Uganda: Inside NRM Supreme Court Victory

Because the seven Supreme court justices arrived late in the courtroom to deliver their individual verdicts in the 'age limit bill' appeal, court-goers and lawyers preoccupied themselves with making predictions on who might carry the day.

At break time, some NRM supporters and some learned friends from the Attorney General's chambers vowed the April 18 verdict would come down to a four-three ruling in favour of the state.

Whereas most opposition politicians thought Lady Justice Arach Amoko would follow in the footsteps of Kenyan chief justice David Maraga who cancelled Uhuru Kenyatta's presidential election, one of the petitioners, Male Mabirizi, was not too sure.

"Justice Amoko, just like Eldard Mwangusya expect to be appointed Chief Justice because Justice Esther Kisakye who has also been in the queue is sick and another male justice who would be suitable will be retiring next year," Mabirizi said.

Mabirizi's claims about Amoko, while intriguing, could not be independently verified by The Observer. Amoko was the first to deliver her verdict dismissing the petitioner's appeal and ordered each party to bear its own costs.

Her verdict brought joy to the NRM supporters. Then, Justice Mwangusya who was next, brought some hope to the Opposition side when he dissented, faulting the whole process leading to the enactment of the bill on December 20, 2018 - the law which scrapped the constitutional 75-year upper age limit for presidential candidates, making it possible for incumbent Yoweri Museveni to run again in 2021 and beyond.

"When the certificate of compliance issued by the speaker of parliament [Rebecca Kadaga] is found to be faulty with issues which were not discussed, the whole process becomes unconstitutional and, therefore, null and void," Mwangusya said.

This verdict prompted some clapping in the jammed courtroom, prompting Chief Justice Bart Katureebe who looked sick to remind everyone that this was court where silence should be maintained.

After the lunch break, there was another prediction. An NRM mobiliser, Frank Asiimwe, humorously revealed how they (mobilsers) had fixed the verdict on the night before at the Supreme court.

"We slept here and we fixed the game to have four justices for NRM and three for the opposition. Now the opposition should be proud of two and the other three including the Chief Justice are going to be in our favour. I am giving you my mobile phone if you dispute me... ," he said.

Seemingly restless, Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi, the initiator of the controversial age bill, abruptly stood up and left the venue. He was overheard promising to accept whatever outcome.

With the score at three to two, Mabirizi stood and pumped his fists while the petitioning MPs foot-stamped, prompting an exasperated Katureebe to remind them this time that this was not parliament.

Katureebe looked visibly unimpressed when Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) swaggered in and journalists turned their cameras on him. In the end, the NRM 'rebel MPs' who joined the opposition group described the verdict as demoralising for Ugandans after it ended four-three.

Led by Buyaga West MP Barnabas Tinkasiimire said the four justices who upheld the Constitutional court ruling did not only betray Ugandans but also undermined the practice of making a peaceful transition of power.

Four judges including Chief Justice Katureebe, Stella Arach Amoko, Jotham Tumwesigye and Rubby Opio Aweri maintained the status quo of the constitutional court that sat in Mbale in their judgements delivered separately.

Tinkasiimire said the four justices' decision has caused many Ugandans to lose hope in the country's judicial system. He thanked Justices Paul Mugamba, Eldad Mwangusya, and Lillian Tibatemwa Ekirikubinza who opposed the lifting of the age limit. He said they are now Ugandan heroes who will be celebrated after a change of government.

Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze said they are going to mobilise the masses to go the Omar al-Bashir way where sustained street protests resulted in the ousting of the Sudan strongman after three decades in power.

"These learned justices have now legalised the beatings by army and police. They have legalised bribery of MPs when they ruled that the Shs 29 million issued to the legislators was facilitation yet at the same time contending that for Asuman Mugenyi to issue an administrative order barring MPs from consulting outside their constituencies was wrong but because a few MPs tabled what their constituents had told them, it was okay," added Nambooze.

Whereas Kasese Woman MP Winnie Kiiza and Mabirizi want to try to petition the East African Court of Justice, one of the government's lawyers, Kiryowa Kiwanuka, advises them not to try.

"Their petition at the EACJ will be dismissed at the preliminary stage because Uganda's Constitution can't be interpreted by this regional court. It is as of now over, unless they try God," said Kiwanuka.

Downcast, the lead lawyer for the petitioner, Erias Lukwago, declared that the country's last pillar had been crushed. The DP mobiliser Sulaiman Kidandala had no kind words for Katureebe.

"At the beginning, Katureebe assured us that each justice will read his or her verdict, Katureebe who claims he can't see properly managed to write his verdict, but failed to read it all after reading a few paragraphs before giving it to his colleague who had also dissented," Kidandala said.

For his part, the deputy attorney general Mwesigwa Rukutana proposed that though the NRM has won in two courts, it should sit with the losers to find another way of politically co-existing. "All of us are Ugandans," he said.

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