The P7 dropout who got a degree



Nelson Henry Nsubuga was abandoned at the age of six, following the divorce of his father George William Miiro, now 82, from his mother Victoria Nakabiri, now 71.

“This negatively impacted on me. My mother gave birth to me when she was only 15; and when they divorced I did not see her again, for nine years.”

“Due to this split I was not able to attain an adequate education. At the age of ten I joined Primary One with the support of my grandmother who educated me up to Primary Four. After that my uncle took me over up to primary Seven. He however told me he could no longer push on since I had at least learnt how to read and write.”

Nsubuga says that as a result he hated his parents so much that it is only recently that he made peace with them.

“I thank God that he gave me the grace to forgive. I do not know what I would be today – if it were not for God. I think I would be a very complicated person.

“Experiences like never sleeping on a mattress made us grow up traumatized. We used to stuff dry grass in sacks and then create beds out of reeds. Barkcloth were our bedsheets,” he says in reflection of his esrly life

Because of what he went through, he urges students to always be grateful to their parents who are working hard to take care of them.

“I know parents who just bring their children here and do not try to shape their future. That is also bad.”

Starting work at UCU

Nsubuga refers to his employment at UCU as a miracle, because he did not apply for the job. He dropped out of Primary Seven in 1973 and joined UCU in 1992 as a security guard.

“Rev. Edwin Semakula from Nakayonyi picked interest in me after hearing about my work history with Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB). The bank was restructuring then and my contract was terminated. so I was jobless at the time.”

I used to travel and preach, and when I was invited to go for the ordained ministry  in the Church of Uganda, I resisted.

“Three times they called me to go for the ordained ministry but I had my reservations. I said I will be like Paul in the New Testament,” he recalls

In 1994 he eventually he gave in and reported at Bishop Tucker. He was welcomed by Vice-Chancellor William Magambo, and the welcome overwhelmed him.

“My first salary was Shs36,750 and I was the assistant foreman.”

Unfortunately his arrival was not good news for some employees at the time. When he told them of the new terms and conditions, many could not bear they quit because some of them used to steal from the college and with the restructuring that was not possible any more.

“Within four months’ time I was promoted to the estates department due to my good performance and competence as a security officer. I joined Mr Enos Kato (now the estates supervisor), in 1994.

“We made a few changes, like creating an inventory where we documented all stock in every department and I had the responsibility of keeping all keys for the halls of residence. I wondered why they trusted me with this responsibility despite my poor academic background!”

In 1995, Nsubuga became the custodian and in 1997 the college became a university, making him the first custodian at UCU.

After three years he was promoted to senior custodian, tasked with issuing all keys to residents, and making sure everything was working well in terms of students’ comfort and accommodation.

In spite of all this success, Nsubuga wanted to go back to school.

Education revisited

“I was 47 when I decided to go back to school, and some people thought I was wasting time. However, my focus was to get at least one paper to add on to my Primary Seven certificate. So, in 2004 I went to YMCA, and did my certificate in guidance and counseling. Although it was not certified by the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) at the time because they were still reviewing it for approval, all I wanted was to attain the skills.”

In 2005, I was further challenged because I needed to have my paper certified in order to pursue diploma studies.

“I went to Kyambogo University and found a gentleman who totally demoralized me. He looked at my papers and said if I had not been in his presence, he would have trashed my paper because it had no value. I came back disappointed but I did not give up.”

He was later admitted at Namugongo Martyrs’ Seminary to pursue his diploma in counselling and guidance, upon passing an aptitude test in which five of them only excelled.

In 2007 he graduated with a diploma in counselling and guidance, an academic qualification he says played a part in sustaining his stay at UCU.

“If I had not reached that level, I am sure I would not be in this office,” says Nsubuga, who is also a member of the University Tribunal.

In 2008 he enrolled for a Bachelor’s degree in social work and social administration with support from the university, and he graduated in 2010.

“Education is very important but you must be civilized. A civilized person utilizes common sense in life, and people should know that books alone do not make a man.”


Nsubuga says that UCU employees faced various challenges when it had just become a university.

“We had a very heavy work load. I had to attend to multitudes of people who wanted keys to Pilkington, Walker, and Ham Mukasa. This was not easy. Some students were also misbehaved. One day two girls fought for a man at Agape Square, and I had to go make sure there was calm between them.”

He added that Tech Park at first a vocational school where they trained drivers and engineers under the care of Belgians, but when they pulled out it was added on to the university.

“By the time we took it over it was a mess. We struggled to make it habitable. Students had even nicknamed the place Afghanistan and at one time students nearly went on strike because they did not want to go there as the place was like a bush.”


Nsubuga  has  invested in livestock rearing, a business he hopes to run fully when he retires. “I would love to set up a model piggery.” he says.

He attributes his life achievements to the university.

“I thank this institution for making me who I am today. They have paid my tuition and that of my children. So really I do not have much to say but simply ‘Thank you’.”

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