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The turbulent life of Pastor Yiga

Loved by many and perhaps misunderstood by some, Pastor Yiga will be remembered for many things but above all redefining preaching, in his own way.

Pr Yiga takes juice while ministering in church. COURTESY PHOTO

Many things come to mind when the late Pastor Augustine Yiga “Abizzaayo’s” name is mentioned.

For nearly half a decade, the mention of Pastor Yiga’s name would either inspire laughter on people’s faces or bring to mind controversies linked to the self-made man of God, who somehow never ceased to attract a crowd at his Kawaala based church.

Pastor Yiga breathed his last at around 10pm on Monday. But before the sad news of his passing, there had been at least two incidents in which Pastor Yiga was announced dead when he wasn’t. The last time was Friday, although his family refuted the news.

He was also pronounced dead a while back, but he was reportedly on pastoral duties in South Africa. He assured his followers and the general public about his wellbeing on his social media handles then.

Street origins

Much as Yiga started his ministry early in 2004, he rose to prominence in 2005 after relocating his Christian Revival Church from Kiwuunya in Nakulabye, a suburb of Kampala, to Kawaala on the fringes of the city, where he had acquired land.

Yiga leaves behind an established church with thousands of followers and Abizzaayo Broadcasting Services (ABS) television, the church’s media outlet, which he built for years.

His devotion to the Pentecostal fraternity is traced back to Revival Christian Church in Kazo – Kawempe Division in Kampala, which is led by Pastor Fred Sserugo, where Yiga was reportedly converted.

However, in interviews, Yiga said he gained a bit of popularity through religious street debates (Ebimeeza bye diini) in Bwaise, a Kampala suburb.

He always reminded his followers that he was anointed by God himself in a dream.

However, Yiga revealed that he felt his calling when he prayed for a French man who wanted his son to get out of prison, and he reportedly gave him around $4,000 (Shs15m) when the miracle happened. He used part of the money to buy musical equipment for his church.

Yiga, who reportedly had little education, stopping in primary school, built a church from a tent to a high-rise structure and also attempted to extend its roots to South Africa.

Prophet with his own rules

Yiga was cast in the limelight in 2006, when he started announcing on radios that he was capable of cleansing Christians and would return their problems back to the sender in his popular church sessions dubbed Abizzaayo.

Abizzaayo became a popular catchphrase that eventually was added to Pastor Yiga’s name, which became his brand. He even named his television station after the phrase, Abizzaayo Broadcasting Services.

Yiga’s approach to religious matters rubbed some church leaders the wrong way, which literally birthed animosity between Yiga and fellow pastors.

It is understood that Christianity presumes forgiveness and peace, however, Yiga’s approach of Abizzaayo painted a picture of a religious leaders who are promoting spiritual revenge, a notion much known to traditionalists.

Miracle ring, Kiki kyolifa tewerabidde

In 2017, sex and all sorts of social issues were openly discussed in church thanks to Pastor Yiga.

At that time, Yiga’s Kawaala-based church was more of a public hospital.

People with different illnesses and problems would sleep at the church premises waiting for Pastor Yiga to pray for them.

Even those who never subscribed to his preaching would wait to watch the popular live church session telecast on his ABS television as people opened up about their personal problems in a style perceived as comical.

The Kiki kyolifa tewerabidde was later supplemented by another weekly service dubbed (service ye mpetta) where he would ask his followers to buy miracle rings.

According to Yiga, if one bought a ring from the church, it would be the end of his/her problems and one only needed to wear or move with it.

The infinity ring that was usually sold at Shs100, 000 was supposed to perform miracles.

Amid the talk of the Miracle ring, Yiga introduced the Miracle “tree” seedling sold at the same fee and one only needed to plant it in his compound, garden or workplace to be blessed.

Such rituals at Yiga’s church were endless as people bought a lot of miracle merchandise that included key holders, pens, books, openers and the pastor’s portraits to earn blessings.

Charged, summoned and imprisoned

In the most recent of his many legal battles, on March 30, Yiga was charged with committing an act likely to spread infection of a disease and remanded to Luzira prison by Nateete Grade One Magistrate, Timothy Lumunye, a charge he denied.

Yiga was accused of falsely using various television stations to tell the public that there is no coronavirus in Africa, an offence that contravened section 171 of the Penal Code Act.

When footage of his video recording about Covid-19 went viral on social media, police accused Yiga of using his ABS TV to declare that there was no coronavirus in Africa because no deaths had been registered at the time.

After several weeks in jail, Yiga was granted bail over ill health and he later accepted the offence, went into a plea bargain with the State and the case file was closed.

Most popular among his cases was in February 2019 when Pastor Yiga was arrested by Kawempe police on allegations of raping and impregnating a female worshipper in his church, an accusation he denied until his death.

Brenda Nalubega had accused Yiga of forcing her into sex and infecting her with HIV when she visited his church for prayers and counselling.

At the time of the suit, Nalubega had been evicted from her rented room together with her child. Yiga later committed himself to look after Nalubega’s son and provide a monthly stipend of Shs150, 000.

Yiga was later released after he accepted to take a DNA test to establish the paternity of the child in question. However, the case ended prematurely as it never reached court.

While appearing on NTV’s Mwasuze Mutya, on June 10, 2019, Yiga denied raping the said woman but revealed that he had an affair with her for a week.

He asserted that the scandal was crafted by rival pastors to tarnish his name. When the complainant died, Yiga reported that the family of the deceased never turned up to surrender the alleged child to the victim who they said belonged to Yiga.

His illness

His demise was preceded by rumors at the beginning of this month that the man of God had been hospitalised but his team never came out to give clear information.

Yiga was pronounced dead on Monday night as explained by journalist and church spokesperson Farouq Ssemaganda.

Mr Ssemaganda, who is also the head of communication of Yiga’s ABS Television, said Pastor Yiga was first admitted to Life Link Hospital about three weeks ago from where he was diagnosed with liver complications.

He was transferred to Nsambya hospital where breathed his last.

Background

Yiga was born on April 25, 1976, at Mpaama village in Bukomansimbi District. His mother, Elizabeth Kwagala, and father Joseph Matovu died in 2018 and 1995 respectively.

Yiga started his church in Kiwuunya in 2004 and relocated to Kawaala in 2005 where he established Christian Revival Church.

In most of his public interviews, Yiga maintained that the reason for coming to Kampala in early 90s was his passion for music.

He recalls using his employers’ money at a coffee store where he worked as a child to come to Kampala in the quest for a music career.

While in Kampala, Yiga joined a music group which was headed by popular Kadongo Kamu singer late Livingstone Kasozi  but he quit a few months before the death of Kasozi after realising that his music career had failed to kick off.

Yiga started Revival band in the 2000s, a band which birthed then popular musicians like Maggie Kayima, alias Nabbi Omukazi, Hassan Nduggwa, Benah Namisinga and Hajjat Madiina of Bibuuza fame.

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