During last December’s noisy and hugely divisive push to amend the constitution, a lot went on behind the scenes as NRM regime honchos plotted to delete Article 102(b).
The age limits for presidential candidates in this article was the only hurdle to extending President Museveni’s 32-year hold onto power.
As NRM supporters travelled to Kiboga last Sunday, February 25, for a fete to celebrate the amendment, which also increased the term of office for elected leaders from five to seven years, many opened up on what went on behind the curtains.
Also, tales of the continuing fear amongst the 317 supporting MPs, who face accusations of having betrayed Ugandans, were told. Turns out that Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi, the mover of the bill, considered withdrawing it due to intense pressure.
A member of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, which scrutinised the bill before it was formally passed into law on December 22, 2017, told The Observer that Magyezi had to be counselled.
“He faced a lot of intimidation from opposition colleagues and, at some point, he wanted to give up. We had to counsel him,” the MP said.
On November 1, 2017, Magyezi together with seconders Jackson Kafuuzi (Kyaka South) and Moses Balyeku (Jinja Municipality West) stormed out of the Legal committee after Chief Opposition Whip Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda (Kira Municipality) and other opposition MPs bombarded them with a barrage of questions.
But this past Sunday, dressed in a black suit, a white shirt with a yellow necktie and a matching carnation, Magyezi was treated as a hero before the crowd at Kiboga Town Council grounds. He toldThe Observer about what he faced although he denied that Ssemujju was part of the group that made life hard for him.
“Hostility in the committee [was triggered] mainly because I was the first witness. The committee was divided; some went to the extent of switching off my microphone, they didn’t want me to present the details of my justification. It became difficult for me to proceed without a microphone,” Magyezi said.
Magyezi said he was also approached by some “substantial” Ugandans and pressured to withdraw the bill. He declined to name names, but claimed that some of the people who approached him made offers.
“They told me that some people were ready to pay me,” he said.
Magyezi said he chose to largely keep this to himself, but shared some of it with Museveni.
“I didn’t want to cause panic in the country and tried to keep most of this to myself. I enjoyed a lot of support from the president and the government chief whip [Ruth Nankabirwa]. The president called me regularly to discuss the progress [and] I kept briefing him on what I was going through,” Magyezi said.
Despite unreserved denunciation and criticism of the bill by many Ugandans, religious groups and leaders, Magyezi says he quietly enjoyed some support from amongst the clergy in his home area of Bushenyi.
Notable among them is Rev Fr Christopher Besigye, the parish priest of Kyamuhunga Catholic parish, district Kadhi Sheikh Mubarak Katainama and Bishop Patrick Kamanzi of Ishaka Pentecostal church.
“There is one I have never met who called and identified himself as Paulus, he told me that ‘I have an instruction from God to pray for you and give a divine blessing to the bill’; that made me strong; it was encouraging,” Magyezi said.
During the Kiboga fete, Rev Edward Musinguzi, the head teacher of Kapeke Seed Secondary School, and a Kampala Muslim cleric Sheikh Sulaiman Gugwa spoke. Musinguzi claimed to have intercessory powers that he has exercised over the last 40 years for Museveni.
Reciting from the Qur’an 3:26, Gugwa said: “It is God that made you [Museveni] a president, and it is Him to decide when you’ll leave power. I want to answer my colleagues, religious leaders, that we don’t have the power to tell Museveni to go.”
Nankabirwa’s speech came with more revelations. Besides Magyezi, Kafuuzi and Balyeku, Nankabirwa recognised Doreen Amule (Amolatar Woman), Ibrahim Abiriga (Arua Municipality) and Jackson Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South).
Being the chairperson of the legal committee, Oboth-Oboth would ordinarily have been expected to keep away from the prepping of the bill. Indeed, through various media interviews back then, Oboth-Oboth distanced himself from the group that plotted the age limit removal. This was after The Observer named him among MPs secretly working on the bill.
But in her speech, Nankabirwa revealed that Oboth-Oboth was part of the team which drafted the Magyezi bill.
“I want to congratulate Hon Oboth-Oboth for being strong. Despite all the intimidation, you showed them that you are indeed independent,” Nankabirwa said.
She also announced that Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and her deputy Jacob Oulanyah were silent supporters. Oulanyah delayed the tabling of the controversial bill in September last year until Kadaga was back in the country to preside over the debate.
By the time the bill was passed on December 22, 2017, Kadaga, who previously enjoyed high regard in the public, was now a subject of harsh criticism, given the way she had handled the matter. Not surprisingly, the ruling party was full of praises for the Kamuli Woman MP.
Nankabirwa explained that, despite being NRM leaders, both Kadaga and Oulanyah had chosen to keep away from the fete because of their positions in parliament. Also specially recognised were MPs Simeo Nsubuga (Kassanda South) and James Waluswaka (Bunyole East).
NRM secretary general Kasule Lumumba told the president that some constituencies are no-go areas for some party MPs. She said some MPs who voted for the amendment have been pelted with stones and warned to stay away from their constituencies. She urged the president to protect his MPs and rein in the intimidators.
Some individuals who were introduced as veterans of the bush war which brought Museveni to power in 1986 spoke, giving a history of the fighting. Museveni later said there is still some unfinished business in the revolution.
“I want to congratulate the 317 because they have become our new historicals for contributing to the stability of Uganda,” Museveni said.
He said the amendment was moved following provocation from the opposition.
“They shouted that Togikwatako [don’t dare touch/amend it] and we said okay, katugikwateko [Let’s amend it],” Museveni said, adding that after the amendment was passed, several businessmen called him to tell him they were relieved.
“They had been scared by the Togikwatako threats but once the amendment was passed, they said they would keep their investments here because they are now assured of stability and continuity,” Museveni said.
The 317 MPs who amended the constitutional to lift presidential age limits are the country's new historicals. Museveni says now investors are calling him saying they're ready to invest in #Uganda coz they're 'now assured of stability & flexibility' 📹 @bamulanzeki pic.twitter.com/agxVj2WnR4— The Observer (@observerug) February 27, 2018
The fete also served as a launch pad for a campaign that is to take NRM leaders across the country to explain what they did, and to also mobilise for the planned referendum to extend Museveni’s term to seven years from the current five years.
While it was relatively easy for MPs to amend chapters Six and Eleven of the Constitution to extend their term and that of local government leaders, it was not possible for Museveni’s term as prescribed under Article 105(1).
The specific article is one of the entrenched provisions under Article 260 which can only be amended through a referendum. This explains the launch of a campaign dubbed ‘Align and Arrive.’