By Watuwa Timbiti
Patricia Nalukwago, the proprietor of XPAP Forex Bureau in Entebbe, is successful in her own way. But Nalukwago is living a life shrouded in anxiety. Twice, unknown gun-wielding assailants have shot at her car and house in Entebbe.
On September 23, 2011, Nalukwago drove home at around 8:00pm. Responding to the warnings of her intuition that something wrong would happen to her one day, she attempted to elude her possible trailers by taking a route different from the direct one to her home.
“I had a security guard at home and we had security language we used. My car had neon lights which was one of the things he would recognise. I would then hoot twice before he opened the gate,” Nalukwago explains.
As usual, on seeing her car and after hearing hooting twice, the guard opened the gate for her. “As I drove through the gate, I heard loud bangs and quick flashes,” she explains, adding: “My first thought was that the car tyres had burst, but I quickly brushed that aside because my vehicle was well maintained.”
While she was still frozen in panic, a man emerged on the right of her car. At first, she thought it was Robert, the guard, but quickly realised it was a different person.
“Shaken, I asked the man if he was a new guard and if Robert had been sent to another station. Instead, he ordered me out of the car. I realised something was wrong. Many ideas crossed my mind; I thought of reversing or hiding in the car, but I realised I was too big and it would be futile. So I did as ordered,” she says.
With her hands up in resignation to her fate, but also to signal her readiness to negotiate with him, she was hit by the sight of her regular guard Robert down in a pool of blood. The assailants had shot him to disable him from obstructing their mission.
“The man demanded the keys to the house. I pleaded that there was nothing valuable for him to take from the house. I told him if he wanted money, it was in the bag in the car, and if it was not enough I could pick for him more from the ATM,” Nalukwago narrates.
Soon, she realised that the attackers were three. More puzzling, however, was that her entire neighbourhood was silent and nobody came to her rescue. She felt betrayed.
“I handed over the bag. It had sh300,000, my work ID, driving permit, NSSF card and the phones,” she recalls. “But, the man with an AK47 insisted on the house key. I told him the guard had the key, yet it was on my car key-holder.”
They demanded the keys from the guard, but he said they had fallen as he was shot and he could not tell where they landed. Incensed, the gun-wielding man cocked the gun and moved back aiming at her, but she closed in on him.
“He pushed me away. Terrified that I was about to die, I moved closer. He pushed me away, but I moved closer and hugged him. He pushed again and I hugged him, telling him: “You are not such a bad person, but something else is driving you. Do not kill us. We shall give you what you want, but spare our lives.”
Meanwhile, the second man was busy trying to open the house with the keys picked from the car. On failing, he returned to seek assurance from Nalukwago that there was actually nothing valuable in the house.
Nalukwago survived two attempts on her life
“If there is nothing in the house, then we are going to kill you,” the man with the gun said. “I took his threat seriously. I felt like I was staring death in the face and said a short prayer in my heart,” she recounts.
Nalukwago’s wandering eyes landed on the half closed gate. That thin space eventually became the much needed passage to her escape. At the same time, the man moved towards Robert and shot him again in the leg; accusing him of feigning ignorance of where the key is.
“This was my opportunity to flee. Despite wearing a skirt, I mustered all the energy I could at the moment and ran. My plan, if all went well, was to dash out of the gate and straight into my immediate neighbour’s home since it did not have a perimeter wall,” she says.
Miraculously, the neighbour’s door was still open, so Nalukwago burst in panting and terrified. She found her neigbour terrified.
“My child, we also heard the bullets, but we could not come to your rescue,” said the neighbour. “I asked him to hide me.
He asked me for a number he could call. Meanwhile, all this was happening in my husband’s absence. He is a UN worker and was away on a mission in the Democratic Republic Congo,” she says.
Suddenly, her landlord’s number came to mind. On calling him, they found out he was already on his way there with the Police. He has already been informed about the shooting. She provided the Police with all the information they wanted and they promised to handle the matter expeditiously.
“The investigations officers even asked for some money to do the work,” Nalukwago says, lamenting: “I gave them between sh150,000 and sh200,000 to help me recover my phones and the case file number is SDREF62/23/09/2011. But since 2011, they have not got back to us on what their investigations revealed.”
Nalukwago got another shocker just two months later. Gunshots at around midnight rudely shook her out of her deep sleep.
“This time, my husband was around, but too deep asleep to hear anything. I heard the askari shout at someone,” she says. The guard said someone shot at the house and so he shot back and the unknown shooter ran away.
“I did not bother calling the Police since they did not help me the first time. Instead, we called the UN security to come to our rescue.” The second shooting left Nalukwago paranoid. Anxiety and tension ruled her life.
“I felt that almost every person following me was after me; I was always on the lookout and consequently decided to go into hiding,” she says.
She hid until June 2012 when she left for the US. Her husband believed that she would not be safe since he was away most of the time and they were expecting a baby.
Nalukwago’s move to the US also came with depressing news. After medical checks, US doctors told her that the baby had a problem. “I was puzzled and wondered, why me?”
She had to deliver the baby prematurely and the baby stayed in intensive care for six months. More distressing for her was that the baby had a rare complication — an incomplete oesophagus. It developed from the throat and was closed off halfway.
There was a gap and then the oesophagus started again. With such a complication, she was not allowed to travel with the child out of the US before the treatment was done.
The baby underwent a five-hour surgical procedure at the California Pacific Medical Centre. Thankfully, the operation was successful. The baby recovered well and they were soon declared ready to travel. Mother and baby journeyed back home to Uganda on October 19, 2013.
The family has since moved to another house. But even after changing location, there is that sense of fear that keeps nibbling at Nalukago’s inner-self: “I do not know if I will be alive tomorrow. My intuition tells me that all is not well.
The image of Robert, lying in a pool of blood, is still fresh in my mind. I last saw him in 2011 and he was limping. I have tried to get his contacts, but I have failed. The number he had is off,” she says.
Illustration by Danny Barongo
On Nalukwago’s concern of delayed investigations, Police spokesman Fred Enanga says the speed of investigations depends on whether there is direct evidence and/or exhibits obtained.
“In most cases, if there is no direct evidence and immediate traces that place the suspects on the scene, such a case might delay because some intelligence has to be done to gather information and some witnesses to pin the suspects,” he says.
“In case the complainant is not satisfied with the way the file has been handled at Entebbe Police station, she can lodge a complaint with the regional CIID officer who sits at Katwe,” Enanga says. He adds that if she is still not satisfied at that level, she can approach the CIID commandant who sits at the Kampala metropolitan offices at the Central Police Station.
In case there is still no progress, Enanga says the matter can be forwarded to the commissioner CIID and possibly to the Special Investigations Unit, which is under the CIID directorate.
“But we need to get the guard and interrogate him again. You see, by the time someone targets a home for theft, they have done some surveillance and gathered information. So the guard can give us some leads,” he says.
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I escaped death by hugging the murderer