Just before death struck: Abiriga’s last hour

By Stephen Kafeero


Strangers were seen roaming the village, on June 8, but no one paid attention.
Hours later, Arua Municipality Member of Parliament, Ibrahim Abiriga, and his young brother Saidi Buga Kongo, who he had taken on as his bodyguard, were assassinated.
In the hours that followed, some residents and security personnel pondered whether these could have been the killers threshing out the final details before executing their brazen and daring mission.
‘What-if’ questions occupied many of them.
Others spoke fondly of the man who had become family to them.
Shortly after the 2016 elections, residents of Kirinyabigo, Kayi Zone in Kawanda got a new member, Abiriga, who through his generosity and kindness soon became a household name.
Residents we spoke to say Abiriga would greet everyone he met along the way and if one spiced the greeting with raising their thumb, then Abiriga would be the happiest.
On a good day, he would dish out money to some residents and or work to solve their problems despite having a constituency hundreds of miles away in Arua.
It was long before the legislator would register on the national scene for his well-documented controversies.

Final day
And so, on the day they came to kill him, Abiriga went about his business normally.
Residents say he travelled in a dark grey, some said black, pick up double cabin for most of the day but later took to his prized yellow Volkswagen Beetle.
The countdown started.
His haste home for the Iftar (the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset) would occasionally be interrupted by chit-chats with friends along the way.
Abiriga enjoyed the company of children and they had mastered his daily routine and would longingly wait for his generosity, which came in form of hugs, food, money and other such goodies. It was not a coincidence that, perhaps, they were the last he bid farewell.
Less than half a kilometer after they had parted company, Abiriga, who was chauffeuring his Beetle, was cornered.
Gunfire suddenly reverberated in the area, characterised by shops and residential homes on either side of the dirt street around 6:30pm.
At that point, he was less than five minutes outside his home.
Yet, it took less than that time to finish him off. By the time the sun was fully settling, bullets had shattered both Abiriga’s and the passenger’s heads.
More bullets came from the direction of his home hitting the right side of the vehicle after it veered off the road.
The car crashed into a jackfruit tree.
Its front was shattered. The remainder of Abiriga’s head slumped over towards Kongo.
Both men were pronounced dead at the scene.
Eyewitnesses told Sunday Monitor that the first shooting started from a nearby road, which connects to the main road via Bridge International Academy.
“I saw one man who would shoot with one leg bended at the knee, stand and then go back on bended knee and shoot more bullets,” a woman, who was hiding in one of the shops, said.

The assassins

How many were they? Like in the past such killings, the number of the actual killers is a subject of debate. Some eyewitnesses cite two, while others point to at least four people and more.
As a rain of bullets ripped Abiriga’s trademark yellow Volkswagen Beetle, shocked community members caught up in their various businesses and activities remember seeing armed hooded men executing the mission, others remember seeing men in helmets such as those donned by motorcyclists ostensibly to disguise their faces.
Residents, who either witnessed or responded in the wake of the incident long before police arrived to cordon off the scene, point to something that looked like either a phone or pinhole camera in the victims’ car.
This newspaper could not independently verify whether it belonged to the victims or to the assailants.
A superintendent of police donning a Field Force Unit uniform, who appeared to be in the lead of the team of detectives, simply smiled at our inquiry about reports that the phone or camera of one of the assailants could have been left in Abiriga’s car.
The boldness in which the execution of the duo was conducted also dents any assertions that they could have lost something as big as a mobile phone or camera in their victims’ car.
Witness account. A woman who runs a shop about 20 metres from the spot where the duo were killed told Sunday Monitor that she had to summon all her courage to pick her baby from the veranda of the shop where it played as the killers did their thing.
“I saw one man and he was casually dressed. He was picking bullet casings. I, honestly, don’t remember the colour of his clothes but he had a hood and earphones. When he saw me, he pointed his gun in my direction and signaled me to go back in the shop,” she said.
The earphones, possibly shooting ear plugs, and assertion that the shooters ordered scared residents to return to hide without shooting at them, are the only consistent narrations from the people who claim to have witnessed the killing.

What we know so far…

• Killers attacked from two different directions
• Killers travelled on motorcycles
• Police arrived more than 40 minutes after the assassination
• The legislator spent the day travelling in a dark double cabin pick-up vehicle.
• He was donning a grey kanzu (long tunic) and not any of his yellow outfits while the other passenger donned an army jacket.
• One group of the assailants came from a road that connects to the main road via the Bridge International Academy and these are believed to have shot at Abiriga from behind forcing him to lose control and knock the jack fruit tree.
• Another group waited for him from the direction of his home where he was headed and these are believed to have finished him off by shooting through the right window and door of his car.
• Abiriga was the one driving the yellow Volkswagen Beetle car.
• Detectives spent more than seven hours at the murder scene searching for any leads on the gruesome killing.


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