How Constitution put MPs’ fate on the line

Wednesday January 20 2021

Author, Mr Okodan Akwap. PHOTO/COURTESY

By Okodan Akwap

President Museveni begins his new term on May 12 minus many of his ministers and NRM MPs, who vigorously removed the presidential age limits enshrined in Article 102(b) of the Constitution.

The clause had barred persons older than 75 years or younger than 35 years to run for president.

NRM’s deliberate changing of the Constitution for the benefit of President Museveni started in earnest in 2005 when the clause on term limits was removed.

 Were that clause to stay, Museveni would have been barred from running for president in 2006. He had already served two terms - 1996 to 2001 and 2001 to 2006. To allow him to keep running, the Constitution was seen as a mere piece of paper, not the embodiment of the aspirations of the people of this country.  

The MPs who desecrated the Constitution did not even bother to hide their contempt for a document painstakingly put together by the people who had been driven by a deep-seated desire to avoid a repeat of the country’s history. Ugandans have never witnessed a peaceful handover of power from one president to the next.

After deleting the age limits clause from the Constitution on December 20, 2017, the 317 NRM MPs who voted yes, trooped to Kiboga District in February 2018 to celebrate. The merry-making included exciting meat-roasting - 25 fattened bulls and cows were slaughtered.


There was also plenty of zestful dancing, led by Kiboga Woman MP and Government Chief Whip, Ruth Nankabirwa. (She is one of the MPs who were thrown out by voters on January 14). Museveni was there; his eyes would momentarily light up with amusement as he watched his people dance.

However, what many people are not talking about now is that the Kiboga celebration had one very insidious theme: “Align and arrive.” Even as they danced they had in mind a plan to raid the Constitution again and tamper with clauses spelling out the terms of elective offices. The supreme law allows elected persons to serve five-year terms.
But even as they danced, the Kiboga merry-makers were nursing a clever idea to extend the President’s tenure from five to seven years.
Having done that, they would then extend the terms of all elective offices, including their own, also by two years in alignment with the extension of the President’s tenure. That was how the self-seeking theme: “Align and arrive” was hatched.
Had this sinister scheme succeeded, Ugandans would not have gone to the polls on January 14. The polls would have been pushed forward to 2023.

How did the MPs hatch this plan? Sometime in December 2017, Ibrahim Abiriga, the late MP for Arua Municipality, casually disclosed that he was drafting a Private Member’s Bill that would seek to extend the tenure of all elective offices from five to seven years.

Many MPs knew that the act of removing Article 102(b) would be suicidal. So they latched on to Abiriga’s weird plan and use it as a bargaining tool for their own benefit. They figured that they would “touch” the Constitution, grant Museveni his wish to run for president ad infinitum and extend his tenure by two years.

But they would also gain by having their jobs extended by two years.
So even if an angry electorate rejected them in 2023, at least they would have cushioned their fall a little bit. The phrase “half a loaf is better than nothing” sounded like music.

It would have worked like charm, but the MPs neglected to pay attention to something important: Museveni’s calculating mind. Subtly, calculatingly and cunningly, he allowed the MPs to entertain their day-dream. But after Article 102(b) was removed, he showed his true colours. He criticised MPs for being selfish by seeking to extend the terms of elective offices!

That is how Museveni put many MPs at risk of rejection by voters. Technically, he has sacked 24 ministers without writing a single letter. He has pushed many MPs to the edge of bankruptcy, yet they have no locus to blame him for their misfortune.
I grew up enjoying stories about acoa ipoo (the cunning of a hare). Now I am enjoying the tale of one heck of a cunning politician.

Dr Akwap is the deputy vice chancellor for academic affairs at Kumi University.