Retired Supreme Court judge John Wilson Tsekooko breathed his last on Monday afternoon. The cause of his demise was still unknown despite having been admitted to Norvik Hospital in Kampala, a couple of weeks back. He had also in his later years been battling prostate cancer.
During his legal or judicial career, he spoke tranquilly but the outcome of his words made things move.
Justice Tsekooko will be remembered for nullifying the re-election of President Museveni on two occasions and ordering for fresh elections. He could have been the only living judge who had consecutively ruled against the head of state, with the other having been the late justice Arthur Oder.
Justice Tsekooko drew his first gig against Mr Museveni’s election victory in 2001. The losing candidate then, Dr Kizza Besigye, had in his petition, accused Mr Museveni of having personally, or by his agents, committed electoral malpractices.
Core to the allegations was that Mr Museveni as a presidential candidate, caused a publication of a false statement that Dr Besigye was a victim of HIV/Aids, offered money and gifts to voters; appointed partisan senior military officers to take charge of security during the elections.
At the end of the hearing, Justice Tsekooko declared that Mr Museveni had not been validly elected. He went on to annul his victory and ordered fresh elections.
However, his dissenting decision alongside that of Justice Oder could not invalidate Mr Museveni’s victory given the majority judgment of three justices; Benjamin Odoki, then Chief Justice, Joseph Mulenga and Alfred Karokora, the latter now both deceased.
“I hope that those indulging in disparaging remarks about a court working on decision of a case will reflect before condemning court. Courts are expected to give considered opinions not extempore messages,” held Justice Tsekooko
He continued: “For the foregoing reasons, I would uphold the prayers in the petition in that I would declare that the respondent [President Museveni] was not validly elected. I would annul the election. I would order that each party bear its own costs.”
Justice Tsekooko did not rule any different in the subsequent presidential election petition of 2006 that had also been challenged by Dr Besigye.
This time around, it was a four-to-three decision and he was again on the minority side, this time alongside justices Oder and Prof George Kanyeihamba. The justices on the majority side were Odoki, Mulenga, Karokora and current Chief Justice Bart Katureebe.
“On the basis of the evidence before me and for the reasons I have set forth herein, I was satisfied that the petitioner (Dr Besigye) established his allegations. I held that the petitioner’s prayers (1) and (2) should be granted. I would annul the election and order a rerun,” Justice Tsekooko held.
But in an interview with this newspaper shortly after he retired from judicial service, Justice Tsekooko said Mr Museveni had never openly attacked him for annulling his victories. He instead said the President re-appointed him on a two-year contract after he had officially retired, a move he said showed Mr Museveni still had confidence in him.
Justice Tsekooko in 1980 also defended Mr Museveni’s fierce political opponent, Milton Obote, in a defamation suit.
“In 1990, Museveni appointed me a High Court judge after that experience. Other people would not have appointed me even though I did not apply for judgeship. It was actually the former principal judge, Jeremiah Herbert Ntagoba, and Justice Karokora who persuaded me to join the Bench but I told them what I have just told you but they said ‘we find you suitable, we don’t know if the President will accept’,” he said in an interview.
Tsekooko’s brief bio
-He joined legal practice in 1968 as state attorney in the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions. He served at various duty stations up to 1974.
- In 1975, he went into private practice and opened up a law firm in Mbale Town.
- In 1979, he fled into exile given the political turmoil in the country.
-In 1980, as a lawyer, he represented then president Milton Obote in a defamation case filed by Mr Yoweri Museveni, who was a presidential candidate at the time.
- He was appointed a High Court judge in 1990.
- In 1994, he was elevated to the Supreme Court Bench.
- While at the Supreme Court Bench, he twice (2001 & 2006), ruled to nullify the re-election of President Museveni and called for fresh elections but since his decision comprised the minority, a repeat of the presidential elections on both occasions did not happen. On both occasions, the petitioner was Dr Kizza Besigye.
-He retired from the Supreme Court Bench in 2013 after clocking 70 years.
-He was reappointed to the same court on a two-year contract to beef up the staffing gap.
- Upon retirement in 2015, the Judiciary contracted him as a consultant to work on Civil Procedure Rules.
-He was a family man staying in Naguru, Kampala. In his later years, he suffered from the cancer of the prostate.
What people say
“He has been a very straight forward man who speaks his mind and such judges are few in the Judiciary,”
Bernard Mujasi, Mbale District chairperson
Today, there will be a vigil at his home in Naguru, Plot 20 Ntinda II Road, next to Maria’s Place. Tomorrow, there will be a funeral service at St Luke, Ntinda, starting 10am. At 1pm, the hearse will leave for Mbale Town and at 7pm, a vigil will be held at his home in Senior Quarters. On Friday, there will be a funeral service at St Austin Cathedral and at 1pm, the hearse will depart for his ancestral home in Bunakhaima Village, Butiru Sub-county, Manafwa District. On Saturday, 12pm, there will be requiem Mass followed by burial at 4pm.