At 2:11pm, just as Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah concluded his welcoming communication at the resumption of Parliament’s plenary sittings, opposition MPs, led by their chief whip, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda (Kira Municipality), walked into the central lobby to announce their new course of action.
A few like Ssemujju and his Kawempe North counterpart Abdul-Latif Ssebaggala donned all-red outfits while others had a red cap, necktie or band around their heads or hands.
Some made phone calls to their colleagues who hadn’t arrived, telling them not to come. Those who had missed the opposition’s morning caucus meeting and had already entered the Parliamentary chamber were called out.
In the process, the ‘rebel’ ruling party MPs were notified. In quick order, Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo and his Manjiya counterpart John Baptist Nambeshe joined their opposition colleagues in the protest.
“Today we are acting as gentlemen and ladies, to allow the speakers to sort themselves out. Tomorrow it is not going to be the same issue,” Ssemujju warned as he made a demand on behalf of the opposition caucus to have Parliament debate the September 27 invasion of Parliament by suspected soldiers from President Museveni’s elite guard formation, the Special Forces Command (SFC).
The SFC raid saw MPs assaulted, violently dragged out of the chamber, resulting in the serious injury of some.
“Should we come here [on Wednesday] and [Oulanyah] doesn’t want us to debate the issues of September 27 when we were invaded and brutalised by people who are unknown even to the speakership, there will be no staying away, we will be in Parliament and we will sort out this matter on the floor of the House,” the opposition chief whip said.
On the fateful day, under the operational oversight of the commanding officer, Brig Don Nabasa, the troops filed in from the neighbouring office of the president building, stormed the Parliamentary chamber and dragged out MPs opposed to Igara West Raphael Magyezi’s constitution amendment bill that seeks to scrap the presidential age limit – and potentially lead to a Museveni life presidency.
It was the climax of a weeklong apparent siege of Parliament by heavily-armed military and regular police with counter-terror units backed by armoured personnel carriers.
It was not unlike the cataclysmic 1966-67 events during which Dr Apollo Milton Obote ordered the army to surround parliament with tanks, and stampeded MPs into endorsing his ‘pigeon-hole constitution’ entrenching himself in power.
And it is generally thought that Uganda’s violent and bloody past has roots in this so-called 1966 crisis when the army was introduced into a political contest between Obote and the then ceremonial president who was also Kabaka of Buganda, Frederick Mutesa II.
On September 27, nearly 50 MPs were violently arrested by the security men and spirited off to police stations around the city till late in the night when they were set free.
Many escaped with injuries, some, like the ones sustained by Mukono Municipality’s Betty Nambooze Bakireke and Mityana Municipality’s Francis Zaake, turned out to be life-threatening. Nambooze and Zaake have had to be flown to hospitals in India and USA respectively.
Three other MPs: Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West), Moses Kasibante (Lubaga North) and Robert Kyagulanyi (Kyadondo East) survived grenade attacks on their homes.
“You cannot pretend to sit in an insecure environment to deliberate on behalf of the country yet at no notice, the invaders can come and attack you,” Ssemujju said.
Yesterday’s was an agreed position from an opposition caucus meeting that lasted for nearly four hours in the boardroom of Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Winfred Kiiza’s office. The caucus meeting was called to discuss the way forward for the opposition, including the furtherance of their campaign against the Magyezi bill.
As the meeting progressed, Ssemujju walked into Oulanyah’s office to inquire whether the LOP had been included on the day’s Order Paper to make a statement about the events of September 27.
“Before Parliament [was recalled from recess] the leader of opposition had an interaction with the Speaker [Rebecca Kadaga] and both of them agreed that the first item to attend to today [yesterday] would be the security and welfare of MPs,” Ssemujju told journalists.
By the time Kadaga sent Parliament on recess, the entire opposition had boycotted Parliamentary business until the expiry of her suspension of 25 MPs.
Oulanyah reportedly declined to allocate time to the opposition because he was not well informed about Kadaga’s undertaking to them, and the supposed letter she wrote to President Museveni seeking an explanation as to the identity of the men behind the chaotic attack of September 27.
“I went to follow up on that undertaking but the deputy speaker didn’t give me an opportunity on behalf of my colleagues to give that statement because he has not been briefed by the Speaker,” Ssemujju said.