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Saving president Obote

By Rashid Oduka and Ali Oduka

The untold story of the 1971 Amin coup

This is the story of how a Uganda Police band director, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ahmad Oduka, saved the lives of President Apollo Milton Obote and half of his cabinet who had travelled to Singapore to attend the Commonwealth meeting in 1971.


Oduka was told by his sister-in-law, wife to 2nd Lt. Juma Oka Mafali, later to be commonly known as Juma Butabika that she had heard of a coup plot against President Obote in a meeting at her house in Old Kampala. The meeting was chaired by Amin and attended by her husband, Butabika, and others. Oduka’s sister-in-law told him about the plot in order to persuade him not to attend the parade at Entebbe Airport to welcome President Obote and his entourage on January 24, 1971. Apparently, Amin’s plan was to blow up the plane and there was likely to be a lot of chaos and bloodshed. The plane had several ministers, including Sam Odaka, foreign affairs and Henry Kyemba.

Oduka was disturbed. He immediately realised that, as band director, he was in charge of the para in charge of the parade and could not stay away. But he also realised he had to find a way to avert the impending assassination of the president. After careful thought, he decided to contact then-Minister of Internal Affairs, Basil Bataringaya, who was in-charge of internal security and the police. Bataringaya must have called Obote and stopped him from landing at Entebbe because, some reports say, Obote chaired a meeting by telephone from Singapore at which it was agreed that Amin be stopped.

The minister then summoned then-Inspector General of police (IGP), Erinayo Wilson Oryema, for an emergency meeting not knowing that the IGP was part of the coup plotters. After the meeting, Oryema reportedly went straight to Amin and told him that their plan had been leaked. As they searched for the key suspect to have leaked the information, Juma Butabika’s wife had already fled.

Later, Obote’s entourage did not fly to Entebbe from Singapore. They went to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, instead.

Back home, Amin who had successfully executed the coup, arrested whoever attended the meeting that minister Bataringaya had called and killed them one by one including the minister himself, and Brig. Suleiman who was a family friend of the Odukas. Oryema was subsequently named minister of Minerals and Water Resources and later, in 1976, he was named minister of Lands, Housing, and Physical Planning. By 1977, he was the longest serving minister in Amin’s government. On February 1977, together with Archbishop Janani Luwum and then-Interior minister Charles Oboth-Ofumbi,   he was assassinated by Amin.

Oduka murdered

But back at home in 1971, Amin’s coup did not go without its brutality being meted out on the Uganda Police Force. A number of officers and men met their death at marauding gangs that took the law in their hands. Oduka fled and went to Mombasa, Kenya were he took refuge for some time.

Later on, however, he was persuaded and lured back to Uganda by a very close friend, who told him that Amin had requested him to return to Uganda and resume his job. Having loved his job, Oduka decided to come back. The first night he stayed at a friend’s home. The second day he was told that Amin was in a meeting, so he requested to see his wife, Julia Oling. The third day he and his wife were taken to the president’s office at the Parliament building to meet Amin.

Later in the day, it is said, Oduka was called in to see Amin. But unfortunately, that was the day his life was ended.

According to his son, Rashid Oduka, the family believes that Ahmad Oduka was brutally murdered on that same day, April 23, 1971, at Malire Barracks in Lubiri, Kampala. His body has never been found.

Veteran politician Henry Kyemba, who also served as minister of Health in Amin’s government narrates in his book; The State of Blood, how Oduka fell prey to Idi Amin and his hatchet men.

Kyemba narrates how Oduka was brutally murdered on April 23, 1971 at Malire Barracks Lubiri. Oduka’s tragedy is similar to that of many aspiring young men and women who persevered to nurture Independent Uganda into a country of pride and self-confidence but were halted in their path by tragedy that befell the nation.

Ahmad Oduka fact file

December 30, 1930: Born in Pakwach

Attended Bunamawaya P.S from Pl- P6

1949: Converted to Islam

1950: Joined Uganda Police Force- Band Section, Studied by correspondence British Tutorial College 0’Level and A’level

1952: Promoted to Corporal

1955: Sergeant

1958: Studied at the Royal Military School of Music UK

1961-1964: Returned to Royal Military School of Music at rank of sub-inspector

1964: Took over from John Moon as Bandmaster Director of music

1965: Promoted to Inspector of Police

1967: Assistant Superintendent of Police force

1969: Superintendent of Police

April 23, 1971: Murdered by the Amin’s regime

Music man

Ahmad Oduka, the first Ugandan director of music in the Uganda

Police band, led a life marked by perseverance. He rose from the lowest rank of police constable to become superintendent of police and director of music and saw the band transition from the colonial era to post-independence Uganda.

Oduka was a tall, elegant, smart, and humble man. Few knew he would lead Uganda’s elite Police Band into post-independence Uganda.

Born Steven Oduka on December 30, 1930 in Mujugula village, Pakwach in present day Nebbi district, Oduka’s parent left Pakwach when he was a young lad and migrated to Central Uganda. They first settled at Tula in Kawempe but later moved to Nyanama where his father worked at an Indian coffee factory. It was in Nyanama that in 1949 that Oduka converted to Islam and acquired the name Ahmad.

He went to Bunamwaya Primary School from Pl- P6. In 1950, the head Constable Langalanga recruited him into the Uganda Police Force Band section. He continued with his studies by correspondence at the British Tutorial College and attained a Junior three Certificate, after which he joined the International correspondence school where he obtained a Certificate equivalent to today’s A Level.

In 1952, Oduka was promoted to corporal then to sergeant in 1955. He married his first wife Julia Oling, who was a midwife at Mengo Hospital in the same year. Owing to his hard work and ability at playing various brass instruments, although he settled for the saxophone, Oduka impressed his directors; Teddy Bear from 1950-1957 and John Moon 1957-1964 who secured him a scholarship to study advanced music at The Royal Military school of music, Kneller Hall, Middlesex, UK in 1958.

A few years after his return, Oduka he again went back for more studies from 1961 to 1964, together with Abednego Orech Okot, who was the bandmaster of the Uganda Army Band.  His young family joined him in the UK in early 1962. As this was the time when Uganda attained her independence from Britain, Oduka missed out on the celebrations. At the rank of sub-inspector, Oduka qualified for the appointment of bandmaster having satisfactorily passed courses in harmony, aural training, military band, and orchestral instrumentation, scoring for military band and orchestra, teaching and management of such a church choir and conducting.

He also passed a course of practical training on various instruments used in military bands and orchestra and was found competent to instruct men/women in their use.

Armed with this knowledge and with the process of Ugandanising the Police Force in high gear, Oduka was promoted to Inspector of Police, Director of music taking over from the outgoing Director John Moon who was due to leave the country.

The young democracy needed dedicated personnel like him to take over from where the British were leaving. His next task was to recruit and train young men and women who had no knowledge of music to supplement the already existing crop of musicians. Uganda hardly had any institution that taught music, save for church-based choirs.

He brought in Venansio Okello from Kenya Police Band to add to the numbers. Oduka encouraged many young girls to join the band and a number were recruited among them in the present Director of Music and Head Dance and Drama Department Uganda Police, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Josephine Kakooza.

There was a belief during the era that typical African music could not be played by a brass band. Oduka demystified this belief by harmonising and scoring traditional music into modern brass tunes, most of which are played up to date. As a pioneer member of the Heart Beat of Africa, a popular troupe of traditional dancers and musicians, Oduka travelled widely in Africa and Europe poularising Uganda’s rich cultural heritage.

Among the local musicians whom he mentored are, Moses Matovu, director and leader of Afrigo Band, Elly Wamala, Mzee Muyinda, Hadija Namale, Eklias Kawalya, Fred Masagazi, Kasata and others. Shelton Mazowe, a prominent Zimbabwean musician, met Oduka in Nairobi when he and his group were winding up their tour of Kenya.

Oduka convinced him to come to Kampala to play music in the new Uganda. Shelton and Oduka then became an item, playing music together at the Suzanna Night Club in Mengo and at the Uganda Club in Nakasero. Shelton has since never looked back and settled permanently in Nansana. By 1969, Oduka was promoted to superintendent of police.

To further enhance the visibility and image of both Uganda Police Band, the cultural troupe in the public domain, the bands performed free shows every Sunday afternoons in various places like Jubilee Park, now Sheraton gardens, Lugogo Park, now UMA showgrounds, Entebbe grounds, and Mulago Park. The public was delighted and thrilled by the splendor and wonderful talent they displayed.

The Band and Dancing troupe were headquartered at Nsambya Barracks and Uganda Museum respectively and performed at major State functions. On every Independence Day Celebrations, Oduka made sure that every district performed its culture and traditional dance at the state function. By then Uganda had only 16 Districts.

The Uganda Police Band continues to thrill the public whenever they perform thanks to the legacy of Ahmad Oduka who demystified the colonial belief that typical African music could not be performed by a brass Band.

Oduka was survived by four official wives, three who are now deceased, 18 children; seven boys and 11 girls of which 6 of the girls have also. Three of his wives are now deceased but 30 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The family appeals to anyone who has information on where his body was disposed /buried to get in touch with them on the following telephone numbers: 0772-409413, 0782-798681, 0783-737382, 0774-392762.

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Rashid Oduka and Ali Oduka are sons of the late Ahmed Oduka

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