With Ibrahim Abiriga, what you saw is literally what you got. He wore his heart openly on his sleeves, impassive to jibes thrown at him by those who did not approve of his colourful ways.
Abiriga largely shot to fame with his vociferous support for the contentious Constitutional Amendment Bill that proposed the removal of presidential age limits.
Even when the scheme to remove age limits was still a tightly-guarded secret, Abiriga was never afraid to openly voice his support for the plan, occasionally running into trouble with his NRM colleagues, who wanted to go about the process as covertly as possible.
His openness about such a clandestine operation made him a darling of the press gallery; he would openly speak about the manoeuvers in the pro-age and term limit side and then cheekily demand not to be quoted.
Abiriga was never amused with journalists who broke the gentleman’s pact not to quote him, but he was never one to hold a grudge.
The vocal support for the removal of age limits earned him more enemies than friends. He complained that his name would be publicly called out by strangers on the streets, hotels and restaurants.
He became the poster boy for vitriolic criticism of the Bill.
Every time he said anything about the removal of age limits, he became the butt of joke.
For a man who cut his teeth as a rebel with the West Nile Rescue Front (WNRF), that backlash was never going to dim his support for the removal of age and MPs’ term limits.
The last time he spoke in Parliament was during the raucous debate on the Constitutional Amendment Bill.
The hostility somehow emboldened him. He incredibly threatened to retire from Parliament if the Bill to remove age limits was not passed.
Abiriga only spoke about matters very dear to his heart and he said that is why he rarely spoke in the House. The removal of age limits was very close to his heart and he spoke about it.
On Wednesday, I bumped into him in the corridors of Parliament. True to himself, he was available for a chat. I asked him why he rarely contributes to debate in plenary.
“Speak for what? “he asked.
“The work of an MP is largely about speaking,” I quipped back.
“I have spoken three times in plenary, “he retorted, and frankly.
“Are you just a voting machine? “I asked, obviously tongue-in-cheek.
“For you, you are just a stupid man,” he said, in his usual comic manner.
We laughed away and headed different ways.
On Thursday, I found Abiriga at the main entrance to the lobby, engaged in his typical chitchat with MPs, Parliament staff, journalists and anyone who cared to listen.
This time, talk was about queries over his academic documents. I asked him whether he truly had gone back to school or whether he was riding on bogus papers.
“I did not want to go back to school but Mzee [President Museveni] insisted. I told him that I have many UPDF certificates, which can be made equivalent to a degree but he insisted that I should go back to school. I said it’s okay Mzee,” said Abiriga, gesticulating in resignation.
Abiriga revealed that he was set to graduate this year with a degree in Public Administration from the Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU).
“I will have a big party in Arua. I will invite all of you,” he said.
He then cheekily requested journalists to do a story about delays in paying of MPs’ salaries for May, saying MPs were being “starved.”
The bold Abiriga
Abiriga never shied away from confronting the powers that be.
He clashed with Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa over designation to committees.
Abiriga wanted to be designated to Defence and Internal Affairs Committee, but he had been nominated to a different committee.
He finally had his way and was nominated to the Defence and Internal Affairs Committee.
In that committee, however, he never found solace as he complained of hounding by MPs such as Muwanga Kivumbi and Theodore Ssekikubo, who are seasoned members of that committee.
It is perhaps Abiriga’s unflinching loyalty to President Museveni and the NRM that will immortalise him.
At the 2017 State-of-the Nation address, President Museveni gifted Abiriga with sandals.
Mr Museveni had come with Ugandan-made shoes to illustrate his Buy Uganda, Build Uganda (Bubu) policy and joked that he wanted to gift them to a “well-behaved MP”.
“Abiriga, Abriga,” MPs chorused his name, and Mr Museveni obliged and gifted the shoes to Abiriga.
Abiriga was a man with a heart of gold; people at Parliament have tales about his generosity.
But the million-dollar question that will linger on the minds of many who knew him is: Why would anyone kill Abiriga?