In an address to journalists on May 30, Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa claimed that some of the 27 ruling party MPs who opposed the lifting of the presidential age limit had approached her with apologies.
While Nankabirwa declined to name names, she said the group had asked her to fix an appointment for them to meet President Museveni and further say sorry.
“We are currently trying to heal the wounds, the time now is for calming the situation, you can’t expect me to begin mentioning that so and so came and apologised, that would worsen the situation,” Nankabirwa said.
What she didn’t know was that her statements would trigger another fight between her and the ‘rebel’ MPs. The group instantly called a press conference in the Members Lounge of parliament where Monicah Amoding (Kumi Woman), Patrick Nsamba Oshabe (Kassanda North), Johnson Muyanja Ssenyonga (Mukono South) and John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya) unreservedly denounced Nankabirwa.
“There is nothing to regret, there is nothing to apologise about because we did nothing wrong!” Amoding said, insisting that they have neither met Museveni nor do they want to apologise.
The events leading to the tabling and subsequent passing of the Constitutional Amendment Bill which gave Museveni a new lease of political life left the NRM caucus sharply divided. To-date, those who opposed the bill are treated as pariahs, pointedly left out of party activities.
Nankabirwa had invited them to the caucus meeting which was called by the president to discuss his proposal to enhance salaries for science teachers. All, except Mbale Woman MP Connie Nakayenze Galiwango, boycotted the meeting.
Nakayenze later told The Observer that she attended to defend the report she authored as chair of the Education committee, rejecting the salary proposal which she says contravenes Article 40 of the Constitution.
She, in fact, irritated Museveni as she tore down his arguments. The president found himself declaring that it had now turned into a fight between him and the Mbale Woman MP.
Before the same audience in the conference hall at the Office of the President buildings last year, Museveni chased a group of 14 MPs led by Amoding, Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) and Oshabe for their opposition to Igara West MP Rapahel Magyezi’s age limit bill.
The group’s growing influence threatened the bill’s promoters especially when surveys by the government’s intelligence services and private organisations indicated that the ruling party, despite its huge numbers in the House, was short of the mandatory two-thirds majority required to pass a constitutional amendment.
To beat off the group’s threat, the ‘rebel’ MPs claimed Nankabirwa started to quietly reach out to them with financial offers.
“My constituents know that I don’t worship the god of money; that is why when Nankabirwa called me to pick money from her office so that I should support the bill, I refused,” Nambeshe told the press conference.
In a more revealing interview, Nambeshe gave an account that shoots down denials by the NRM leadership that money was dangled before the MPs ahead of the December 21, 2017 passing of the bill.
“She [telephoned] me and asked me to go and pick my package, and when I asked her how much it was, she said that I should go and find out what others were picking,” Nambeshe said.
Nambeshe instead advised Nankabirwa to put the money on his bank account.
“I told her that if she wants me to take the money, she should do it like the Parliamentary Commission did; put the money on my account or throw the bag containing the money into my compound,” the Manjiya MP said.
“She then branded me an enemy and accused me of having influenced the Bududa Woman MP [Justine Khainza] to vote against the bill,” Nambeshe said.
At the beginning, Khainza was in support of the bill but like Nakayenze, she changed her stand after consulting her people. According to Oshabe, Nankabirwa’s overtures cost their group.
“About 20 of our members were swayed by the money she was giving because she would [telephone you] and tell you that if you change and support my side, I am going to give you money,” Oshabe said.
Before Nankabirwa addressed journalists, there had been talk on one of the MPs’ WhatsApp groups that the ‘rebel’ MPs had each pocketed $50,000 (Shs 187.5m) which Oshabe dismissed as blackmail.
“If we rejected the Shs 200m and chose to go with the views of our people, how can we turn around and accept $50,000 which is a lesser amount?” Oshabe wondered.