On Tuesday, September 12, a peaceful NRM parliamentary consultative meeting turned rowdy the moment a resolution to amend the Constitution to lift presidential age limits was announced in front of television cameras.
Kumi Woman MP, Monica Amoding, was arguably the loudest protester against that resolution announced in the parliamentary Conference hall with about 245 NRM MPs in attendance.
Olive Eyotaru interviewed Amoding at the weekend and she explained why she is opposed to the removal of presidential age limits.
You created a spectacle in parliament during the NRM meeting last Tuesday over the age limit debate. Why was that?
The meeting was called by a few NRM colleagues and they called it a consultative meeting. However, we did not get any formal invitation, it was just phone calls.
It was not an official NRM caucus meeting called to discuss the removal of presidential age limits. It is improper to say that it is an NRM decision, first of all. Many MPs went to the meeting expecting to discuss the land Constitutional amendment bill and then other issues because the meeting was pegged on constitutional issues, particularly land issues.
We went there with the hope of making our contributions on the land amendment because we had proposals to give to the committee set up by NRM.
But when we reached there, the agenda concentrated on age limits yet they had not consulted us to know whether we would like to support the resolution yet members had appended their signatures without knowing that a resolution was going to be made in that respect. Many of us do not support the amendment of the Constitution.
We are here to defend and protect the Constitution because that is what we swore to do and therefore any machinations and schemes by some of our colleagues to mend the Constitution are uncalled for and unnecessary.
But the conveners of the meeting accused you of playing to the gallery, of seeking cheap popularity.
I signed and [left] to attend a committee meeting. When I returned to the meeting, I tried to find out how far the discussions had gone. I asked my colleagues about the discussions and resolutions made and I was told that members were going to “kugikwaatako” (amend Article 102 b).
At that point, I put up my hand to raise a procedural matter that this issue was not on the agenda. Secondly, some of us are not in agreement; so, if you make a resolution of this nature, some of our signatures should not be on the signed-up sheet indicating that we are in support.
You are practically upstaging us to support something that we don’t believe in. I was denied audience. I stood up several times but it took a while before they gave me an opportunity. I am a woman of my word and when I am convinced by a principle, I stand by it and that is how I operate.
So, is the age limit one of those things you disagree with in principle?
As NRM, we should have first concentrated on accomplishing our manifesto. We should have first ensured that the health and education sectors are operational, which majority of Ugandans depend on.
Youth unemployment is rife and we have not yet concluded that discussion but now we are jumping on the age limit in our first and half year of parliament. Is that the most important discussion right now? We need to refocus and address our minds to the issues at hand.
We also know that the public is not in support of lifting the presidential age limit. The preamble of our Constitution deals with the historical instabilities we have had as a country and this was a very strong check on the Constitution.
We [have] already lifted the term limits and the age limit is the last roadblock that is supposed to check the executive powers and the powers of the presidency, which should not be unlimited. There must be limitations to this. They keep saying they have the numbers but that is not everything. We also have the numbers to oppose this move.
Aren’t you afraid that you will be reprimanded by the NRM party for being defiant?
Do you think that the party’s position is bigger than the position of Ugandans? It is not.
NRM is a bigger part of Uganda and the party should listen to the popular views of the people, which are against the lifting of the presidential age limit. We shall not allow them to touch the Constitution and we are ready for them on the floor of parliament.
The intimidation, threats and propaganda will come but that is part of the game. I am firm and focused because God is my help. You must accomplish that which your conscience is telling you; so, any intimidation is inconsequential.
Some of your colleagues in the NRM have accused the anti-age limit group of actually intimidating them. One of them mentioned that they have the backing of the army.
Some people think it is a do-or-die affair. Why are they thinking that without President Museveni, Uganda is going to come to an end? Uganda cannot come to an end because he has retired.
There will be people to take the mantle. When we leave, Uganda will be around; so, these threats that the army is on our side are baseless.
I am happy that the army has come out clearly to rubbish these statements and we want to say it was totally careless talk from some wanton colleagues of ours. [The army] are here to protect Ugandans, not otherwise. The fundamental work we are doing is to defend our constitution at all costs.
Do you think some of your NRM colleagues silently support your stance?
It is not a battle of enmity but one of ideas. We are encouraging them and speaking to them to reconsider their position.
These resolutions are pitting us against the public. We are looking bad as parliament because people think we are being bribed. It is not nice at all and we want them to know our position.
We are many on the opposing side; so, let them not think that they have the majority. We may look weak but we are the popular voice.