The age limit bill continues to split the rank and file of the ruling NRM loyalists at the grassroots.
After weeks of consultations by the ruling party MPs, members of NRM’s central executive committee (CEC) joined the campaign trail last week and confronted for the first time the wave of public anger toward the Raphael Magyezi bill, which seeks to remove the 35 and 75- year age limits for presidential candidates.
The CEC members including cabinet ministers led 17 NRM teams across the country on a one-week campaign to market the bill.
Like many of their MPs who have come under fire in the constituencies for backing the bill, CEC members found the going rough in certain areas.
Hajji Abdul Nadduli; the minister without Portfolio and NRM vice chairman for Buganda, was embarrassed by walk-outs in Buvuma while in Mukono, the police had to save him from an angry group of his party’s local leaders.
Dominic Gidudu, who was sent by CEC to Sebei and Elgon sub-regions, faced the same fate in Sironko as NRM leaders in the district rejected the Shs 30,000 he was handing out for ‘facilitation’ to popularise the bill.
In the western Kyegegwa district, some NRM leaders branded Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire an arrogant man after the outspoken minister told them that whether they wanted it or not, Article 102(b) would be amended to remove the age limitations.
Other protestations were witnessed at Kyotera district headquarters ahead of President Museveni’s arrival with Tanzanian president Pombe Magufuli.
The two leaders were in the area as part of the official ceremonies flagging off works on the oil pipeline. Organisers thought this was a fine opportunity to market the bill to Kyotera locals. One by one, they invited local leaders to the microphone until the moment Vincent Kayondo, the LC-V councillor for Nabigasa, spoke against the amendment, attracting wild cheers.
To avoid such embarrassments, when consulting in his Bukoto Central constituency, Vice President Edward Ssekandi drew a list of the people he wanted at his meetings in Kabonera, Kyesiiga and Kyannamukaaka; the three sub-counties that make the constituency.
Only invited journalists were let in, and these were given instructions about what to and not to write about.
“The reason why we selected you is because you are part of us [pro-NRM]; we don’t expect you to write whatever you’ll see or hear in these meetings,” Vincent Kityamuweesi Musuubire, an aide to Ssekandi, was quoted as having said by a journalist who attended the event.
The NRM vice chairman for Western Uganda, Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza, who had refused to join the campaign finally gave in on November 8 and joined the team sent to Bunyoro sub-region.
According to a statement by the NRM secretariat communications officer, Kyaligonza was apologetic for skipping most of the meetings in Bunyoro.
In Kigezi, Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda who was in the company of ministers David Bahati (Planning) and Chris Baryomunsi (Housing) indicated that the party would take disciplinary action against its leaders at different levels who are harshly critical of the bill.
He singled out Rubanda West MP Denis Sabiti for defying the party position to support the Magyezi bill. Rugunda went to Kigezi a week after Sabiti had held rallies and openly asked his electorate to reject the removal of the presidential age limit. Rugunda said this angered the party leadership since it was clear that the legislator is directly fighting Museveni’s success and his developmental projects.
Rugunda is lucky that at least he had an audience unlike his colleague, first deputy prime minister Gen Moses Ali. Ali had to be saved by his military police guards from constituents in his Adjumani district. He had gone to consult as MP for Adjumani West.
Still in West Nile, the state minister for Finance in charge of general duties, Gabriel Aridru Ajedra, was also saved by police from his constituents in Vurra, Arua district who flatly told him to resign his ministerial post.
Ajedra had rather tauntingly told them that he would resign as minister if his constituents reject the bill.
Some NRM MPs looked at the efforts of the CEC members as a waste of resources since many of them have little influence.
“Many of them are people who lost an election; how much can they do to change the peoples’ hearts?” an MP who preferred not to be named wondered.
But Kassanda South MP Simeo Nsubuga, one of the key proponents of the so-called Magyezi bill, thinks otherwise.
“We the MPs had failed to penetrate the structures being that our opponents, people that we defeated, are part of the structures. This is where they [CEC members] have helped most because they are highly respected,” Nsubuga said.
The party is also looking at Museveni’s unfulfilled promises as part of the reason for the widespread opposition to the bill. For instance, in Buvuma from where Nadduli was chased, Museveni has for years been promising the people a bigger ferry to ease transport between the island district and Mukono. For more than a decade now, the ferry is not forthcoming.
This in addition to concerns over health and education facilities, issues the locals raised in meetings convened by their MPs, Robert Migadde Ndugwa and Jeniffer Nantume Egunyu (Woman).
“The ferry is a big issue in Buvuma and we suspect that it is the reason why the Buvuma MPs are opposed to the bill. But when you also look at the districts around Lake Victoria, opposition to the bill is high because of the highhandedness of the UPDF soldiers who were sent to fight illegal fishing,” an NRM official said.
Insider sources intimated to The Observer at the weekend that by the close of last week, the agitators for the amendments were short of the numbers required to pass the bill.
NRM wants to have at least 294 MPs to have the bill read for the second time in parliament but the estimated numbers were slightly below 290 with more MPs having a change of heart after consulting their constituents. The latest MP to openly speak out against the bill is Mawogola South’s Joseph Ssekabiito Kitayimbwa.
“The problem is with the method of work; selected meetings as opposed to public meetings. If in a village of 500 residents you call only 10 and take them somewhere in the name of consulting them, and I consult the entire village, who is likely to get meaningful returns? I invited all my constituents and the voice was I should not support the amendment,” Ssekabiito told The Observer.
NRM still has hopes of winning over some of the undecided MPs, some of whom are said to have requested to have a one-on-one meeting with Museveni to get assurances on the issues affecting their constituencies.
This week, the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee is expected to conclude its hearings in Kampala and travel upcountry.
NRM is understood to be keenly following the happenings in the committee where some of its members have made worrying statements.
For instance, when bill sponsor Raphael Magyezi appeared on October 31, the party leadership at parliament could not believe it when they saw their own members voting in support of chief opposition whip Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda’s demand that the Igara West MP be put on oath.
The NRM publicity secretary Margaret Muhanga (Burahya) openly castigated her colleagues for having supported the opposition in embarrassing Magyezi.
Other than the committee vice chairperson Robina Rwakoojo (Gomba West), Guster Mugoya (Bukooli North) and Remigio Achia (Pian), the party is not sure of the support of its other members on the committee.
“We are preparing for the outcome of the committee, we are sure that the committee is coming out with two reports, a minority report and a majority and we plot on our next move,” a source said.
The opposition is also on the other hand suspicious of the committee chairperson Jacob Oboth-Oboth. When the committee first met on October 31, Ssemujju accused Oboth-Oboth of working under pressure from State House.
On Saturday, an opposition member of the committee who preferred not to be named, alleged that the chairman already had a draft report and is trying to drive the committee to fit into the contents of his report.
“They are also trying to manipulate our planned upcountry visits by ferrying people to come and fill up the halls,” the opposition MP said.
On Saturday, Oboth-Oboth was presiding over a function in Tororo and could, therefore, not say much but refuted the claims by the opposition MP.
“That is false and an insult,” he told The Observer on Saturday.
Owing to the tension that the bill has caused in the countryside, it is unlikely that parliament will have any other business until it is concluded.
“We don’t expect the speaker to call MPs from recess to handle other things when we still have this bill,” the source said.