Mabirizi: Maverick lawyer and darling of lawsuits

Sunday May 5 2019

Appeal. Mr Male Mabirizi arrives at the Supreme

Appeal. Mr Male Mabirizi arrives at the Supreme Court in August 2018 to file an appeal again the age limit ruling. . PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

By Paul Murungi

We have lost a battle, but the war has to continue,” Mr Male Mabirizi quipped after losing an appeal in the Supreme Court meant to quash the age limit judgement.
His next journey is the East African Court of Justice in Arusha, Tanzania, where he hopes to find justice. His war has narrowed down on the presidential age limit.
He is outspoken, humorous and has quickly gathered public sympathy. Mabirizi’s method of delivering his proposition on legal matters and accompanying evidence of how much he knows has endeared him to many during court proceedings.
However, questions continue to play in the minds of Ugandans who the maverick lawyer is, and whether his motives are genuine.
On Friday, he submitted a constitutional reference to Simon Tweny, the officer in-charge of the East African Court of Justice, Kampala sub registry at the Supreme Court.
“I am challenging several actions of Parliament, the Executive and sections of the Constitutional Amendment Bill. I have proceeded through Article 30 of the East African Community treaty which mandates any member of the community to proceed if he claims any decision from the member state contravenes the treaty,” he said.

What pushed him?
He says the events at Parliament during the age limit debate when security refused him from going to the gallery pushed him into fighting for the rule of law.
“I have never been a political animal. But the actions pushed me into this. I love business and a private life. There was no plan to get here. Mengo [Buganda Kingdom] was confusing my clan leadership. That’s when I sued them. The Kabaka land case also came in and I filed my case and I have never wanted to be part of the media,” he says.
However, he says the limelight has made his life complicated to the extent that it is even hard to get a marriage partner because people are always “watching my every move”.
But what does he do when he is not filing endless petitions?
“I do business and I am part of the clan leadership. I only go to court when there’s a need. If violence never came up, or if the Supreme Court had been fair to me, I wouldn’t be going to Arusha,” he says.

The black sheep
Mabirizi, a Muganda from the Kkole clan, attracted the ire of Baganda for questioning the sanctity of the king regarding land matters in April 2016 when he filed a case against Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, the Kabaka of Buganda, in the High Court over what he referred to as illegally collecting land fees (Obusulu) through Buganda Land Board.
He went ahead in November 2016 to question the rationale of land registration in Buganda and actually demanded the Kabaka to present himself in court.
Before the dust could settle, in April 2017 Mabirizi rushed to the High Court seeking an injunction against the implementation of ‘Ekyapa Mu Ngalo’ scheme, an initiative to lease land to all occupants of land within the kingdom.

Mabirizi argued that he and many other people he represented would suffer irreparable damage. He also said the king was simply a custodian of Buganda land. He also went ahead to demand for bank statements and tenants register from the Kabaka to refund the money collected.
Mabirizi says it is a misconception not to challenge the Kabaka.
“The office of the Kabaka has been challenged so many times because the resistance of the Baganda has been here. Kabaka Muteesa I was nicknamed Mukaabya because he was so dictatorial. People hated him because he used to make people cry. [Kabaka] Mutebi is holding on to this land as his personal property, which is not true,” he says.

He quotes Article 246(3) (C) of the Constitution from which he says the Kabaka is holding the land and property in trust for the people and institution.
Given the fact that most traditionalists have a belief that no man equals the king, Mabirizi is in the group of other Baganda who have in the past opposed the Kabakaship. Prominent among those was first prime minister Benedicto Kiwanuka and Besweri Mulondo, a man who opposed a federal status for Buganda publicly.

Cunning and controversial
At the start of the age limit petition hearings in Mbale, Mabirizi stunned court when he claimed that Lady Justice Elizabeth Musoke of the Constitutional Court had sired a child with Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana and Mr Hilary Onek, the minister for Disaster Preparedness. And, therefore, she was not fit to sit on a panel when she was already conflicted.

The 31-year-old studied law on government sponsorship at Makerere University but later went on to start a money lending business. He never went for a bar course at the Law Development Centre.
“I studied law at Makerere, but in my fourth year I took a choice to do business. I had to choose between being a businessman and an advocate,” he says.
Mabirizi has no law firm he is attached to and prefers doing his work by himself from home. He claims many advocates are interested in money and cannot risk battling Museveni because they might lose opportunities.
“I do my work personally to avoid errors because I am a perfectionist. I can’t delegate court work because I want everything in order,” he says.

Mabirizi says he will not give up the battle because he feels victory is near. “In 2016, all the judges in the Amama Mbabazi petition agreed unanimously, but when we went to Mbale, we got Justice [Kenneth] Kakuru and in the Supreme Court; we had three judges. The journey is progressing,” he says.
Mabirizi says his biggest fear is the collapse of the rule of law in Uganda, because if it ceases to exist, then it is likely that his business will collapse. He cites the case of former presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote and how they led Uganda into turmoil.

Source of funding
Mabirizi keeps a tight lip on his source of funding, occasionally saying he gets funding from his money lending business and friends.
While in Mbale for the age limit petition hearing last year, some sympathisers contributed money to support him after putting up a spirited legal fight.
On Friday, he showed journalists a poster seeking support for him to travel to Arusha to present his case.
“I have been fundraising at a lower level, but now it has become expensive. Traveling to Arusha may need more than $400 (Shs1.5m) for an air ticket. But then, the printing, binding and all that necessitates more money,” he says.

“The first source of financing is my personal income. I am not a political prostitute and I can’t be used because I have friends who contribute. When you keep quiet, they will say Museveni has bought you. But we are going to outside courts where the case should be presented properly and we need funding.”
Mabirizi has no estimates of what he has spent so far.

When pressed on allegations that he was being sponsored by Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa, he launched a diatribe against presidential adviser on media affairs Tamale Mirundi.
In March, Mabirizi filed a suit against Tamale Mirundi, alleging that he had defamed him while appearing on 107.9 Pearl FM on March 23.
In his suit, Mabirizi averred that Mirundi claimed that he was occasionally used by Kutesa who is allegedly interested in the job of the Speaker of Parliament.

Timeline of petitions and suits

lIn November 2016, Mabirizi sued the Kabaka, querying the land registration rationale in Buganda. Mabirizi actually demanded that the head of the Buganda monarch present himself in court.
lIn April 2017, Mabirizi went to the High Court seeking an injunction against the implementation of ‘Kyapa mu ngalo’ scheme by Mengo, saying it was illegal and would cause irreparable damage to him and other people whose interests he represented.
lOn December 22, 2017, Male Mabirizi filed the first constitutional petition challenging the Constitution Amendment Bill. The Uganda Law Society and six other Opposition MPs also went ahead to file petitions after President Museveni assented to the Bill.

lIn February 2018, he filed a petition to Parliament seeking to block the appointment of three judges of the Court of Appeal and High Court. They included; Alex Macky, Christopher Madrama and Stephen Musota. He cited, among other things, incompetence and misbehaviour. However, the judges went ahead to take an oath.
lOn August 23, 2018, he filed an appeal in the Supreme Court after losing his petition against the Age Limit Bill in Mbale. Justices of the Constitutional Court while sitting in Mbale District in a majority decision allowed the removal of the presidential age limit.
lMabirizi also stunned the public after filing a 30,000-paged appeal that he was forced to use a pick-up truck to deliver to the Supreme Court in which he listed 80 grounds for the nullification of the judgement in August last year.

lOn March 28, he petitioned the Supreme Court for the delay of his judgement. He said the Age Limit judgement had been pending for 71 days yet the mandatory 60 days had elapsed on March 16.
lIn March, he filed another suit seeking orders to quash the March 12 Parliament resolution to issue promissory notes of Shs1.4 million to FINASA/ROKO Company to facilitate the construction of the proposed international specialised hospital in Lubowa in Wakiso District.
lIn March, he filed a suit against Tamale Mirundi alleging that the presidential adviser on media affairs had defamed him while appearing on 107.9 Pearl FM on March 23. In his suit, he averred that Mirundi claimed that he was occasionally used by Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa who is interested in the job of the Speaker of Parliament.

lAfter hitting a dead end at the Supreme Court over the age limit case, Mabirizi last month petitioned the same court seeking nullification of three judges’ ruling on the petition on grounds that they were attached to President Museveni. It is yet to be heard.
The three judges include; Jotham Tumwesigye, Stella Arach Amoko and Chief Justice Bart Katureebe. In his petition, he argues that the said three judges who ruled to uphold the Age Limit removal have ‘conflict of interest in the matter’.

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