With MPs getting the required number of signatures to force Parliament out of recess, it has become increasingly clear that the battle lines between the legislature and executive have been drawn.
A cross section of MPs from both the opposition and the ruling party got the required 125 signatures in less than five days and are now set on a collision course with the President.
The arrest and prosecution of two MPs in relation with the death of their colleague, Cerinah Nebanda, has united the legislators more than anything before, and could well signal the beginning of greater rebellion towards the establishment.
Even NRM MPs that have been known to be conformists, such as Buganda Parliament Caucus chairman, Godfrey Kiwanda, appear to have developed rebellious tendencies of late.
“The struggle we are on is not about political parties but [rather] to see Parliament as an independent organ of the government,” Kiwanda said, moments after refusing to pick up a call from the President while in Tororo to receive Muhammed Nsereko, a member of the caucus, from week-long detention.
The latest point of disagreement between Museveni and the MPs stems from the dark cloud surrounding the death of the Butaleja Woman MP on December 14, 2012. Whereas a government autopsy report points to alcohol and drug abuse, some MPs believe Nebanda was poisoned. But the state is arresting anyone suspected to be propagating that line.
On Monday, after the Kampala Central MP, Nsereko, had secured bail, he and colleagues held a small rally in the Tororo Chief Magistrates court compound, where they openly declared that they want Museveni to resign well before his term ends in 2016. According to Iganga municipality MP (NRM), Peter Mugema, the “trumped up charges” against his colleagues are the reason for that call.
Gerald Karuhanga (Youth, Western) added that the MPs don’t need to go to the bush, like Museveni did in 1980, but rather to mobilise the youth who constitute 67% of Uganda’s population and either push for the restoration of term limits or pressurise him to resign prematurely.
Karuhanga described Museveni’s recent speech in which he described those linking government to Nebanda’s death as “idiots and fools” as an adequate ground for impeachment.
With the Tororo rally concluded, the MPs headed to Mbale to officially thank their colleagues, Nathan Nandala Mafabi (Budadiri West) and Jack Wamai Wamanga (Mbale municipality) for the support they had given Nsereko while in detention. However, as their convoy arrived in Mbale, the Police unsuccessfully attempted to disperse the gathering with tear gas.
The MPs in the convoy now included Mafabi, Nsereko, Karuhanga, Paul Mwiru (Jinja municipality east), Mukasa Mbidde (EALA), Patrick Nsanja (Ntenjeru South), Mariam Nalubega (Butambala Women), Medard Sseggona (Busiro East), Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo county) and Godfrey Kiwanda (Mityana County North).
When the vehicles entered Mbale, everything came to a standstill. There was continuous hooting and many MPs, including NRM supporters, were waving the V sign, usually associated with the FDC. As they drove slowly towards Clock tower, they drew the attention of more people, particularly boda boda riders who now thronged the streets.
The Police chief, Eastern Region, Jacob Opolot, later used a Police patrol vehicle to block the convoy along Bishop Wasike road. As the crowd swelled, Police unleashed tear gas in the direction of the MPs, resulting in stampede and stone throwing by locals. This forced the Police to withdraw. The procession then turned back through Naboa road, up to Mafabi’s office, which is housed at his fuel station.
Museveni rings MPs
At some point, Nalubega was heard telling her colleagues that she had just declined to pick President Museveni’s call. A few minutes later, it was Kiwanda’s phone ringing and the President asking why he was leading a crusade against the party line.
“Nebanda was one of us and tomorrow it may be me or someone else,” Kiwanda told The Observer.
On his part, Nsereko, who was now donning a black cap with Nebanda’s picture, said his arrest had helped him realise that over 20,000 prisoners are languishing in prisons across the country without trial. He promised to table a private member’s bill that would compel courts to release anybody committed to High Court for trial but not tried within 30 days.
At Mafabi’s office, the MPs held a 30-minute meeting in which they resolved to hold joint rallies across the country to counter the ones to be called by a committee appointed by President Museveni. The said committee is headed by the Vice President, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, and aims to clean up the government’s image in the aftermath of Nebanda’s death.
Other members on the committee include Prime minister Amama Mbabazi, Minister for the Presidency and KCCA, Frank Tumwebaze, and presidential advisor David Mafabi. The MPs who met in Mbale chose Nalubega and Karuhanga to lead their own initiative.
“These rallies are going to be organised in a federal kind of style where each region will have sub-committees answerable to the national committee,” Nalubega told The Observer.
She added that they had agreed on a common front with opposition parties FDC and DP.
“Whereas many independent MPs are willing to join individually, those from the NRM will join through a pressure group to be known as ‘Nebanda Resistance Movement’,” Nalubega said, adding that they would soon announce in which constituency to launch the rallies.
At the end of the meeting, Nandala ordered that all vehicles and motorcycles in the procession be refilled, before the convoy left for Iganga through Tirinyi road. They had planned stop-overs in Iganga, Jinja and Mukono only to cancel after Medard Sseggona informed his colleagues that one of the Buganda ministers had invited the group to attend the Enkuuka New Year celebration at Lubiri, where Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II was chief guest.
Amid news that Emmanuel Dombo (Bunyole East) would head a committee whose assignment is to get Florence Nebanda, Cerinah Nebanda’s sister, elected Butaleja Woman MP, the Tororo UPC district chairman, Ojwang Obbo, announced that his party would not field a candidate to challenge her.
The Uganda Federal Alliance area chairman, Peter Egesa, also pledged to support Florence Nebanda’s candidature. An NRM electoral official recently said that primaries will be held in the district to select the party candidate in the forthcoming by-elections.