Uganda: Bobi Wine Case Raises Queries About Court, Opposition

23 February 2021

In an unprecedented move at daybreak yesterday, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, dropped a bomb-shell.

He announced he was withdrawing his presidential petition challenging the re-election of President Museveni.

He said instead he would seek redress in the "court of public opinion", claiming Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has since become "chief injustice."

The pre-hearing session had been scheduled for tomorrow.

The unique decision taken by the leader of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party is the first of its kind in Uganda's post-independence era.

The previous three presidential poll petitions filed by Dr Kizza Besigye (twice) and former Prime Minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi were all heard and concluded by the Supreme Court.

Now that there is no election petition challenging his sixth re-election, Mr Museveni is only awaiting his swearing-in on May 12.

"We are withdrawing from the Supreme Court because the courts have failed to show that they are independent. They are not independent. It is clear that these people are working for Mr Museveni and we refuse to be part of that mockery to justice," a visibly agitated Bobi Wine announced at an impromptu press briefing at the party headquarters in Kamwokya, Kampala.

He continued: "For that matter, for the reasons that we have given above, we have decided to withdraw from their court. We believe that the Alfonse Owiny-Dollo courts are not interested in giving Ugandans justice. No, they are not."

Moments after announcing his decision to withdraw the petition, Mr Medard Lubega Sseggona, his lead lawyer, confirmed he had instructions to withdraw the petition that had lasted 22 days in court of the stipulated 45.

"I have just received instructions to withdraw the petition. I am yet to meet my team and do paper work. Of course, the formal application for withdrawal can't be filed today (yesterday)," Mr Sseggona said by telephone yesterday.

Mr Jameson Karemani, the Judiciary public relations officer, last evening said the court had not received a formal application from Mr Kyagulanyi withdrawing the petition.

He said the court would proceed with its scheduled hearing of the petition, including today's hearing of an application filed by Mr Hassan Male Mabirizi, who is seeking to have Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, pull out of the nine-member panel of justices who were named to hear the petition.

Mr Mabirizi alleges that the Chief Justice has conflict of interest in the petition because he represented Mr Museveni in previous election petitions as a lawyer before he was appointed judge.

"We are learning from social media about the intentions to withdraw the petition. As we speak, until the application is received, we shall continue with our programme as earlier set. But if such an application comes up, we shall set a programme for it," Mr Karemani said.

He also explained that the formal application to withdraw the petition involves the panel of justices convening and hearing it before they can rule on it.

What law says

Section 61 of the Presidential Elections Act says a petition shall not be withdrawn except with leave of court and after such notice has been given as the court may direct.

Further, the provision demands that if the petition is withdrawn, the petitioner shall be liable to pay costs of the respondent/s (for this case President Museveni, Electoral Commission and Attorney General).

However, Bobi Wine said yesterday he was not scared of costs and he would go ahead to withdraw the petition.

"They are intimidating us, telling us that if we exercise our right and withdraw from court which is clearly biased, that they will slap us with costs. I want to tell them in all unequivocal terms that we are not scared," he said.

"The costs that have already been paid are too huge. We have buried Frank Ssenteza and that was the ultimate prize. To stand against Museveni, you don't stake your house or money, you stake your life," Bobi Wine added.

A day before, the legal director at the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, Mr Oscar Kihika warned Bobi Wine that if he withdrew the petition, he would pay hefty legal costs.

In the build up to yesterday's announcement, Bobi Wine, in his opening statements, explained his rocky journey to the Supreme Court.

He said initially he was skeptical of challenging Mr Museveni's victory in the Supreme Court.

"There were two schools of thought. One held the firm belief that going to the Supreme Court to challenge the Museveni election was a waste of time because these are cadre judges, and that the institution of the Judiciary had been reduced to a mere mockery," Bobi Wine explained.

"..But again, there was also another school of thought which we agreed with, that much as the Judiciary has been reduced to a mockery, it's an institution that we believe in while we might not believe in the people that are superintending over it. And yes we went to the Supreme Court to get two things like I told you, either to get justice or to get opportunity to expose the Judiciary. But as you all have been following, even before we could expose the Judiciary, it has decided to expose itself," he said.

The former presidential candidate also said the world had been watching the bias tendencies exhibited by the Judiciary.

Opposition react to decision to abandon petition

Patrick Amuriat, FDC president

"Going to court in itself was a mistake to begin with. It was overrating the impartiality of the justice system in Uganda. We had actually advised all those who intended to go to court not to try because we have experience in these matters. So for Bobi and his team to say that [they withdrew the petition] because three judges were not excluded [from hearing the petition] is like they were not reading what happens in the courts today."

Erias Lukwago, Kampala Lord Mayor

"In all fairness and honesty, Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo has been hostile to petitioners. The applications Mr Kyagulanyi had made were very simple and could be allowed. I was one of the lawyers of Dr Kizza Besigye in the previous election petition and amendments could be allowed. So I do not see the justification why the court did not allow Kyagulanyi to make amendment to his evidence. The court locked doors for Kyagulanyi and this hostility and rigidity of the Judiciary was not called for."

Joseph Kabuleta, former presidential candidate

"While a part of me is sad that Kyagulanyi has withdrawn his petition because a very fraudulent election goes unchallenged, the other part of me knows that top judges through their word, deeds and blatant double standards, clearly showed us that there was never going to be justice. The top justices have been speaking carelessly and arrogantly even when the hearing had not kicked off... . It is going to impact on how our people view the Judiciary going forward."

Mugisha Muntu, president of ANT

"I am not sure if Kyagulanyi has officially submitted the request to withdraw the case because withdrawing the case is a process. Until he does that, I cannot say much about his decision."

Gerald Siranda, secretary of the Democratic Party

" I do not know whether he went to court expecting a different result because all he has been saying in court is about the independence of the Judiciary and guys in that office. But I do not know if there is a different result that was expected based on what we have seen right from the petition of Dr Kizza Besigye's case, Amama Mbabazi and then this one."

Allan Ssewanyana, Makindye West MP

"I am in total support of the decision by Kyagulanyi to withdraw the case because it was not going anywhere. The judges were not impartial. That has been shown by the Chief Justice himself giving comments aligned to favouring the incumbent. He has always been quoted in newspapers giving negative comments about the petition even before the hearing had started."

Gerald Karuhanga, MP Ntungamo Municipality

"Every engagement or pursuit is done with hope that they yield results. In this particular case, Kyagulanyi's decision to go to court had hope that there would be some possibility of getting justice. However, as facts were unfolding, it became clear that it was going to be time not well spent as far as resources are concerned. So they were left with no choice but to back off. This case was just a mockery of justice."

What public says

Robert Sempala, Human Rights Network for Journalists: "If you are going into a game and you think the referee is unfair to you, there is no point to prove where you think you will not be fairly handled and instead waste your resources in a matter where you don't seem to win especially considering the statements that have been flying from the judiciary and the political stakeholders. As citizens, we have lost the opportunity to learn in-depth what transpired in the election since one party says they won genuinely while the other says they were rigged out.

Godfrey Luwaga of the City of the Lord Ministries: The withdrawal of the election petition was tactical after Mr Kyagulanyi saw he was losing the case. You cannot say the votes were rigged without allowing justice to take its course. But as a nation, we have to move on. My advice to the government is to serve Ugandans genuinely, fight corruption and impunity, which are killing the country.

Livingstone Sewanyana, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative: The petitioner has a right to withdrawal at any time he feels that justice will not be done. ...There are no losers or winners but the system needs to be perfected to remove the shortcomings i like excessive use of force, hate speech, vote rigging and lack of civic education which greatly disadvantaged our democracy.

Erias Luyimbazi Nalukoola, citizen: For a person to file such a case, they have to prepare thoroughly and in advance. The 15 days are not enough. But this has exposed the weaknesses that comes with an unending incumbency.

Compiled by Anthony Wesaka, Arthur Wadero,Ephraim Kasozi, & Juliet Kigongo

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