On the Friday of January 31 this year, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) offices in the Najjanakumbi suburb of Kampala was a beehive of activity. The party had just made a reshuffle that had caught many of its faithful and political watchers by surprise.
On February 17, he was formally ushered into the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament office.
The Bukhooli Central MP Phillip Wafula Oguttu had just been thrust to the helm of the office of the Leader of Opposition in Parliament replacing the Budadiri West MP Nathan Nandala Mafabi. House rules dictate that Opposition leadership in Parliament is a privilege of the Opposition party with the majority MPs in the House - a virtue enjoyed by FDC.
House rules further prescribe that reviews of such positions are conducted after every two and half years and with the Nandala leadership having been instituted in May 2011, the time for a review was long overdue.
The reviews had been pushed from 2013 to allow the party recover from an acrimonious contest for the presidency in which Maj Gen(rtd) Mugisha Muntu had defeated the then Leader of Opposition in Parliament,Mr Nandala Mafabi by 32 votes.
Gen Muntu’s November 2012 victory culminated in a year-long power struggle that jolted the party as factions wrangled over the legitimacy of his victory and the length of his term of office.
A tribunal appointed by the party to probe the controversies alleged by Mr Nandala’s supporters triggered a fresh storm when it recommended that Muntu should only serve out Dr Kizza Besigye’s term and face another election at a delegates’ conference before the 2016 polls. That recommendation was overruled by a team of party officials appointed by Muntu.
And so the time for the review had come as a bad spell for FDC. Mr Nandala’s supporters from the Mt Elgon region threatened to decamp from the party if their man was dropped from the seat—a threat they effected.
Gen Muntu had a difficult task to execute; drop Nandala and risk a backlash from the east as his supporters were alleging that the Muntu was going after their man to settle scores over the election, retain him and you are faced with a LoP and a party president pulling in parallel directions.
But if he was to drop Nandala, who would replace him? FDC MPs who were quietly jostling to replace him like the Serere Woman MP Alice Alaso and the Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu were the possible replacements.
The appointment of either of the duo would widen the schism in FDC in Parliament. Then there was Cecilia Ogwal, the UPC strongwoman- turned- FDC who many looked at as a Johnny-come lately and thus unfit to occupy the LoP seat.
That is how Gen Muntu zeroed in on Mr Oguttu.
Mr Oguttu’s appointment, on his first term in Parliament came off as a surprise. He was replacing a man with a stellar record in the rough and tumble of Opposition parliamentary politics having rose through several committees right from the Seventh Parliament in 2001 to LoP in 2011.
Mr Oguttu was not lost on the controversy that preceded his appointment and the tasks on hand, as he initially rejected the offer only to cave in to persuasion from party officials.
“I came in as an underdog who might not fit in the big shoes of [Ogenga] Latigo [LoP 2006-2011] and Nathan and I said that was good for me,” he said about his appointment.
And Mr Oguttu never had the luxury to acquaint himself with the rigors of the new office. He was instantly charged with naming a Shadow Cabinet while also shuffling Opposition leadership to coveted positions like the Parliamentary commission and the Pan African and Common Wealth Parliaments.
Two FDC MPs rejected appointments to the Shadow Cabinet. First - and more worrying - was the secretary general Alice Alaso who initially rejected the appointment to head the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) only to make a U-turn after pleas from the party leadership.
MPs Odonga Otto (Aruu County) and Oddo Tayebwa (Bushenyi Municipality) also rejected appointments to the shadow Internal Affairs ministry and the Parliamentary Pension Fund, respectively. At the time, the duo insisted the LoP had not consulted them and said they would have preferred other posts.
When asked this week to give an assessment about the LoP’s performance in that endeavor, Mr Otto said he had “moved on from” while Mr Oddo insisted “protocol” forbids him from “evaluating his boss”.
Nonetheless, Mr Oguttu’s reshuffles left many grumpy voices in the Opposition.
Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga (an Independent from the Suubi alliance) rejected his appointment after disagreeing with Mr Oguttu over the size of the Shadow Cabinet.Mr Mpuuga preferred a smaller Cabinet. The current Shadow Cabinet has 29 members.
However, Mr Oguttu downplays the matter of sounding out potential appointees before nominating them from positions.
“You do not need consultations before a reshuffle. A reshuffle is about an assessment to determine where people fit. People think that before a reshuffle, you have to consult but you do not. What if you consult someone and tell him that you are going to appoint and you do not, it will cause trouble,” Mr Oguttu says.
His appointment was also interpreted as an attempt by Gen Muntu to stamp his relaxed style on the party and rid it of the mode of Dr Kizza Besigye and Nandala that seen as overly combative. As Dr Besigye was leading protests on the streets, Nandala would be shepherding Opposition MPs out of the House in disagreement with their ruling party colleagues over parliamentary business.
But as the storm over appointments settled, he sought to coalesce the Opposition in Parliament into pushing in the same direction. Mr Oguttu had inherited a polarised Opposition in Parliament as his predecessor’s take-no-prisoners approach had alienated DP and UPC members.
In 2012,Mr Mafabi expelled DP and UPC MPs from the Shadow cabinet and accountability committees led by the Opposition in a quarrel over the EALA elections.
But Mr Oguttu managed to pull the Opposition together and allow them to push for a joint front.
With Mr Oguttu, the Opposition resumed its weekly Shadow Cabinet meetings that had become a source of friction during Mr Nandala’s reign.
“We have sizeable attendances. Everybody is enthusiastic. There is no more bickering and I will make sure that there is no bickering,” Mr Oguttu says of efforts to blend the Opposition in Parliament.
Opposition parties also merged into a coalition dubbed “The Call for Free and Fair Elections NOW”. With time ticking away to the 2016 elections, it is always going to need astute organisation if the reforms are to sail through a Parliament where the ruling NRM commands an overwhelming majority.
“I set two objectives - one was to calm the office [of LoP] and the second was to unite the Opposition. Based on what I have, I can say that I have achieved almost 99 per cent,” Mr Oguttu attempted a self-assessment.
Mr Oguttu has also steered clear of the walk-outs that marred the tenure of Mr Nandala.
Gen Muntu, the man who appointed Oguttu to the position and vowed that he was ready to take the “flak” over the appointment, says he is happy with the performance of the LoP.
“I am satisfied with what he has been doing. All the Opposition parties in Parliament are working together. There will always be people complaining but talking alone is not the issue,” Gen Muntu says of the LoP.
Ms Betty Amongi, the Oyam County MP who was sacked by Mr Nandala as the Shadow minister for ICT and communication, says Mr Oguttu has fostered unity by not meddling in the internal politics of other Opposition parties, a trend she says was common in the Eighth Parliament.
“He has reached out to other MPs and ensured that we are all working together. He has created unity because he is not antagonistic. The problem with Nandala was that he even wanted to meddle in the internal dynamics of other Opposition parties,”Ms Amongi says.
But managing MPs is always going to be an unenviable task, especially as the clock ticks away to the 2016 general elections and MPs are pre-occupied with re-election and not parliamentary work. In May, business in the House came to a near-standstill as NRM MPs traversed their constituencies to market President Museveni’s sole 2016 candidature.
Mr Oguttu, as LoP, could not raise inquiries over why Bills were being passed without quorum because he could not account for his own legislators in the Opposition.
MP Mpuuga says Mr Oguttu’s undoing is a “clique” of MPs that remains hell-bent on undermining the LoP’s office.
“Those who undermined Nandala said he was divisive but they are the same clique undermining Wafula. Wafula is trying to reach out but the challenge is MPs who have their own personal agendas and are chasing them instead of concentrating on the main goal,” Mr Mpuuga says.
Last week, Mr Oguttu delivered his maiden reaction to President Museveni’s State-of the Nation address, calling for the withdrawal of UPDF troops from Somalia and South Sudan, saying their time to quit those countries was long overdue.
“Rt. Hon. Speaker, our soldiers have been in Somalia for many years now and we commend the work they have done on behalf of our country and thank them for enduring the sacrifices their service requires of them. However, we do not think they should still be in that country because by now they should have trained more than enough Somali soldiers to protect their own country. If Somalis do not want to fight for themselves, then it does not make sense for our soldiers to stay for so long,” he said.
Hit out at Museveni
The LoP also stung President Museveni for giving empty promises to Ugandans.
“This could explain why many of his assistants in this House, technocrats, and invited guests go into a slumber mode when he is delivering his [State-of-the Nation address]. They know he is going to repeat what they have heard many times over and over again. Members of the public too no longer switch on their radios or television sets to listen to the President’s annual address; they don’t expect anything new and exciting.”
In the lengthy response, the Bukhooli Central lawmaker highlighted the various issues that the government is getting wrong, and offered solutions. He spoke on the economy, the need to boost agriculture, the need for electoral reforms, independent Judiciary and the need for inclusive national conference, among others.
BRIEF BACKGROUND OF WAFULA OGUTTU
He was born in Buhehe, a Sub-county of Butaleja District, on December 21, 1952 to Wafula Olago, a second world war veteran, and Lucia Aguttu.
By the time of Oguttu’s birth, his father was working for a borehole drilling company in Butaleja. A Samia by tribe, Wafula was raised in Mbajja village, Lumino Sub-county. His name Oguttu in the Samia culture is the kind that is given to someone born on the veranda or in the garden behind a house. Wafula grew up with five sisters and three brothers. His father died in 1960 when he was a Primary Two pupil.
Being a bright pupil and student, he was able to study for free from primary to university despite the fact that he was from a poverty stricken family.
Oguttu attended Lumino Mill Hill, Bukedi College Kachonga and Teso College Aloet for primary, ordinary and advance levels of education respectively.
In 1973 he joined the Beijing Language Institute, where he attained a Diploma in Chinese Language in the year 1974. He went on to acquire a Bachelor of Arts degree (1977) in Literature/Political Economy from Beijing University. He further went on to acquire a certificate (1978) in Communication Skills in Swahili from Dar es Salaam University. Finally, he went on to acquire a Post Graduate Diploma (1988) in Journalism from Cardiff University.