KAMPALA – The Member of Parliament for Aruu County Constituency in Pader District, Mr Samuel Odonga Otto, used his 42nd birthday anniversary to call on Ugandans, especially from poor backgrounds, not to use this as an excuse not to become successful.
Mr Otto, who was born on November 11, 1977, a date he says he doubts its authenticity, claims that he grew up in a family of deprivation and neglect since his father had separated from his mother by the time he was born.
“My father separated with my mother at the time I was born that is why my mother called me; ‘Odonga’, meaning ‘let him remain with me’. Secondly, my father made a decision I term the worst to take me with him to my stepmother at the time of divorce,” he says.
The legislator says his father was arrested by the UPC government in 1980/1 and spent five years in Luzira prison. During this time, Mr Otto says his life became hell.
“During those five years of dad being in prison, I visited hell on earth. My eldest brother Tadeo went to boarding school – Negri Primary. My second brother David was “deported” to the village and he is a P.7 dropout,” he says.
“I remained alone to a young stepmother about 27 years; she was a teacher. I would be locked in a room from morning to evening as there was no one to look after me, with one meal for the day kept in the room. Barely 5 years, occasionally, would I climb through the vents to see my friends playing in the compound the feeling still sends a chill down my spine,” he adds.
Mr Otto says he joined Primary One at the mature age of 7 years.
He says his formative years from P.4 to S.4 were worst in his life as he suffered torture at the hands of his step mother, who subjected him and his siblings to hard labour.
“Each one had a drum of water to fill before going to school; our mornings would begin at 5am by 7 am each ones 200 liters drum is to be full daily before going to school and the body is too tired for school. Digging weekends from 7am to 7pm at stepmothers’ home was routine. We would do close to what a tractor could do in day. Passersby in the morning would wonder in the evening how 3 peoples (brothers could do this). Rationing food, starvation, washing plates, pounding, washing house walls, washing her clothes and those of all her sisters who had migrated permanently to our home, was on the daily menu. As they sat and watched movies,” he says.
The MP urges parents not to let visitors at home turn your own children into slaves.
“I remember my stepmother calling my elder brother at 8am to slash the compound yet that was the day he was sitting for national UCE examinations. He had already fetched his morning routine 200litre drum of water. I had to join him to slash the compound nonstop for up to 15 minutes to exam time then he had to run 8kms to school to catch up with exam time. He was late and didn’t do the paper. Later he told us he just wrote his name and sat since it was chemistry he hated,” Mr Otto says.
The MP says his luck came when he got scholarship to join a seminary where he was to join boarding school.
Mr Otto says this allowed him to concentrate on his studies, eventually completing secondary education and then joining Makerere University where he later graduated with a degree in social sciences.
“My graduation was not attended by any of my parents; I walked to Freedom Square typical of Lumumba Hall courage and got my degree there was no voice to ululate for me as they read my name. I stood behind with no penny in my pocket, and a kind old man, Mr. Odida Francis, got me a gown, took for lunch at Tick Hotel Kawempe. I enjoyed the chips and chicken. Now the whole world was ahead of me,” he says.
“I later took my degree home to my father and stepmother. My stepmother who also had 5 children was never happy for me having attained a degree. My degree created more unease home as I waited for a job. I was later told by my stepmother that I was to help in home chores of collecting residues of food from a girl’s secondary school – Sacred Heart – to feed the pigs. Secondly that I was to cut grass to feed the Friesian cows,” he added.
Mr Otto says he opted to secretly get a teaching job at Atiak Technical Institute in Gulu Town.
He says he then used the salary to hire young boys to do the dirty job of delivering the pig food.
“Word reached home of my evasive and negative attitude to work and there was a bigger conference than the 1884 Berlin Conference or the 1914 Versailles peace treaty that I had just studied at university called at home. It was resolved I stop teaching and concentrate on feeding the animals. I continued teaching secretly,” he says.
The legislator says his step mother continued insisting that he feeds the pigs but later, he decided that enough was enough and refused.
Mr Otto says he then left the father’s home and went to his later mother’s parents.
“I later went to the village to visit my cousins and maternal relatives the first time in 22 years of my life what a feeling of joy and welcome .I broke down in tears to know there were people who loved and cared for me. I met my late mothers sister and uncles; I had to become a baby and cry a bit. I saw my younger sister struggling preparing sorghum posho for lunch with smoke bellowing in the entire grass thatched house; I could hardly breathe. I ate lunch and asked for a hoe to go digging I knew I had in built capacity to work. She looked at me in the eyes and said ‘it’s a dry season’,” he says.
The MP says while the village, he discovered that there was a leadership vaccum, being the only graduate in the village.
“I later saw a vacuum being the only graduate in the village I contested for parliamentary elections 6 months after university and defeated the incumbent minister of education Hon. Alfred Ogaba and became elected Member of Parliament for Aruu county in the year 2000 at 23 years, making the record then of being the youngest Member of parliament in Uganda. I have never worked anywhere,” he says.
“To date I have been an MP for 18 years thank God. I have 6 children (4 girls 2 boys), my first marriage failed. I obtained a master’s degree and another degree in law; I am now an advocate. I live in a comfortable house of my own, drive and a few businesses, I now employ about 30 Ugandans on full time basis. While in parliament given my childhood memories, I choose to speak for the oppressed and would prefer that I be the last on the list of oppression. I am very sensitive to my children issues when my two older daughters come to stay with me I keep a watchful eye,” he adds.