The age limit controversy has left the two arms of Uganda’s government locked together in a handshake that is going beyond the elbow. With Speaker Rebecca Kadaga reportedly meeting State House “officials” before she suspended 24 MPs opposed to the lifting of the age limit, and “allowing” Special Forces Command (SFC) to forcefully eject ‘errant’ MPs, she rekindled memories of the military siege of Parliament in 1966 and the rape of the 1962 constitution. Now, with the executive and the legislature seen as being lost in a romantic political affair, the judiciary is being sucked into the controversy as former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi men provoke the demon of a 2014 case on Museveni’s legal capacity to lead beyond the age of 75, writes SAMUEL KAMUGISHA.
Last week, Special Forces Command (SFC) soldiers raided Parliament and ejected 24 opposition MPs who had defied speaker Kadaga’s orders to vacate the chambers after they were suspended for singing down Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi’s age limit removal motion a day earlier.
Six days later, on Tuesday, In a sitting boycotted by opposition MPs, Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi tabled the Constitutional Amendment No. 2 Bill, 2017 that, among other things, seeks to delete the upper age limit provided in article 102b to allow three-decade president Yoweri Museveni stand for president when Uganda next goes to the polls in 2021 – and possibly become the East African nation’s life president.
Kadaga has faced condemnation from the public, including 12 Makerere University law professors who in a statement blamed her “for surrendering her powers and thereby exposing parliament to the whims of the executive arm of government, and in particular to the police and military”.
But Kadaga says she “did not invite any security organ to Parliament to take action in Parliament” because “I do not know how a civilian, like me, can command a security organ”.
She has also refused to apologise to Ugandans for allowing a motion that remains largely unpopular – at least gauging by public reactions such as protests and chaos in parliament.
But Makerere law teachers argue that Kadaga sided with Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) MPs.
“It is now in the public domain that members of Cabinet met with the speaker on the morning of September 27. Whatever was discussed is claimed to be ‘privileged’, which fuels perceptions of bias and partiality on the part of the speaker,” the lecturers write.
Kadaga’s other undoing, law scholars further argue, was turning parliament into “a playing field” by accepting Magyezi’s motion months after rejecting a relatively similar motion by Nakifuma MP Sekitoleko Kafeero.
Kafeero had planned to push for amendments on the mandatory retirement age of judicial officers and Electoral Commission members. “So, how different was Magyezi’s motion?” the professors ask.
Before dust from the chaos at parliament could settle, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s supporters and legal team put the judiciary to yet another test.
Magyezi claims that his bill partly derives from Mbabazi’s 2016 presidential petition.
But “the issue of age was never an issue in the Amama Mbabazi petition”, argue the law professors.
That aside, Mbabazi’s friend Benjamin Alipanga wants court to block Magyezi’s bill.
Through Mbabazi’s lawyers of Muwema and company advocates and Akampurira and company advocates, Alipanga wants Magyezi’s motion stayed until the Constitutional Court has pronounced itself on a petition filed in 2014.
In Constitutional Petition Number 041: Dr Benjamin Alipanga Vs NRM, Attorney General and ORS, the petitioner challenged Museveni’s legal capacity to serve as president when he clocks the age of 75 – against article 102b that Magyezi’s motion seeks to delete.
Alipanga’s petition sought a court order to restrain parliament from amending article 102 until an interpretation of the same had been offered.
Alipanga has now written to Speaker Rebecca Kadaga reminding her that the debate of the age limit bill is a “total disregard of the pending constitutional petition”.
“We are instructed to categorically state that parliament cannot and should not debate a matter that is currently pending before the constitutional court as to do so would be in contempt of court and also offend rule 64 of the Rules of Procedure of Parliament 2012,” read a petition to Kadaga, copied to the constitutional court.
Alipanga has now sought “the intervention of the Constitutional Court to halt this process [age limit removal bill] until court determines the matter before it”. He has also requested court to fix a date of hearing to “expeditiously” handle the petition.
IN A FIX
It remains to be seen if the judiciary will expedite a case that has gathered dust on the shelves for three years now, or whether the arm of government will allow Museveni to twist it into accepting the executive and parliament’s position on the matter.
Deputy attorney general Mwesigwa Rukutana on Wednesday told the press at a panicky briefing attended by Premier Ruhakana Rugunda, government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa, information minister Frank Tumwebaze at the Office of the Prime Minister: “The Alipanga petition doesn’t in anyway stop parliament to carry out its work… The court couldn’t have decreed Parliament not to carry out its mandate of making laws.”
The other question is whether Kadaga will respect a court order blocking debate on Magyezi’s bill, considering that she has once disregarded one by former deputy chief justice Steven Kavuma, terming “stupid”.
Kavuma’s order sought to bar parliament from probing the infamous Shs 6bn presidential handshake cash bonanza irregularly handed to 42 top government officials for winning an oil case.
Then, Kadaga said: “I cannot accept a decision where court shall determine how we sit in this House. How we shall write the Order. Court is interfering in the oversight powers of the House. It is going to the core of democracy in this country.”
It remains to be seen if Kadaga will respond to a court order blocking the age limit bill – just like it remains to be seen if the judiciary will handle Alipanga’s case expeditiously or allow it to gather more dust as Museveni’s armpits keep hold of the two arms of the judiciary.