By Ann Mugisa
When he arrived in Fort-Portal two days before his death, Tooro Prince, Charles Happy Kijanangoma, was restless. He seemed to have a premonition that he would be killed.
Unable to settle, he reported to his cousin, Prince Mugenyi, that John Sanyu Katuramu, the kingdomâ€™s prime minister and also a regent of the then seven-year-old King Oyo Nyimba Iguru, had hired killers to eliminate him. He even alleged that he knew how much his would-be killers had been paid.
The royal family had been divided in a bitter disagreement over alleged mismanagement. Kijanangoma, Princess Elizabeth Bagaya and other royals had pitted themselves against some of the royals, kingdom officials and Katuramu. Kijanangoma was spearheading the move to remove Katuramu from the prime ministerâ€™s seat and to strip him of his duties as the regent of the young king. King Oyo had ascended the throne at three years after his father, Omukama Kaboyoâ€™s death in 1995.
Before he left Kampala on March 23, 1999, Kijanangoma had also called one Karamagi, asking him to tell James Mboijana that Katuramu was planning to kill him. He also told him that the killers had been given sh6m. Mboijana did not take the message seriously.
It later transpired in the confession of the killer, identified as Amos Twinomugisha, that the assassins had travelled to Fort Portal on the same day as the prince, intending to kill him on March 24, 1999. They aborted the plan when Mirindi Kajabago, who knew Twinomugishaâ€™s shady lifestyle, unexpectedly turned up.
On March 25, 1999, Kijanangoma appeared in court in a land dispute that had pitted him against Katuramu and the Queen Mother, Best Kemigisa.
That evening, however, opportunity presented itself to the killers. Instead of returning to Kampala, Kijanangoma decided to spend the night in Fort Portal. He was at a friendâ€™s pub, Ferri Babara, where he usually wined.
Twinomugisha, who had been told of the princeâ€™s routine in Fort Portal, was pretending to be a customer at the bar. He ordered for drinks but kept moving in and out of the bar. Kijanangoma arrived and started drinking in the company of the bar owner.
As the evening wore on, a stranger entered and talked to Twinomugisha. The two moved out of the pub and briefly stood outside, speaking in low tones.
As they were returning, still in the doorway, Twinomugisha opened fire, killing the prince in a hail of bullets. As the assassins left the scene, Twinomugishaâ€™s companion shot dead a guard, Steven Kaganda, alias Murokole. The bar owner was also wounded.
The assassin retreated to Katuramuâ€™s farm in Rwenkuba, Mwenge, now Kyenjojo district. They had earlier been shown the place by Kwezi, Katuramuâ€™s nephew, as a safe haven for the night after their mission.
The next day, Silver Muhenda and Bob Smart took sh4.7m and fuel to the killers at Rwenkuba. They were transported to Rwenkuba by Katuramuâ€™s driver, Milton Mwesige. When the assassins realised the money was less than the agreed sum, they forced the driver to take them to Kampala and thereafter removed the vehicle from him to force Kwezi to pay up the remaining money. Kwezi paid up on March 27, 1999, after which the vehicle was handed over to George, Kweziâ€™s brother.
Twinomugisha, alias Twino, was arrested on July 23, 1999 in Kireka, a Kampala suburb, by Capt. Elly Kayanja, who headed the famous Operation Wembley, that cracked down on violent criminals.
Twinomugisha confessed at the Police that he had been hired by Kwezi to kill at sh5m plus sh1m for fuel. Twinomugisha was arrested with Bob Weswala and Jimmy Okumu Rombo, who were on the Police list of most wanted criminals.
Kwezi was later arrested with Katuramu.
On September 12, 2001, Justice J.B. Katutsi convicted Katuramu, Kwezi and Twinomugisha. Weswala and Rombo were acquitted.
In the subsequent appeals, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court upheld the High Court verdict and sentence.
During the trial, all the accused had denied the charges with Twinomugisha saying he was in Nairobi on March 25, 1999 and disowning his confession.
Twinomugishaâ€™s confession after the arrest fitted well with the evidence of prosecution witnesses, including those who were not at the scene of the crime.
He said he met with Kwezi, Muhenda and Bob Smart at Alâ€™s Bar in Kansanga to plot the murder of Kijanangoma, whom they codenamed â€˜Escobarâ€™.
Kwezi promised the killers money. Later, they travelled to Fort Portal and on March 24, 1999, Escobar would be eliminated before he could appear in court in a case against Katuramu and the Queen Mother, Best Kemigisa. They booked rooms in a Fort Portal hotel using pseudo names.
During the trial, Voice of Tooro (VOT) FM driver, Mwesige, testified that he transported the killers to Rwenkuba, after the killing, on the orders of Katuramu. He said he later transported Katuramuâ€™s staff who had taken the killersâ€™ money to Rwenkuba but the killers forced him to drive them to Kampala after discovering that the agreed sum was not all delivered. Only sh4.7m was available. He added that in Kampala, the killers confiscated the vehicle from him, saying they would release it after Kwezi had paid up.
Twinomugisha was also easily identified by Barbara, who served him drinks at her bar the day of the murder and the day before.
The evidence that pinned Kwezi was given by Ernest Nkoba, the manager of VOT and Mwesige, the driver. Mwesige had been summoned by court. His evidence was confirmed by the killerâ€™s confession.
The judges rejected arguments by Kweziâ€™s lawyer that Nkoba and Mwesigeâ€™s evidence be rejected because they were accomplices, since they took the killerâ€™s money and transported them.
The court also heard that before the murder, Katuramu instructed Mwesige to surrender one of the radio vehicles to Kwezi on March 21, 1999 because he wanted Kwezi to do work for him. Kwezi retained the vehicle until it was found abandoned outside the radioâ€™s offices on the morning of March 26, 1999. Kwezi never went back to Mwesige, but was seen the next day in Kampala by Mwesige at Silverâ€™s Salon.
When Mwesige reported the robbery of the vehicle to Katuramu, the premier assured him that if it was taken by people who were with Silver, it would be returned to Fort Portal by Kwezi. He then gave Mwesige sh50,000 to return to Fort Portal by public means.
Katuramu denied procuring Kijanangomaâ€™s murder, saying those who testified had grudges against him because he had sacked some of them while others wanted his job as Toro prime minister.
But according to the judges who heard the case, the evidence given by Nkoba, Mwesige and the killer pinned him. They noted that his conduct and the conduct of Kwezi and the killer could not be ignored.
Another witness, Edward Ruyonga, who worked with Katuramuâ€™s Give and Take Forex Bureau, testified that Katuramu frustrated the Policeâ€™s attempt to trace the vehicle number 725 UBC.
Ruyonga, who lived in the Give and Take Forex Bureau staff housing estate at Bukoto, used the suspect vehicle 725 UBC before it was transferred to VOT in Fort Portal. A week after Kijanangomaâ€™s assassination, Ruyonga looked down stairs from his apartment and saw the vehicle being driven by Katuramuâ€™s driver, Ramathan Kawesa.
Kawesa gave the vehicle to the companyâ€™s chief mechanic, Babu Singh, who lived down stairs on the same block. The vehicle was noisy because of a broken exhaust pipe. The next day, he heard an announcement on Sanyu FM radio that the vehicle had been used by the killers. He reported the matter to Katuramu, who denied the reports, saying he had been driving the car at the time of the killing.
But at 1:00am, Katuramu and two men went to the housing estate in another vehicle, a Ford Escort, that belonged to the late King Kaboyo. They and the mechanic removed the number plate from Kaboyoâ€™s car, fixed it on the suspect vehicle and drove away. Kaboyoâ€™s car remained without number plates. When Ruyonga retuned from Church that afternoon, Kaboyoâ€™s vehicle had also disappeared. Katuramu, Kwezi and Twinomugisha got the death penalty for the murder.
Another witness, Joseph Sunday Babu testified that he used to drive Katuramuâ€™s brother, Chris, to see him in Luzira. One day, Babu heard Katuramu instruct Chris and a businessman called Dembe to do all they could to make Barbara and Mwesige disappear even if it meant using money.
The judges accepted the evidence. They said the reason Katuramu wanted Barbara and Mwesige to disappear was because they would give incriminating evidence against him.