Uganda: Age Limit Case - Lawyer Mabirizi Stuns Judges

Male Mabirizi

Kampala — Lawyer Male Mabirizi may have had a false start to the hearing of the age limit case by making wild claims against one of the judges, but he made a stunning comeback on Tuesday with a thrilling submission to the Constitutional Court sitting in Mbale that left the justices spellbound.

Social media erupted with praise for his talent and delivery, with some users comparing him to some other maverick global figures.

"My God, this Male Mabirizi guy is probably the smartest Ugandan," Titus Seruga, whose profile shows him as a Ugandan living in Belgium, posted on Facebook, adding: "We officially have a Mike Rose in Uganda, this kind of smartness needs to be rewarded with a parliamentary seat."

Mr Rose is a leading American scholar and author, a recipient of various meritorious awards, who presently serves as a Social Research Methodology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

His submission

In the eastern Mbale District, Mr Mabirizi, who is a qualified lawyer but not an enrolled advocate of the High Court, was not allowed to make his submissions from the bar --- a courtroom area set apart for lawyers.

"I call upon you, my Lords, to find that Parliament did colourable legislation for Articles 1 and 2 and actually when you look at the Hansard (official record of parliamentary proceedings), it amended Article 260 directly," he said.

"They (MPs) did not separate the two sittings of Parliament with 14 sitting days, and without referring the matter to a referendum before the assent."

317 MPs in December voted for and 97 against a motion to amend the Constitution and, among other things, scrap the presidential age limits and extend the tenure of the President and Parliament from 5 to 7 years, beginning with the current officeholders. The petitioners, including Mr Mabiriza and Opposition MPs, want the Constitutional Amendment Act nullified on grounds that the lawmakers subverted the Constitution by failing to follow laid down procedure for changing the supreme law.

Mr Mabirizi elected to represent himself unlike other petitioners that hired the services of enrolled advocates.

"Parliament did what we call constitutional replacement and overthrew the Constitution," he submitted, adding: "This is the reason, my Lords; you should throw out that amendment so that the Constitution is upheld."

Article 260(1) of the Constitution provides that a Bill seeking to amend any of the provisions in Clause (2) of the Article shall not be taken as passed unless - a) it is supported at the second and third readings in Parliament by not less than two-thirds of all members of Parliament; and b) it has been ratified by at least two-thirds of the members of the district council in each of at least two-thirds of all the districts of Uganda.

This elaborate procedure, Mr Mabirizi argued, was not followed.

"My issue, from the [records in the] Hansard, is that Article 260 was amended and even the Speaker never bothered, and so by not separating the two sittings, she abrogated her constitutional duty," he added.

"This Male Mabirizi man is something else. The man understands what he does. No wonder D/AG (Deputy Attorney General) Mwesigwa Rukutana, (minister) Hilary Onek and the judge never found time to sue him for the children claims," journalist Sadab Kitatta tweeted under the hashtag #AgeLimitPetition.

The judges sat with rapt attention, rarely interjecting the way they have done with other petitioners' and government lawyers since hearing of the petition began on Monday.

Frank Mugisha, who identifies himself as director at Kream Zone Media Uganda Ltd Company, posted on his Facebook page that "Male Mabirizi Kiwanuka is serous this time after taking on Buganda Kingdom."

Mr Mabirizi shot to fame and received approval from sections of tenants when he sued Buganda king Muwenda Mutebi for illegally collecting land fees (Busuulu) and demanded, among other things, for a disclosure of his bank account details.

In the run-up to the hearing of the constitutional petition, the lawyers asked Justice Elizabeth Musoke to disqualify herself from the Coram over conflict of interest arising from allegations that she had had fruitful affairs with Disaster Preparedness minister Hilary Onek, and Deputy Attorney General Rukutana.

Mr Rukutana, who is leading the government team at the ongoing Constitutional petition hearing, dismissed the claims as unfounded.

Mr Mabirizi dropped the preliminary objections, giving him the leeway on Tuesday to address the judges and steal the thunder the way Kethi Diana Kilonzo, a young lawyer, excelled as head counsel for Africa Centre for Open Governance petition during the presidential election petition against Uhuru Kenyetta's 2013 declaration as Kenya's president.

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