Saturday August 9 2014

Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki re-appointment validation Act of 2014

By Asuman Bisiika

Gerald Karuhanga must be a happy man. His petition in the Constitutional Court challenging the re-appointment of former Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki was successful.

But don’t hold your breath dear reader. Students of Uganda’s political history will tell you that ours is a political history dotted with precedent-setting surprises. So, we can still have our dear Benjamin Odoki as the Chief Justice of the Republic of Uganda.

Stories abound of legal, constitutional and judicial questions being resolved politically. We have heard stories of a criminal case being settled out of court. And a court ruling on the Anti Homosexuality Act is going to be sorted out in Parliament.

So, the Constitutional Court may have disqualified former Chief Justice to be reappointed to the same post. But an Act of Parliament providing for the re-appointment of Benjamin Odoki as Chief Justice would sort the court ruling.
There is precedence by the way. William Wilberforce Nadiope, a staunch supporter of the Uganda Peoples Congress (then in power), usurped the throne of the Kyabazinga of Busoga in what was clearly an illegal palace coup.

The reigning Kyabazinga, Henry Wako Muloki (said to be a DP sympathiser), sought recourse in the courts of law. He won the case and court ordered that he be re-instated as the Kyabazinga of Busoga. Did he get his throne back? No.
The UPC government just side-stepped the court ruling by enacting a law that validated William Wilberforce’s palace coup. The law was called The Busoga Validation Act. And so William Wilberforce Kadhumbula Nadiope became the legitimate Kyabazinga of Busoga.

Of course Nadiope later fell-out with his former friend Milton Obote.
I can’t claim to know Mzee Odoki well. But I was one of a group of select journalists who interfaced with him before he launched his book on the process that led to the Constitution. I remember Emmanuel Gyezaho, now public relations officer of the European Union Delegation in Uganda, was one of those journalists.

Odoki’s female aides were very protective of him like ‘daddy’s girls’ doing it for the expectation of a huge inheritance underwriting from the grand old man. “Don’t ask His Worship ‘stupid’ question,” one of them warned us and laughed at her question. We all laughed.

I remember Gyezaho asking a ‘stupid’ question: What was Odoki’s take on the politically inspired constitutional amendments that were about to take place. Thinking he was pushing the old man to a no-go area, I pinched Gyezaho and quickly asked: the book may be a good read, but the story seems to be in the timing of the publication. What do you think the people would read into the timing of your book launch?

Odoki laughed and said we were basically asking the same question and that I was merely trying to be diplomatic. The man really didn’t need the protection of his aides.

He said he would be happy if his actions could positively influence the national leadership of the country. He explained the legitimacy and legality of the constitutional amendments. And that the disagreements seemed to be on the objectives for which the amendments were sought.
“Incidentally, that’s the area where I don’t have influence. I can assure you that if it were illegal for people to amend the Constitution, I would have been the first to oppose their actions.” We left the old man with our autographed copies of the book.

Did we say the grand old man of the Judiciary can still be re-appointed as Chief Justice? Oh yes. We just need a “Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki Re-appointment Validation Act of 2014”. Or he could just be appointed as minister for Justice and Attorney General. No hassle, this is Museveniland.

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East Africa Flagpost