My last interaction with Mr Ibrahim Abiriga was a quick handshake and a “hello honorable how have you been” greeting yesterday at Parliament as he headed out to attend the State of Nation Address.
He would never go unnoticed. Even in a crowd of a thousand people all you had to do was look for someone dressed in all yellow.
What the cowardly assassins did this evening was trail his yellow beetle Volkswagen and spray it with bullets, murdering him together with his bodyguard in the most senseless of ways.
Parliament reporters are usually very dismissive of sources and legislators they deem not too brilliant for space in their notebooks.
Yet Abiriga became a distinct crowd puller first as a source for punchy funny quotes but as time passed, as a friendly legislator around whom Parliament reporters loved hanging for a quick hearty chat and a lesson or two on Uganda’s history…. it usually ended with his undying love for President Museveni, whom he always referred to as “my commander”.
Born in Arua district 62 years ago, Mr Abiraga was the fourth child of, in his own words, very many children. His father was a soldier with very many wives.
In the only interview I had with him on why he always dressed yellow, he explained that growing up in a family of many children and wives and to a soldier father taught him loyalty and discipline. That his father taught him that when you decide to stand for something, you give it your all.
He said he didn’t have to speak in Parliament for the sake of speaking. He had to speak only when called up on by the party leadership when they thought he had “something to add.” That is how he understood party disciplined, a thing that still eludes many educated legislators in NRM.
When I interviewed with him for the Daily Monitor, he looked for me. He wanted to express his displeasure about what I had written for he thought the interview was to going to focus on his dress color of choice.
In the interview, he had told me that everything about him must be yellow and whenever he does not wear yellow he does not feel complete.
“Ha! One day I came without a yellow colour on me and my spirit was very low. I felt I was missing something. I had to ask my driver to drive me back home and I change clothes,” he said.
Some opposition MPs with a low retention for a mental challenge could not fathom that Abiriga does not speak in Parliament but attracts attention and political debate just by the way he dresses. They met him at Parliament and actually physically harassed him. He just smiled. He always smiled.
He had a good reason for his love for yellow that even his Volkswagen Beetle car in which he was killed was yellow.
“I first saw politicians wearing their party colours long ago when I was in Primary Three. UPC leaders always wore their red and blue on weekends and so did their Democratic Party counterparts,” he said.
“When I left the army and joined politics I said I will always wear my party colours as a way of promoting it, but most importantly to send a message: that NRM is in leadership and it means good. Politicians should be proud of their political belonging and never fear to express their belonging.”
He was a people person. At Parliament, he interacted with everyone and anyone. He looked down upon flashing around wealth. He always said that no matter much and what type of house someone has, there final resting place is a grave seven feet in the ground.
He was a free spirited soul. When camera’s caught him pissing in the city center. His excuse was as human as it could be, “I was badly off. Did you want my bladder to burst?”
When majority MPs simply pocked the shs20M government gave them to go and consult their constituents about the controversial age limit bill, Abiriga drove to Arua and gave the money to the people.
“I went and got change and gave the money to the people. Some got one thousand. Others got a coin but at least they got. We were told to take the money to the people. Why should I remain with it? I do not want too much money. I am an old man,” he told me. He always spoke fondly of his “Arua municipality people”. The people he had served as resident commissioner before finding his way into Parliament.
His modesty and love for his commander in chief was further shown when he was called forward and presented with a pair of Made in Uganda slide in shoes last year during the reading of the budget.
He excitedly said he was going to paint them yellow and wear them daily. To him, it was not about people’s opinion. It was about loyalty and love for his party.
He was indeed living out his last moments. In a past interview with the Observer newspaper, he said that because of his advanced age, he does not hit the gym because “I will be dying soon” anyway.
That all he does is eat, sleep, and eat and whenever he feels sick, go see a doctor.
Wherever he went he flashed the NRM sign. He loved mimicking President Museveni’s way of thumbing up.
Yet toward his death, he thought the President had started ignoring him.
He told the media that he no longer gets to the President. That he was struggling to get his attention. To talk to him.
May be he wanted to share with his commander something really personal. We will never know.
Rest in Peace Honorable.