27 January 2013

Uganda: Pius Katunzi - Aronda, Stand Warned - Thinking of Coups Is Treasonous


In January 1966, the government of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa was overthrown by the army led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.

What was interesting about this putsch, which may resonate with the statements of our own generals, was that the army didn't want to own up the coup.

They wanted cabinet to admit failure and they made it appear as if Balewa's government had invited the army to take over the administration. Acting President, Dr Nwafor Orizu, made the announcement.

General Officer commanding (equivalent to CDF), Maj Gen Aguiyi-Ironsi, told the country: "The government of the federation of Nigeria having ceased to function, the Nigerian Armed Forces have been invited to form an interim military government for the purposes of maintaining essential services."

The General added that the invitation had been duly accepted and he had been formally invested with authority as Head of Federal Military government and Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

The army suspended certain articles of the constitution in order to legitimize their stay in Nigeria. I am sure if the army in Uganda succeeded in overthrowing the government, they would suspend article 2, which is about the supremacy of the constitution and article 3 which prohibits coups.

I hear a similar echo here and it resonates properly with Defence minister, Crispus Kiyonga's threat of a creeping coup d'état and General Aronda Nyakairima's confirmation of the plot. Strangely, six months later, this very military junta in Nigeria which alleged to have been invited to sort out the mess was also overthrown by another military group led by Major General Yakubu Gowon.

There is no provision in the 1995 (as amended) for strange takeovers (handover) by the army when Parliament refuses to agree or approve certain demands of the executive.

I have searched both under article 208 (2) of the constitution and Section 7 and 8 of the UPDF Act for the functions of army and Chief of Defence Forces respectively and I have failed to find a role which allows the army to take over government when the executive and Parliament clash.

Instead the laws stipulate that the army should submit to civilian authority and engage in productive activities for the development of Uganda. If the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, was truly fair, professional and interested in law and order, he should have summoned Gen Aronda Nyakairima to explain his statements on a creeping coup d'état.

Even Dr Crispus Kiyonga, who first blew the lid about it, should have been invited by the police to help in investigating those claims.

First, both Kiyonga and Aronda are not exactly clear on what is the dispute that should necessitate the army to abrogate the constitution and arrogate them the duty of taking over the Parliament or executive's roles. So, who are those who should "stand warned", "stand advised"? And what is the course that they are supposed to follow in order to avoid a coup?

I don't know who convinced the army that it can use extra-constitutional means to solve constitutional matters. Does the army want to take over the role of Parliament so that it can pass laws which are comfortable with the executive?! If Parliament comments or refuses to pass a budget or approve a loan, does that mean it is following a wrong course and, therefore, calls for the intervention of the army?

Even if we had a political crisis, which I don't believe we have, I don't think the army should be the best candidate to sort it out. These statements have confirmed that indeed some members of the military don't believe in the constitution. They believe it to be just another piece of paper that can be manipulated or disregarded. In the words of the famous constitutional lawyer, Issa Shivji, "the utility of this constitution lies on the constitutional moment."

Aronda and company should also be warned that it is a capital offence to contemplate a coup. Article 3 of the constitution prohibits such extra-constitutional means of changing government and also prescribes very harsh punishment for such culprits. I wouldn't like to see Gen Aronda retire to Luzira. In fact the army is duty-bound to protect the constitution.

The same constitution and UPDF Act enjoin the CDF to be professional, disciplined and non-partisan. By him echoing such views of the minister who belongs to the ruling party, he's clearly showing us where his loyalty lies.

The author is the Business Development Director, The Observer Media Ltd.

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