was him. Even when I told him that so and so is a witch, he would go to that person and tell him, my wife said you are a witch, is it true?”
“[But] I think those people should be left to God. So, what will happen when they are arrested? Will it bring Abiriga back to life?” she wonders.