Obote’s chief bodyguard returns home as a pauper

Back home: Vincent Obodo, the former chief bodyguard to Obote

By January 25, 1971, when Idi Amin toppled Apollo Milton Obote through a military coup, Vincent Obodo was leading a comfortable life as the president’s chief bodyguard.

But the fortunes were to change once his boss, president Obote, was overthrown while away in Singapore for the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting.

The news of the coup in Uganda found Odobo at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, waiting for Obote to return for the Singapore meeting, and join him on a flight back to Entebbe.

As sporadic gunfire hovered over Kampala and troops ringed the parliament buildings, seized the radio station, the post office, the railway station, banks and other strategic positions, Obodo aided Obote’s path from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where they were welcomed by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s government.

According to Obodo, Obote felt insecure in Kenya when the then president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, failed to welcome or visit him when he arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on January 26, 1971. This forced him to move to Tanzania.

Obote lived as a refugee in Tanzania and soon, he and his team started organizing fighters to come back and overthrow Amin. Based on his friendship with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Obote stayed in Tanzania and continued organizing, until he forced his way back home in 1979.

But while Obote and other exiles forced their way back in Uganda, in 1979, Obodo, a former accountant declined to heed Obote’s call to return home, because he foresaw an uncertain future for Uganda’s politics at the time. For him, it was clear that another coup was in the pipeline.

“First he didn’t give me money to enable my return home but most importantly, I had foreseen another coup in Uganda,” Obodo said.

While in Tanzania as a refugee, Odobo managed some of the businesses especially in the hotel and tourism industry which Obote had established and at the same time worked as the assistant manager of VadGama buildings, an Indian Company in which Obote was a shareholder.
The businesses have since been liquidated.

He was also involved in the first discussions to mobilize support, training from Tanzania, Somalia and Sudan against Gen Idi Amin. But Obote recalled him to the protection unit of his family in 1973. He also played a key role in providing logistics for the soldiers in the battle against Amin.

When Obote regained power in 1980, Obodo remained his emissary in Tanzania, until 1982 when he was edged out of the State House in Dar es Salaam. Obodo says that his ejection, which came a few weeks after he declined to return home as requested by President Obote, drastically changed his life and he resorted to doing all sorts of odd jobs, including emptying toilets, bricklaying, and stone quarrying, among others to earn a living.

But as years went by, his health began to deteriorate and he couldn’t work anymore. At the moment, Obodo has a hearing impairment and a swollen left leg which makes his movements difficult. He has also undergone an operation to repair his eyesight, although he still has visual challenges.

He explains that he has made several attempts to return home, which, however, were frustrated by the Tanzanian government over unclear reasons.
“My first attempt to return home was in 1990 but I was blocked. I tried again in 2008 and 2010 in vain. I remained helpless until May 2017 when my health condition worsened until UNHCR came to my rescue,” he said.

On the day of his return, Obodo had only $100 (Shs 365,000) that he held in savings from his years of hard labour as a refugee in Tanzania.

Before his deployment as the head of the VIP protection unit, Obodo, an accountant by training had worked with the Ministry of Works and Transport in Soroti and Bukedi until 1965 when he joined the Office of Prime Minister and later President Milton Obote.

He also served as an assistant district commissioner for Bukedi district before going for military training in Uganda, Israel and Russia.

In his security assignments Obodo worked briefly with a young Yoweri Museveni in the general service department of the Office of the President in 1971.

His son, John Ekoyu, whom he left in Uganda at the age of five is only hoping that the government considers compensating his father to help him resettle with the family. Ekoyu, who dropped out of school in senior two, has been the breadwinner for Obodo’s two wives.

Obodo, 81, recently rejoined his family at Akere village, Agora parish in Soroti City West division where he was welcomed with a thanksgiving ceremony.


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