18 September 2017

Uganda: More NRM MPs Withdraw Support for Anti-Age Limit Bill

Photo: The Observer
Ministers Arinaitwe Rwakajara, Adolf Mwesigye and Evelyn Anite address the media after the ruling party meeting last week

As ruling party members of parliament seeking to abolish the upper age limit continue their push to amend the constitution accordingly, cracks have surfaced in the movement with some members who signed up in favour of a private member's bill withdrawing their support.

On Tuesday, September 12, a big group of NRM MPs told journalists that at least 277 MPs had signed up to support the draft legislation that aims to remove article 102(b) from the constitution.

But in separate interviews at the weekend, some MPs claimed they were conned into attending the meeting at the Parliamentary Conference hall, and signing for the resolution.

Some said they were called by telephone while others said they were found in the corridors of parliament by colleagues and nudged to attend last Tuesday's meeting.

"I was going to attend a Natural Resources committee meeting when a colleague I sit with on that committee told me, 'first come and we check out the conference hall; the parliamentary commissioners need us for a few minutes then we proceed to that the committee meeting'," Manjiya MP John Baptist Nambeshe said.

"My colleague didn't allow me to ask questions, he only told me to hurry and I followed him to the conference hall where we were given a form to register our names, but I didn't know what the meeting was about," Nambeshe added.

He said he filled the registration form thinking it was the normal attendance register for meetings, only for the conveners of that meeting to turn around and claim that everyone on the list was a supporter of the removal of presidential age limits.

Kitagwenda MP Abas Agaba similarly told The Observer on Friday that he was dragged to that meeting by a friend.

"There are many other colleagues who feel Tuesday's stage-managed meeting was not good and it was not in good faith.

We should have been informed about the agenda and prepare for the meeting," Agaba said.

"I signed the attendance form like we normally do. Then as I sat I realized the discussions were different; I walked out. Later, I came to understand that our appended signatures were [taken to be in support] of the age limit removal. This was not right and I am not part of that group; it was a group of vigilantes with personal interests," the Kitagwenda MP added.

Mawokota South MP John Bosco Lubyayi has a similar tale.

He said he was called by a colleague who told him that commissioners needed to meet them for 30 minutes in the conference hall.

"When I entered, I signed the attendance list, which had a very good heading, 'consultative meeting on constitutional amendments'. It was not specific on the 75-year age limit. So, I sat and they introduced the removal of the 75-year age cap from the constitution; all of a sudden they called in the press and said we had resolved to remove the age limit from the constitution without listening to our views," Lubyayi said.

"I think we have had enough of one president and this is the only way we can get a new president. I'm not against my chairman but I feel we need another president. After 75 years, the best thing is for the president to rest and we get another one."

Lubyayi was part of the original group of MPs that supported the age limit removal only to change his mind.

"I am already committed to what my people told me. I consulted them and they told me that I should not accept any amendments to the age limit and on land," Lubyayi said.

Luuka South MP Stephen Kisa said it would be proper to extend the five-year term to seven but restore the two-term limit that was scrapped in 2005. He said two terms are enough for any president to implement his or her programmes.

"I only want term limits restored and the five-year term changed to seven years if any amendment is to be made to the constitution," he said.

"We cannot give a framework free of any restriction, no age limit, no term limits; no, no, no; that is my stand," Kisa said.

According to Robinah Nabbanja (Kakumiro Woman MP), a key promoter of the private member's bill to be moved by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi next week, only two MPs; Monicah Amoding (Kumi Woman) and John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya) have formally asked that their names be removed from the list of the bill's supporters.

"I don't see any problem with them [wanting out]; in any case today [Saturday], I have even got 11 more signatures. These are old people who are members of parliament; so, they can't say they didn't know why they had been called," Nabbanja said. "The messages were very clear, some just want to pretend in front of cameras."

But Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo, who leads a small group of NRM MPs opposed to the amendment, said on Friday that his camp has 65 NRM lawmakers.

"Those are the bold ones who have come out to demand that their signatures be withdrawn from that bogus list," Ssekikubo said.

He said the bold ones include; Kitagwenda's Abbas Agaba, Kumi Municipality's Silus Aogon and Kyenjojo Woman MP Spellanza Baguma.

Others are Sam Lyomoki (Workers), Felix Okot Ogong (Dokolo South), Patrick Nsamba Oshabe (Kasambya) and Barnabas Tinkasiimire.

On Friday, these joined Ssekikubo, Amoding and Nambeshe, as well as Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) at a press conference whey they condemned the move and vowed to block it.

"This is an opportunity for me to implement what I swore at my inauguration as MP. I swore to protect and defend the constitution of the Republic of Uganda, and there is no time I will do that other than now," Nsamba said.

"They have tried to make this a battle between the opposition and NRM but this is a battle for Ugandans defending the constitution. We are not going to allow them to rape the constitution, we are here to defend it," the Kasambya MP added.

Anite censure

Meanwhile, a section of NRM MPs on Friday threatened to move a censure motion against minister of state for Investment and Privatization Evelyn Anite.

An outspoken supporter of the anti-age limit bill, some MPs were angered by the minister's remarks during a press briefing at parliament on Thursday. Anite told journalists that her group couldn't be intimidated because it is in power and has the support of the army.

Okot Ogong said Anite's statements were unfortunate and unconstitutional.

"The constitution is very clear in Chapter 12 Article 208, that the UPDF shall be non-partisan, national in character, professional, disciplined and subordinate to civilian authority; the minister's statements should be condemned and withdrawn immediately," said the Dokolo South MP.

"It is very unfortunate that a minister makes a statement of that nature and calls the constitution a disorganized document - a constitution she swore to defend, and that they want to organize it! She should withdraw the statement and apologize to the country."

The critical MPs said bringing the army into the age limit discussion was reckless.

"This is the struggle of the majority and we are the majority in this cause. We are on the right side of history; this is a very critical moment we are in and we want to make our positions clear in order to guide our colleagues in NRM and the general public," Amoding said.

"We are not scared at all because the army is subordinate to civilian authority, we have the army of the people of Uganda fully behind us and we are ready for anything," Okot Ogong added.

Ssekikubo said Anite's statement amounts to treason.

"Dragging the army into civil debate is treasonable. This is because a member of cabinet is attempting to incite and instigate the army to take over a constitutional order," Ssekikubo said.

"As we speak now, Anite and group ought to be behind bars in Luzira on account of treason."

Anite speaks

Interviewed for a comment on Saturday, she said, "There are so many death threats coming from members of parliament and the public just because we have a different view. I have been getting a lot of messages and phone calls threatening to kill me but the climax was when our colleague Hon [Betty] Nambooze said on the parliamentary forum that we have chosen the path of bloodshed."

"We told them that parliament is where we go to legislate; we speak with words but not with fistfights. I said if my life is threatened and the only organ to protect me is the army and police but they wanted to twist the whole story. But seriously, if someone threatens to kill you as a civilian, don't you call for protection; if I also threatened them, they should seek the same protection but not to resort to mob justice," she added.

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