Members of the National Resistance Movement party (NRM) in Lira City have abandoned their mayoral flag bearer in favour of an Independent candidate ahead of today’s elections.
During the NRM primaries, Mr Willy Omodo Omodo defeated Mr George Mawa to carry the party flag.
Mr Mawa later decided to contest as an Independent. However, the NRM members have turned against Mr Omodo Omodo and are now backing Mr Sam Atul, another Independent candidate.
Members of the Lira business community too have come out openly to support Mr Atul.
Mr Omodo Omodo is now accusing his opponent of planning to rig the election.
The Lira City mayoral race has attracted five candidates but voters and political analysts seem to suggest that the battle line has been drawn between Mr Atul and Mr Omodo Omodo.
The other candidates in the race are Mr Charles Otim Lia (Independent) and Mr Mike Ogwang Olwa Veve (Uganda Peoples Congress), the interim mayor.
Mr Paul Omara, the MP-elect of Otuke East and also proprietor of Ngetta Tropical Holdings Limited, is leading a team of local investors who have been holding several radio talk-shows to campaign for Mr Atul.
Mr Omara said the business community resolved to back Mr Atul since he is one of their own.
Mr Atul is one of the co-proprietors of a local radio station in Lira – Radio Unity. He is also the proprietor of Bishop Orombi Secondary School.
“Mr Atul is the best candidate to lead this new city since he has the necessary qualifications and has contributed to its development,” Mr Omara said on Monday. Mr Fred Doi, a retired senior agronomist, said Mr Atul will support the small business operators like market vendors.
The coordinator of Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Lira, Mr Francis Ogema Awany, said they evaluated Mr Atul and found him capable of rescuing petty traders from heavy taxation.
“Children who are hawking small items like boiled eggs are being taxed Shs400 on a daily basis and in a year, they pay over Shs140,000 but there is nothing they are getting in return for their taxes,” Mr Ogema said.
Mr Atul accused Mr Ogwang, the interim mayor, who has been the mayor of Lira Municipal Council for the last five years, of failure to manage the new city.
He said the stench from the uncollected garbage is polluting the air and making the city inhabitable.
“The market vendors at Lira Main market have been operating in darkness and without running water because electricity and water were disconnected since last year due to non-payment of accumulated bills,” Mr Atul said.
On Monday evening, the newly elected Lira City Woman MP, who is also the Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, aired a press statement on several local radio stations urging people to vote the best candidates.
“For the remaining elections, I am urging you to vote for people with integrity; God-fearing people whom we can work with together to develop this city,” Dr Aceng appealed.
However, this was perceived as indirectly campaigning for Mr Atul as Mr Ogwang was previously implicated in corruption scandal involving awarding of a contract for managing the Coronation Park to a private company.
The State House Anti-Corruption Unit team led by Lt Col Edith Nakalema arrested Mr Ogwang together with the town clerk and other officials over the matter.
But Mr Omodo Omodo has accused Mr Atul of conniving with some businessmen to sell off open spaces in the city.
In particular, he cited Lira Town College playground and Tipper Stage, where some businessmen backing him have shown interest in constructing shopping malls and arcades .
“I have unearthed their sinister plans of illegally selling away the city council land to prominent businessmen who want to construct their shopping malls, but I will not allow that if I am elected,” Mr Omodo Omodo said.
“The alliance between Atul and the businessmen is also meant to sell away government land at the former sub counties of Adekokwok, Ngetta, Iwal and Lira which were annexed into Lira City.”
Mr Omodo is the son of the former mayor of Lira Municipal Council, the late Jaspher Omodo Anyuru.
Mr Bosco Odongo, Lira City NRM chairperson, has distanced himself from party members supporting independent candidate Atul, whom he said has no clear agenda to lead Lira City.
“It is true that there are individual party members backing Sam Atul. What I want to put out clearly is that the NRM party has its candidate,” he said on the phone on Tuesday.
Mr Odongo said the NRM party members supporting the independent candidate instead of the NRM party flag bearer are acting as individuals.
Mr Allan Owani, the executive director of Global Development Initiative (GDI)-Uganda, advised voters to elect leaders without records of corruption if the new city is to develop faster.
However, Mr Owani said the current leaders had failed to use the large revenue base to build good roads and schools for the city residents.
“The kind of leader that Lira City needs right now is a leader who will be accountable to the city residents. We are ranked 3rd in terms of revenue remittance to the URA but when you look at the city it has not developed. That means there is already a revenue leakage where it is spent at source. We now need a leader who will widen the revenue base and use it to deliver better services,” Mr Owani said.
Compiled by Patrick Ebong, Isaac Otwii & Bill Oketch