By John Njoroge
Bunyoro kingdom ruling by old rules?
In 1999, Fred Atugonza of Hoima town, left his home in the wee hours to pray at a church near the palace of the Bunyoro king Rukirabasaija Agutamba Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I. The good Christian he was and an ardent follower of the teachings of his pastor Nicholas Kasaija, Atugonza was accustomed to overnight prayers. On this particular morning a tragedy struck.
As the congregation reached prayer climax, a gunshot was heard. Moments later Fred Atugonza fell to the ground after a bullet went through his shoulder. The congregation was thrown into panic; someone had shot into the church injuring Atugonza. Why? Four years later in 2003, after seeing numerous doctors and going in and out of hospitals in Hoima and Kampala, Atugonza died.
To date, the identity and motive of the shooter is unknown. Investigators were puzzled as to why anyone shot into worshippers in a church. Was it a stray bullet or was the shooter irritated by the people’s noises coming from the church? Investigations revealed that from the position at which the bullet entered the church, the shooter must have been on higher ground; either on a tree, on a wall or on a building. Further more, force and impact coupled by the manner at which the bullet entered Atugonza’s shoulder indicated that the shooter must have been standing at a distance, in the direction of King Gafabusa Igurus palace.
A rifle was later recovered by the police and was identified as the one that fired the bullet that hit Atugonza. During the investigation, police efforts to gain access to King Gafabusa’s palace were futile. The king had reinforced the palace guards with other guards from his royal installations. Access was denied to the police; their investigations frustrated. Atugonza tried in vain to get justice and compensation for his injuries before his death. With only a victim and no suspect, his case dragged on in court without any apparent conclusion. There simply was not enough evidence to make a clear case. The church on the other hand was demolished and some of its building materials like bars and iron sheets looted.
In June this year, another resident Shaban Muganzi, a prominent businessman in Hoima received a disturbing call. A company of King Iguruâ€™s personal guards had attacked his home, beat up his wife, children and anybody they found in the home and were forcibly removing his property.
â€œI received a distress call from my home,â€ Muganzi told The Independent. â€œThey had broken my doors and were removing my family from my land under the pretext that this was the kingâ€™s land and that since I was not originally from Bunyoro, I should leave. I went to the police who, in the first place, gave me 10 policemen but they were no match for the royal guards. We had to ask for reinforcement.â€
In total, 15 police officers and civilians tried to help Muganzi. They repelled the guards but not without a cost. â€œThree of my friends were arrested during the scuffle, he adds. They were taken to King Gafabusaâ€™s palace. We tried to get them back but the palace was suddenly surrounded by guards. We were not surprised that these guards did not respect the police. They do not have any respect for law and order.â€
According to Swaib Nyangabyaki, a district councillor representing Kyabigambire sub-county in the Hoima district council, what happened to Atugonza and Muganzi happens all the time in Hoima. Nyangabyaki adds that he did not realise the magnitude of the problem until he became a victim himself. On November 19 at about 10.00am He was brutally battered by King Gafabusaâ€™s royal guards in the presence of senior Hoima district officials. They included the deputy LC-V chairman Billy Kyamulesire, the district chief accounting officer (CAO) Walter Iriama, the district health inspector (DHI) Chris Asiimwe and an officer in the district sanitation department, Dr Fred Byeneme.
I had parked my motorcycle on the roadside and was talking to a friend. The kings vehicle passed the two of us heading to the direction of the palace. The king was not in his vehicle. Moments later, three plain cloths royal guards approached us and began to harass us, Nyangabyaki tells The Independent. He says the guards questioned his intentions of parking his motorcycle on the roadside. When he did not apologise or offer a bribe, they attempted to take his motorcycle away from him.
They pulled me off the motorcycle. Everything happened so fast. He says. They were hitting and pushing him, Dr Byeneme told The Independent. He even wanted to use a public pay phone but they stopped the attendant from serving him. He walked away from them leaving the motorcycle. We later watched in disbelief as hell broke loose.
Nyangabyaki says he walked away from the rowdy guards and entered the district council offices, 500 metres away. He met the LC-V vice chairperson and the district CAO at the entrance and walked with them into the office block. He immediately began narrating his ordeal to them
â€œWe were seated in the office when the four guards walked in,â€ deputy LC-V chairperson Kyamulesira told The Independent. â€œOf the four, one was in uniform and was armed. They ordered Nyangabyaki to go with them. He declined and they immediately assaulted him in our presence. They pulled him from the chair, out of the office, kicked, slapped him and tried to drag him on the ground.â€
â€œI was completely in shock,â€ Nyangabyaki says. â€œThey wanted to take me to the palace. I refused. I told them to call the police. They dragged and beat me for no reason in presence of the entire senior district leadership without fear of authority in total disregard of the rule of law. When they realised they were not getting me to the palace, they hit me on the head with an AK47 rifle, exposing my skull.â€
The four royal guards walked away from the scene as though nothing had happened. They left Nyangabyaki with two deep cuts to the head and in a pool of his own blood. The senior district leaders were stunned. The CAO immediately ordered for transportation to take him to hospital. The deputy LC-V chairperson rushed to Hoima Police Station where he made the first statement on behalf of Nyangabyaki, who later made a statement from his hospital bed.
The assailants have been arrested, commander Byenkya, who heads the king Gafabusas royal guards, told The Independent. They will be presented before the general court martial to answer charges of assault. vehicle. He had blocked the kings car with his motorcycle and his friends, he said. Nyangabyakis story runs on several local FM stations in Hoima. It has caused a public outcry over what the locals are calling royal guard terror.
They take the law into their hands and in most cases they break the law by arresting, detaining and extorting money from civilians, a resident of Hoima visiting Kampala told The Independent. As accusations on the conduct of the royal guards continue to mount, Nyangabyaki is constantly receiving phone calls from officials from the kingdom pleading with him not to shame the kingdom or the king in the media.
They interfered with the FM stations and when I said I have intention to sue, they are pleading. He says the deputy prime minister of the kingdom had even offered to cover his medical expenses in exchange for his silence. He offered to pay my bills so that I let this go, he says.
According to medical reports from a police surgeon and from Divine Health Centre where Nyangabyaki was treated, he suffered two deep cuts to the top of the head, one 3.5cm long and the other 8cm long. He lost a lot of blood and had signs of trauma.
The police are not cooperating. They are not helping me, Nyangabyaki told The Independent. They have now hidden the file containing the testimonies of my witnesses and those of the guards. My lawyers are having a hard time but I will continue to pursue this issue to the last minute. Justice must be done in Hoima.