By Patrick Kagenda
Reburial of IGP Oryema brings new life to remote village
Obit West could be described as the quietest spot in Tangi, a rural village in Pabir parish in Purongo Sub-County in Nwoya district in northern Uganda. Tangi village derives its name from a small spring that meanders westwards towards the world famous Murchison Falls National Park until its waters pour into the mighty River Nile, which is the world`s longest river.
Small villages like Tangi are not normally known to many people apart from their residents and people in neighboring villages. Like shooting stars, they are not seen by many.
Tangi village could, however, become an exception. Recently it was visited by a huge crowd of people who travelled in over 200 vehicles, and included a big number of police officers and men from the comforts of the cities in Uganda and beyond.
What they were to witness in Tangi village was unheard of and could possibly not have been dreamt about.
Tangi normally has a population of less than 200 people. But Like traditional African folklore goes that seeing a shooting star brings blessings, fortunes of this small village in the greater Acholi sub- region could have changed for good when, on Sept.18, over 60,000 people, including President Yoweri Museveni, ambassadors, ministers, MPs, district leaders, bishops, imams, security chiefs, officers and men of both the army and prisons, and police converged on it.
It is possible that even the herds of elephants grazing 2kms away in the Murchison Falls National Park sensed something unusual was happening.
The presence of such a huge number of humans in an area the elephants normally freely roam in, some destroying the village’s farm crops, was unprecedented. The elephants’ suspicion could have turned to anxiety when volleys of canon fire were fired in their direction. Fortunately, these were not poachers aiming for the coveted elephant tusks.
The convergence of the big crowd of people to Tangi village and the firing of cannons was for something quite unique. The village was witnessing celebrations of the life of Uganda`s first indigenous Inspector General of Police, Lt. Col Wilson Erinayo Oryema.
Oryema was tragically killed in February 1977, allegedly on the orders of then-president, Gen. Idi Amin Dada. His body was brought to his farm in Tangi at night and buried secretly by soldiers and his grave sealed with concrete.
Oryema had migrated to Tangi village in the 1960s from Gulu, his birth place. Godfrey Ochaya, a 72-year old resident of Tangi village recalled the late Oryema.
“He was a good man who cooperated with the locals despite his high social standing,” Ochaya says through a translator, “He called us his children and treated us well whenever he came to the farm.”
The late Lt. Col Oryema had bought 3 square miles of land in this village in the 1960s and had started a dairy farm, an orchard and other farming activities.
Tangi was the first village to have a dairy farm with over 100 Friesian cows; a rarity in the northern Uganda of the 1960s.
Another elder, 52-year old Lakony F. Okumu; the LC III chairman of Purongo Sub County says when the late Lt. Col Oryema established the farm, Tangi changed.
“People got jobs and were being paid salaries on addition to getting food from the farm,” Okumu, who would have been a teen in Oryema’s heyday, recalls.
Tangi became the first village in northern Uganda to have a brick and mortar house with running water pumped from Tangi River, and first to have a metal gate with a sentry box. Once again, it looks; Tangi village is back in the limelight.
Now again it has become the first village in the Acholi sub-region to have an exhumation after 37 years and the remains of the deceased buried in full state honours with the coffin draped in the national and police flags. The re-burial was unlike the first burial conducted by the Uganda Army soldiers 37 years ago. Back then Lt. Col Oryema was buried without protocol, like an unknown soldier in an unmarked grave in a war zone in a green army uniform wrapped in a blanket. This time it was the Uganda Police of which he was the first IGP which exhumed his remains, put them in an expensive-looking oak coffin.
His re-burial was not an ordinary one either. It had a 3 gun salute and a mausoleum built instead of an ordinary grave.
The police announced that apart from the reburial and building a mausoleum for Oryema and his wife, there are plans to build a museum at the burial site and an institute to the memory of Lt. Col Oryema.
President Yoweri Museveni also promised to rehabilitate Oryema’s farm and rebuild the Oryema family house that was razed down during the 25-year insurgency of the Lord’s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony.
Even people living downstream the river Nile in Sudan and Egypt may now get to know that some of their water originates from Tangi in the four-year old Nwoya district that was created out of Amuru district in 2010.
If Nwoya had not been curved out of Amuru, the small Tangi River would still be part of Amuru. But as the times change so do the fortunes of Tangi River and the village from which it originates.
When I first arrived in the village, I was amazed at the sprawling fields of upland rice, finger millet and maize growing on the spreading savannah plains. Over the horizon, a few homes to the north marked out the area where the reburial of Oryema was taking place.
When I asked who owned the two huge homes visible from a distance of about 1km away, I am told one home belongs to Brig. Charles Otema Awany; a serving UPDF officer while the other home belongs to the late Erinayo Oryema`s elder daughter, Gertrude Aget.
The biggest economic activity in the district remains agriculture and the people in Tangi village do not know of any other economic activity apart from farming.
Brig. Otema also has a commercial farm here. The other is owned by former area MP and leader of the opposition in parliament, Prof. Ogenga Latigo. But the real treasure in Tangi is still buried underground.
Nwoya district is one of the areas in northern Uganda where recent exploration activity has confirmed huge oil deposits. As a result, there is widespread excitement in anticipation of oil wealth.
But President Museveni advised the people not to be intoxicated over the oil reserves discovered beneath their land.
“Oil is not the wealth of Uganda,” Museveni said while addressing the crowd at the re-burial, “concentrate on developing agriculture.”
If anyone listening heeds Museveni’s advice, it would confirm one thing; Tangi is indeed a village of surprises.