Nelson Ebong

Nelson Ebong

10 Aug 2022

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“A focused mind has no room for anxiety or for the effects of an over active imagination”

Robert Green could not be more accurate in describing a top strategy that helps a person to stop compounding his anxieties. FOCUSING your mind onto something worthy and within your means works and it did work for Major General (Rtd.) Innocent Oula, a man who devotedly served in more than one regime of the Ugandan army, a service which landed him into imprisonment when a regime he served fell but later served the same regime that imprisoned him, rising from the rank of captain and retiring honorably as a Major General. Even in retirement, this expert of turning a bad situation into success still serves his country in all genuineness under the same regime that placed him under bonds.

What helped Major General Innocent Oula un-complicate his bad situation? How did he turn an otherwise bad situation into a success story when others allowed their apparent bad situations to destroy their careers? What lessons do we learn from this humble in spirit but principally tough in action son of Africa? The timeline between his prison and service life untill retirement will reveal some outstanding simple but effective approaches that ensured his success in converting a bad situation into grandiose success.


By the time of the regime change that ushered in the NRA/NRM government into power in Uganda, a then younger Innocent Oula was a serving Captain in the then Ugandan army, an army that His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni also served prior to his successful revolutionary war against his former comrades. As is usually the case, the rank and file of overthrown armies are susceptible to imprisonment just by virtue of having been on the other side, others get imprisoned for resisting the new regime and for other various reasons. Captain Innocent Oula found himself in prison like several others, locked up all alone in a tiny poorly lit room in a maximum security prison in his home country Uganda.

Being a young soldier who is privileged in height and body build, full of energy and accustomed to regular workout routines, spending days and nights in a tiny prison cell is not where one would wish to be, but here he was, how would he sail through?

Secondly, being locked up idly without anything else to do except thinking can lead to extreme levels of anxiety even depression. Others in his kind of situation have ended up in mental rehabilitation centers post imprisonment, completely lost their minds or even committed suicide as a quick but never recommended strategy. How did our soldier soldier on through this sea of psychological agony? Follow the narrative to learn and apply his strategies where appropriate in the bad situations life might bring your way.

a) Managing anxiety:

Anxiety is a state of nervousness which can be caused by worry or related unpleasant conditions or expectations. The more you worry, the more anxious you become and if not controlled, the anxiousness compounds into stress and or depression with related health complications.

Being in prison and considering that you were serving the opposite side of the military divide from that of your imprisoners, anxiety is not something to merely expect but a given; it is just natural that fears of what could happen to you will crowd your mind day and night. With no television, no radio, no phones, no contact with the external world, no means to distract his attention from the fears of prison life, how did he manage this problem?

This gallant son of Africa put to practice Robert Green’s advice quoted at the onset of this article which says: “A focused mind has no room for anxiety ...”. He found a practical thing that was within his means onto which to always focus his mind and that was regular intensive exercise. According to Innocent, he would move back and forth in a jogging mode within his tiny prison cell. In order to determine the length and level of exercise done in each quota, he would count upwards to a target number then start all over again to that fixed count until his daily quota was achieved.

His mind became so focused on the exercise routine that it left little room for his mind to stray onto worthless and suicidal thoughts, proof of the truthfulness behind Green’s statement that … a focused mind has no room … for the effects of an over active imagination of which such worthless thoughts are part of.

His counting upwards to a predetermined number as a means of timing himself proved an excellent mind-focusing tool that to date remains a recommended strategy in stressful situations.

What lessons are in this experience for you and me?

First and foremost, you can find a solution to a problem within the problem itself. The tiny prison cell became his practice space while to another it might have justifiably been taken as proof of inhumane treatment to justify a cry baby voicing of their plight in prison for the gaining of public sympathy while in reality rusting away behind bars.

Secondly, there was no clock, no instructor nor distance to gauge the levels of physical exercise to be done. But the prisoner made use of his very elementary mathematical skill of numeracy, counting from one through to a predetermined number and repeating it over and over again till the required quota was done. Within your vast knowledge base gained through experience and school, there is always an answer that suits a problem; all that you need is to search deeply within you in a solution oriented fashion not with a complaining mind-set.

b) Physical fitness;

The same strategy that helped him manage anxiety aided him in maintaining his soldierly fitness with its associated health benefits. A fit body is a fit mind and a befitting admission into a team of fit team mates. Could this be one of the reasons behind his metamorphosis from prisoner to a trusted and relied upon officer of the regime that initially was his captor? One would not be surprised because only the inexperienced sentimental leaders will reject talent because of old time variances in positions.

What lesson is in this for you who need to attain physical fitness for health, beauty or just comfort reasons? You do not necessarily need a gym, a park, football field or large company and compound. Your bedroom is wider than a prisoner’s cell, your siting room is mostly occupied by lifeless furniture except for the brief spate of time when you and your family return only to briefly watch TV, eat, chat a little and off to bed probably after toilet stunts; why not use it for regular exercise to un-compound your weight or other problems associated with lack of adequate physical exercise? There is no generation with better access to guides to home and office exercise than this generation that only need to type the word and your smart phone, laptop, or related gadget just pops the print, video or audio of it right on your palms.

Learn how to stop compounding your physical fitness deficiency from this prisoner turned honourably retired Major General.

Career continuation and advancement

Many people have squandered the golden opportunities that were wrapped in their bad situations by holding negative sentiments about the perpetrators of their presumed or real suffering. But there are too many examples of those who sprung to stupendous greatness as a result of wisely allowing their bad situation become the tool that eventually took them to better-greater heights. Joseph (Yusufu) of the Holy Bible and Quran is a common example, Major General Innocent Oula is another and our subject herein.

By the time of his imprisonment, Innocent Oula was at the rank of army captain. He remained a captain for so many years that the rank captain became more like a part of his name. Even after beginning to climb the military promotions ladder, many of his friends and associates continued addressing him either teasingly or jokingly as captain for quite a while. When I met him over twenty years down the line at a cousin’s home, many in audience burst out laughing when I confidently and subconsciously addressed him as captain; that simple mistake of addressing him with a rank he had climbed above ignited a long happy but lesson filled discussion into his patience and focus on service above self which ensured his meritocratic career advancement.

His story in this area brings to mind Wintley Phipp’s memorable statement before presenting one of his musical performances, he said

“It is in the gentile crucible of your personal private sufferings that your noblest dreams are born and God’s greatest gifts are given in compensation for what you have been through” 

Innocent Oula suffered prison isolation and it’s not admirable conditions, he persevered the sorrows of seeing his contemporaries climb the ladders of military promotions while he himself remained stuck in the captain rank for years, even younger officers came and left him behind like a rider bypasses a fray old walker, he obediently and successfully served in some of the toughest battles the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) had to engage in. However, in the symbolic crucibles of his pains, he emerged glorious in many ways among which include being chosen to represent the UPDF in the Ugandan Parliament, climbing the ranks and retiring as a Major General and still being appointed to serve in a key industrial sector of the government and army he diligently served.

Are there any further lessons from this part of his life?

When you decide to serve, serve the institution not the persons at the helm. He was serving his country irrespective of the government in place, the Ugandan army remains an army of his country and serving it was a dream on which he never lost focus. Do not compound your career crisis problems by focusing on individuals and particular bad situations, learn from the General.

Do not let the progress of others deter you nor let it ignite your destructive-complaint emotions, just focus on the satisfaction of getting the proper results from your assigned responsibilities and the desired ranks and promotions will follow in due course. Like the Ugandan saying confirms, what God has preserved for his poor creation never rots, it will always wait for him/her.

Innocent Oula’s impatient and jealous colleagues probably quit at much lower ranks and went into military and secular oblivion while he, at the appointed time, soared to great and greater heights. You too can and will if you let Maj. Gen. I.O be your fine example.


Major General Innocent Oula comes from Northern Uganda, the Lango sub region in particular. By the time of this edition’s publication, his origin for long remained a hot bed of political opposition to the nearly forty year reign of the NRA/NRM government. This premise of opposition could be attributed to the fact that most of Uganda’s post-independence leaders ailed form northern Uganda with the executive prime minister who led the country to independence, Dr Apollo Milton Obote, coming from I.O’s own tribe.

Considering the above, some former officers and men of the Obote and other eras did not join the army led by the new government. Other’s joined rebel groups with fatalistic or career ending results for those still alive; many remain poor in their native villages. Many politicians chose either aggressive or passive opposition to the regime and demanded similar approaches from other sons and daughters of their soils.

To Major General (Rtd). Innocent Oula, any form of opposition should be objective, should be realistic and you who chooses to oppose should make a duly informed decision to oppose in the manner that does not affect general security and development of the country as a whole irrespective of your political, regional, religious , social or economic background and status.

At all times of antagonism with the state and its arms, Major General I.O remained objective and chose battles that tallied with his vow to serve his nation honestly, transparently and within the constitutional bounds of his military and citizen roles. Those who blindly followed band wagon opposition ended not very well in many respects.

What lessons are in this part of his life story for you and me?

Do not waste time in battles that are not of your choosing. Each one has his reason for opposition to those in office at any level, have your own reason and means of objectively opposing when you must. The time you waste in sentimental opposition can never be regained.

Furthermore ... history is littered with corpses of people who ignored the costs. Save yourself unnecessary battles and live to fight another day” ; Why destroy your career and life fighting a war you cannot win when the circumstances available allow you the opportunity to still achieve your goals in life both long and short term?! This does not mean stupidly closing our eyes from bad leadership, not at all, it only means making the right choices by our own selves, it means not allowing yourself to be used as a tool by others who want to gain political or other such social significance.

There are many lesson from men and women of great substance but humble in spirit like retired Major General Innocent Oula; find them, listen to them, learn from them, read about them and let their wisdom be your guiding light in bad situations, let their strategies help you turn your problematic situations into golden opportunities instead of compounding them further.

(This article is part of our forth coming new book entitled: Practical Approaches to STOP COMPOUNDING PROBLEMS)

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Nelson Ebong
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Nelson Ebong

Being Of Effective Service by sharing knowledge and skills both experiential, which is most impacting, and learned, which can be hypothetical but all the same essential in the journey towards the mastery of living that is fulfilling and positively contributory to improving our world

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