By Jackie Nalubwama
All the way from Terego County in Arua, a young boy’s
dream of joining St. Joseph’s College Ombachi was
considered ludicrous. Sam Andema’s headmaster at Cilio
Primary School advised his parents to make him give up his
Their efforts were futile.
Instead, Andema, together with his friends united under
Inia Young Stars Revolutionary Association, took up odd
jobs that paid for the paraffin, which lit their lamps for
Later in 1984 [till 1987], his parents sold a bull and
other agricultural products at Shs 2,700, for his first
term at his dream school.
“It was very expensive but also worth it,” recalled
Andema. He added, “Going to Ombachi for a village
boy was almost impossible. I have never read as hard before
in my life as I did when I was reading for Ombachi.”
|The complex building that has
the library, typing room, Jerusalem (S.1 dormitory),
Fine Art room, the mosque and the 'mayor's' office and
St. Joseph’s College has made many a hearts swell
with joy at the prospect of being one of its students. Originally
though, in 1949, it was a technical institute for World
War II veterans, whom the British Government thought needed
life skills after the war.
In 1961, Ombachi got the O-level status and A-level in
the 80s, according to the deputy headmaster, Robert Ezama.
Ezama said that to date the school offers technical subjects,
which include metal work and woodwork. Past the Arua airfield,
about 8 kilometres on Koboko Road, the school’s sports
fields are sprawled on the roadside. This is a very unique
feature because the rest of the school lies behind these
From the fields one appreciates the freedom the students
of the school have because they are not fenced off. According
to Sam Elasio, in S.5 at the school, “you are free
to get out because the field is open.”
However, the head boy, Joseph Alokan Nyoka, explained, “freedom
is there. If students want to go to town, they get permission
from the teacher on duty. But the time is limited [depending
on the reason].”
The driving force
Currently, Andema is a lecturer at Kyambogo University,
at the Languages and Linguistics Department. He is also
the chairperson of St. Joseph’s College Ombachi Old
To him, Ombachi’s secret portion to achievement was,
“everyone at the school knew what they wanted out
of life. Some used to say they wanted to be doctors, engineers,
lawyers and nationalists. I am a nationalist.”
Andema added that his headmaster, Hercules Abiriga, whom
he described as a good administrator, was a source of inspiration
for the students. During his first days at the school, Abiriga
gave a most moving speech that shocked the students into
obedience and focus on studies.
The excerpts of the speech, as told by Andema: “Young
men, you might have been chewing your chicken legs with
your parents at home, but here at Ombachi, there will be
no special diet. Those of you who don’t want to eat
potato [sweet potato], potato is a national food. In fact,
potato is an international food. If you don’t eat
it, your parents won’t support you, the minister won’t
support you, and the Pope won’t support you.”
Looking back, Andema said, “it was a powerful message
which prepares you.” Other old boys of the school
concur with Andema on the school’s spirit of academic
Albert Orijabo is now the senior [water] engineer in Arua
district. He was at Ombachi from 1986 to 1993. Responding
to a question as to what makes Ombachi boys unique, he said
curtly, “we are bright.”
To Orijabo, “people managed to struggle and pass
with poor facilities.” This is because at the time
he joined in 1986, the effects of the war were still evident
at Ombachi, and the facilities were poor. “We used
to read under [a wick lamp] because Arua used to have electricity
till 10.00 p.m.,” said Orijabo.
However, he added, that state of affairs didn’t stop
the school from remaining the giant that it is, albeit being
a rural school.
Truth be told, Ombachi rocked the national academic stage
in its good old days. For four consecutive years (1984-87),
the school had the best students in the country, and the
school was also among the top three.
As Andema recalls, in 1984 Richard Mutua [now an engineer]
was the best student in O-level. Then in 1985, it was the
turn of Patrick Okuni [now working in World Bank] to come
on top. Lawrence Abileku (a consultant at Mulago Hospital)
was second best in 1986, while Richard Idro [consultant
paediatrician at Mulago Hospital] was the best student in
1987. All these were the best students in Uganda at one
point and they are all from Ombachi.
The Ombachi way of life
For an S.1 student, the ghosts at the school must have caused
them nightmares in their first week. Orijabo explain that
“after Amin was overthrown, there was a liberation
war, in which it was believed that a mass murder took place
in Ombachi. That people sought refuge in Jerusalem [an S.1]
dorm, where they were murdered.” Henceforth the dormitory
was associated with ghosts.
But Orijabo believes that it was a myth because he didn’t
see any ghost. However, he said that some classmates claimed
to have heard ghosts in form of babies crying. To Orijabo,
these were simply hallucinations.
“Even the cemetery near the chapel is believed to
have aggressive ghosts,” Orijabo said.
Academic excellence is another custom of the school. According
to deputy headmaster Ezama, the boys concentrate on their
“The older boys put notices on their doors like, ‘Busy
heads at work. Please don’t make noise,’”
He too is an old boy of the school, who left St. Charles
Koboko in S.3, 1982 because of the war. “Those days
students would read hard. They knew what had brought them
to school,” he said.
Ezama observed that students these days need a lot of pushing
for them to perform well, despite the fact that they have
the resources. The Ombachi freedom is still present. Nyoka,
the head boy, says when the boys want to leave school, they
simply ask the teacher on duty for permission.
However during Orijabo’s time, after class, there
was freedom to get out of the school. They would return
to school any time. “Roll call was a formality that
wasn’t enforced,” said Orijabo. “The liberties
we had those days were the driving forces to our success,”
Bullying or teasing in Ombachi was as unique as it was
hilarious. It was more like a word game between babies and
grownups. The S.2s and A-level students would engage in
debates with S.1s, where big [English] words would be used
much to the younger ones’ consternation.
“In fact we used not to call it teasing, but challenging.
The S.2s would read the dictionary and bombard us with words
we were not familiar with like, juxtapose and jeopardise,”
Like other great schools, this giant of West Nile has its
fair share of jargon. The students also develop their own
colloquial tongue. Nyoka, as head boy, is called “The
Mayor”. This term has been at Ombachi for a long time;
both Orijabo and Ezama, the deputy headmaster, remember
& S.2 classroom block
‘Primus inter parise’ is the motto which means
“First among equals”. It is from this motto
that students derive the strength to succeed, according
to Andema. This is because students had a healthy academic
competition culture. And Nyoka said the motto still drives
them to date.
Along the way, Ombachi declined tremendously. Andema says
what happened is regrettable. “The school has disappeared
because of the breakdown of discipline in 1994, when students
marched the headmaster to the DEO’s [district education
officer] office,” he noted.
Ironically, this is the headmaster Andema spoke highly
of as a good administrator. Ezama told the story differently.
“In 1994, Hercules Abiriga, the headmaster, was chased
in a strike. One morning the students, smartly dressed,
stopped the headmaster from entering his office. And they
marched him to the DEO’s office, who took away the
keys from Abiriga.” Apparently the high-handed move
was based on such trivial complaints as the cooks preparing
Paul Ogiramoi, an engineer working at the Directorate of
Water Development, was at the school from 1994-1995.
Ogiramoi had just arrived at the school when the strike
happened. “Students were complaining that the headmaster
had [sacked] two economics teachers,” he said.
However, Ombachi recovered shortly after that, and reading
According to Nyoka, the ‘mayor’, discipline
remains a major goal of the school.
Ezama, who is also head of the Chemistry Department at
Ombachi, says that decline in academics is due to the fact
that students don’t have the drive which old boys
had when they were at the school.
“Despite the facilities and resources, these boys
need pushing,” lamented Ezama.
According to Augustine Juruga, the headmaster since 1998,
“the constraints in terms of infrastructure and the
expectations from stakeholders, especially in performance,
are a challenge.”
He explained that “parents pay [fees] in instalments
and it is Shs 180,000 for each student.”
The school fees Nyoka pays today is much less than what
Andema paid then, leaving the financially needy most of
On the brighter side, the old boys are working to restore
the school to the peak it once occupied.
Andema, chairperson of the old boys’ association,
said that since its inception in 1996, old boys hold annual
meetings to discuss the way forward. Last year, the meeting
doubled as celebrations to mark the New Year in Arua.
Next week we visit Nyakasura
Oh Lord! I am a bachelor boy
Oh Lord! I am a bachelor boy
From St. Joseph’s College Ombachi.
- Prominent old boys
- Hon. Alex Onzima
- Isaac Alidria
- Isaac Alidria Ezati
- Martin Andua Drani
- Dr. Stephen Ayiella
- Dr. Wiliam Worodria
- Dr. Alex Ijjo
- Dr. Titus Alicai
- Eng. Richard Matua
- Eng. Patrick Okuni
- Eng. Paul Ogiramoi
- Eng. Albert Arijabo
- Christopher Ojama
- Sam Andema
- Richard Anguju
- Timothy Ejate
- Denis Labalpiny
- Robert Anguzu
- Anthony Edemati
- Alias Atibuni
- Willy Ngaka
- Patrick Onen Ezaga
- Job Tabu
- Charles Draecabo
- Alfred Oyo
- Seraphine Alia
- Christopher Yikii