An escalation in hostilities against members of parliament who support the lifting of presidential age limits is forcing some to either cut back their countryside consultative meetings or make public commitments to abide by the wishes of their constituents not to support the proposed amendment.
In response, Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa has revealed that “security personnel in every district have been ordered to ensure that whoever is holding a consultative meeting, whether for or against the bill, is protected.”
“Hooligans who are targeting people and defying the principles of democracy should be held responsible and netted by security personnel,” she told The Observer on Monday.
“We have more than 117 districts and we are receiving isolated cases which should not scare people. We are hearing from just a few cases where MPs have been attacked. If we go on with sensitising people and reminding them of the principles of democracy, people will settle down,” she added.
The latest victim in the constituency attacks by voters outraged at what is believed to be a betrayal of public trust was Anthony Okello (Kioga). Okello is reportedly hospitalized after he was hit with a brick in the face during a meeting at Muntu sub-county headquarters in Amolator district over the weekend.
After 31 years at the helm, the emerging public view is that many Ugandans oppose President Museveni’s bid to stay on after the next election in 2021 when he will not be eligible to run for office being above the 75-year age cap.
When parliament broke off to allow MPs to return home and consult local constituents (October 25 to November 8) on the Constitution (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2017, the ruling party may not have anticipated the intensity of the public mood.
The party response following a late October parliamentary caucus meeting addressed by the president was to tell MPs to only appear before a carefully selected group of NRM cadres. This does not seem to be stemming the tide.
According to eyewitnesses, Okello’s woes began after he failed to turn up with Doreen Amule, the district woman representative. The charged crowd demanded to know her whereabouts, saying she had betrayed their trust.
They also accused the two MPs of bribing locals to say they support the amendment. Armed with stones and sticks, the residents barred Okello from addressing them, forcing police to whisk him into the sub- county offices. This infuriated the residents who started throwing stones at the office, prompting police to fire bullets in the air to disperse the residents.
As police tried to get him away, he was hit with a brick. Okello was rushed to Amolatar health center IV. It is not clear whether Amule’s absence was related to the baptism of fire she received during the Independence day celebrations last month when she tried to preach the gospel of age limit removal.
Then, residents charged the podium and grabbed the microphone, forcing police to rescue her. Police has since beefed up her security. Other MPs who have faced similar reaction include Nelson Lufafa (Butembe) and Loy Katali (Jinja Woman).
Katali was slapped by a voter at Mafubira primary school where they had gone to consult on the age limit bill and both had to be rescued by police from a stone-throwing crowd.
Buwekula MP Rtd Major Joseph Kakooza was also accosted by voters in Kitenga sub-county who forced him to vacate a consultative meeting he had convened in the area.
No less a personality than General Moses Ali, first deputy prime minister and Adjumani West MP, was this week attacked by some youths at Mijale primary school, who stormed a rally he was addressing with placards carrying messages opposing the removal of the age limit.
He tried to square off with them but they shouted him down, forcing him to walk away in frustration. Late last week, the state minister for disaster preparedness and refugees, Musa Ecweru, was accused by constituents of duplicitously using student lists to create the erroneous impression that Amuria supports President Museveni’s wishes to lift age limits.
This was even after the minister reportedly ensured that his audience, in a relatively small hall, was restricted to those thought to be regime cadres.
NRM caucus responds
During the NRM caucus meeting last month, Nankabirwa suggested that MPs hold consultation meetings with small groups of people.
In the Monday interview, Nankabirwa acknowledged that while she advised the MPs to interact with small groups, it was not a one-size-fits-all arrangement, given that constituencies vary in size. Regarding the attacked MPs, Nankabirwa revealed that she has only received a report regarding Okello, which was sent to her by Amule.
“We are more than 300 NRM MPs. If every MP was being attacked, you would have seen it in the media. The opposition, through their malicious propaganda, talk about us to create a situation about attacks in constituencies, which is not true. I hear people on FM talk shows quoting my case as one of those who is facing hostility, which is absolutely rubbish,” she said.
She also dismissed reports that several NRM legislators, including herself, face hostility in their constituency. Nankabirwa was reportedly booed during the burial of Dr Abel Rwendeire, former National Planning Authority (NPA) deputy chairman, last month.
Nankabirwa had reportedly accused Fr Gaetano Batanyenda, chairperson of the Kigezi Inter-Religious Council, of being at the forefront of fighting age limit removal, prompting boos from mourners. In her Kiboga district constituency, other reports say the government chief whip faced strong opposition at a meeting she had called. Nankabirwa, however, denies this.
“People want to scare others to say since Chief Whip has faced it rough, things are not okay. It is not true at all. In my own district, the council has only two people who said they oppose it. The rest backed me up. I am holding my first consultative meeting on Friday so those reports are false,” she said.
Elsewhere, some NRM MPs have got their constituents’ nod of approval to support the age limit bill. James Waluswaka (Bunyole West) said all his consultative meetings were a success.
“I had no issues. Actually, my people gave me three cocks; one for President Museveni; Rebecca Kadaga [speaker of parliament] and myself to urge us to continue with the good work,” Waluswaka said
Michael Timuzigu (Kajara) said his people nudged him nicely not to support the amendment. Information minister and Kamwenge MP Frank Tumwebaze held peaceful consultative meetings in his constituent last week, while Aston Kajara (Mwenge South) got the full backing from the Kyenjojo district council to back the age limit removal.
Gerald Rwemulikya (Ntoroko) was also given the nod of approval by his district council. At a consultative meeting at St Phillip’s church community center last week Margaret Aleper (Kotido Woman) got the green light to back the age limit bill.
MPs who faced hostility
• James Kakooza
• Godfrey Kiwanda
• Judith Nabakooba
• Anthony Okello
• Doreen Amule
• Gen. Moses Ali
• Margaret Mbeiza
• Nelson Lufafa
• Joy Katali
• Rtd Major Joseph Kakooza
• Moses Walyomu
• Simeo Nsubuga
• Ibrahim Abiriga
• Caroline Kamusiime
• Nathan Igeme Nabeta
• Connie Galiwango
• Jacqueline Aol
• Sarah Opendi
• Amelia Kyambadde
• Pamela Kamugo