On Thursday, March 31, the Supreme court will rule whether to cancel or uphold President Museveni's reelection that is challenged by former candidate Amama Mbabazi.
During oral arguments in the two-week hearing, lawyers for the petitioner, Mbabazi, and respondents; President Museveni, Electoral Commission and the Attorney General, put up spirited shows. DERRICK KIYONGA profiles some of the men who hogged the most limelight during the hearing.
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In 1989, Kabega, declined an appointment as a judge of the High court. Kabega said then he was neither ready nor interested in the office. Twenty-seven years later, Kabega doesn’t seem to regret declining that appointment because he has made himself a name as a successful criminal lawyer.
In December 2006, Kabega got Dr Aggrey Kiyingi acquitted in the murder of his wife Robinah Kiyingi. That was one of many high-profile and controversial cases Kabega has successfully defended. Kabega, has earned himself the moniker of “the devil’s advocate.”
Kabega began his career as a state attorney in the late 1970s before rising to director of public prosecutions in the late 1980s. During that time, he prosecuted most of the high-profile cases that included the trial of Chris Rwakasisi, a former minister in the Obote II government, and the late Paulo Muwanga, the former vice president.
Fast forward to 1995, Kabega ventured into private practice, partnering with Enos Tumusiime to start Tumusiime & Kabega Advocates. Kabega represented then Brig Henry Tumukunde in the General Court Martial, accused of spreading harmful propaganda and in the High court where he challenged his forced resignation in 2005 as an army MP by President Museveni.
In 2010, Kabega succeeded in getting an acquittal for Godfrey Kato Kajubi before it was overturned. A Kampala businessman, Kajubi, was accused of killing 12-year-old Joseph Kasirye in Masaka in 2008. On appeal by the state, the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial in the High court and Kajubi was found guilty.
Currently, the soft-spoken Kabega is defending Sarah Nabikolo Ssebunya, accused of murdering her husband, businessman Eria Bugembe Ssebunya alias Kasiwukira in October 2014.
Ousted as managing director of Uganda Railways Corporation in 1997 after a grilling Parliamentary investigation, Tumusiime, the Electoral Commission’s lead counsel in the Mbabazi petition, extraordinarily reinvented himself as a witty and successful private practitioner.
After partnering with Kabega to form Tumusiime & Kabega Advocates, Tumusiime offered legal advice to government during the contract negotiations for the construction of the Shs 98 billion Jinja - Bugiri road in 2004.
In 2015, Tumusiime successfully stopped the prosecution of Cairo International Bank in the Anti-Corruption court in a case relating to the swindle of an estimated Shs 169bn meant for pensioners.
He is also representing deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) Steven Kavuma against a challenge to his appointment lodged in the Supreme court by city lawyer Eron Kiiza and Gerald Karuhanga, the MP-elect Ntungamo municipality.
In the Supreme court hearing, the youthful Karuhanga injected the much-needed energy, innovation and quick thinking into the EC legal team. During cross examination of EC boss Badru Kiggundu by Mbabazi lawyers, Karuhanga shielded him through persistent objections to some of the tricky questions.
In 2013, the lanky Karuhanga was among the NRM lawyers who asked the Constitutional court to eject the four NRM “rebel” MPs from parliament.
Karuhanga is fast emerging from the shadow of his influential father Elly Karuhanga, a lawyer and former MP. Karuhanga junior first worked with the Attorney General’s chambers. He left in 2013 after forming Karuhanga, Kasajja & Co Advocates.
Karuhanga also worked at Ashurst LLP, a leading international law firm with considerable experience in the energy sector. He also represents the rich Madhvani family.
He specializes in oil and gas, energy, electricity and infrastructure, public procurement law, administrative and constitutional law, corporate and commercial law, banking law, finance and land law.
Mohmed Mbabazi, shocked many when he announced in the Supreme court that he was the petitioner’s lead lawyer. Many people familiar with Mbabazi expected John Mary Mugisha and Fred Muwema, his long-time lawyers, to lead the former premier’s team. Mohmed is no stranger to handling presidential election petitions. He was part of Dr Kizza Besigye’s legal teams in 2001 and 2006.
Born in Hoima district 50 years ago, Mohmed has close leanings to FDC and in 2010 he represented the party’s women activists in the High court in pushing for the sacking of then Police deputy director of Operations, Grace Turyagumanawe, Moses Kafeero (then Kampala Metropolitan South Police Commander), Grace Akullo (Director, Criminal Investigations) and Judith Nabakooba (then police spokesperson).
In 2014, however, Justice Benjamin Kabiito dismissed the case. The soft-spoken but assertive Mohmed was part of the legal team that represented journalists Charles Onyango-Obbo and Andrew Mwenda in their constitutional petition that successfully challenged the Penal Code provision, which criminalized the “publication of false news”.
Both the Constitutional and Supreme courts agreed to strike down Section 50 of the Penal Code. Mohmed, who briefly worked in the AG’s chamber in the early 1990s, is a partner at Nyanzi, Kiboneka & Mbabazi Advocates, a law firm where High court judge Yasin Nyanzi was once a partner.
To justify the petitioner’s assertion that the February 18 presidential election was a sham, Mohmed told the Supreme court: “As the saying goes, lies can complete a sprint but cannot complete a marathon.”
Basalirwa is more known as an opposition activist than a lawyer. At the peak of the walk-to-work protests in 2011, Basalirwa sometimes publicly punched clenched fists in the air aiming at an imaginary foe in a show of defiance.
But Basalirwa took advantage of the presidential petition hearing to reassert himself as a serious lawyer. During the hearing, Basalirwa fended off a barrage of questions from the nine justices led by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe and many observers questioned his preparedness but he weathered the storm.
In 2010, aged 33, Basalirwa was elected as the president of opposition Jeema, becoming one of the youngest party presidents in Uganda’s history. Basalirwa, 39, who is a former Makerere University guild president, is a lawyer with Sewankambo, Mawanda & Co Advocates.
He is the founder and the senior advocate of Akampurira & Partners, a private legal firm founded in 1994, majoring in civil and criminal law. He has maintained a presence in the legal practice mainly in civil and criminal litigation.
Severino, as he is fondly known, shot to fame when he won an outrageous Shs 13 billion in court awards after representing Amama Mbabazi in a court case challenging a parliamentary resolution, which required the former premier and two other ministers to step aside for allegedly receiving bribes from foreign oil companies.
In 2014, much to his chagrin, the Court of Appeal ordered a review of the Shs 13 billion court award.
In 2013, Severino was part of the NRM legal team that petitioned the Constitutional court to throw out of parliament the four expelled NRM MPs. They contended that an MP automatically loses his seat in the House upon expulsion from his party.
The quick-talking Severino, has been working with Mbabazi for the last two decades.
Severino started his legal practice on January 1, 2012 when he set up his law firm specializing in constitutional litigation and electoral practice, investment and procurement matters.
It’s not the first time Matsiko is appearing in a presidential election petition. As commissioner for Civil Litigation, Matsiko appeared for the EC in petitions against Museveni in 2001 and 2006 filed by opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye.
In 2007, Matsiko resigned from the Attorney General’s chambers to become a partner in Kampala Associated Advocates (KAA).
KAA is a top Kampala-based law firm that features mainly in high-profile criminal, commercial and civil cases, at times representing top government officials.
In 2011, he was part of the NRM legal team that tried and failed to eject the expelled NRM rebel MPs from Parliament. The soft-spoken Matsiko also represents MTN.
When you have any legal issue against the ruling NRM and President Museveni, the go-to person is Kiwanuka. Actually to many political observers, the lawyer directly represents the interests of the first family.
Though Didas Nkurunziza is Museveni’s lead counsel in Mbabazi’s petition, when things got a little heated in court, Kiwanuka took over the mantle. In 2015, Kiwanuka successfully represented NRM in defeating an application in the Constitutional court that sought to block the approval of NRM’s new secretariat office bearers by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
The application was filed by Benjamin Alipanga, a graduate student of Psychology and Education Sciences at Kent University. He wanted court to halt the appointment of Justine Kasule Lumumba as new secretary general, Richard Todwong as her deputy, Rose Namayanja as treasurer and Dr Kenneth Omona as her deputy.
In 2013, Kiwanuka represented the 17 KCCA councilors who accused Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago of abuse of office, of incompetence and misbehavior before a Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led tribunal.
In 2001, Kiwanuka represented then Mbarara municipality parliamentary contender Yusuf Ngoma Ngime against her archrival Winnie Byanyima of the Reform Agenda.
After his defeat by Byanyima in the hotly-contested election, Ngoma-Ngime through Kiwanuka wanted a vote recount but High court judge Musoke Kibuuka rejected his prayer.
He is a partner with Kiwanuka & Karugire Advocates and has rich experience in legal practice in Uganda, East Africa and internationally over the last 15 years.
Byenkya is a former chairman of Makerere University Staff Tribunal. He represented President Museveni in the previous two presidential election petitions filed by Dr Kizza Besigye in 2001 and 2006.
In asking the Supreme court to uphold Museveni’s February 18 victory, Byenkya turned out to be the most humorous of all lawyers. His presentation in court enlisted laughter from all sides.
In asking the judges to dismiss the Mbabazi petition, Byenkya said, “On behalf of the first respondent [Museveni], we pray that this petition, completely without merit, unsupported by any evidence, conducted by way of a fishing expedition, premised purely on hope, be dismissed.”
He is a partner with Byenkya, Kihika & Co Advocates.
Karugire, though he is a partner, he has always remained in the shadow of Kiryowa Kiwanuka. In the Supreme court during the hearing, Karugire, a son-in-law to President Museveni, didn’t speak.
Most of the time, he was seen advising lawyers who were presenting arguments before the judges. He and Kiwanuka are the lawyers of state-owned Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC).