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Is Lukwago court fight pointless?

By Haggai Matsiko

Lord Mayor’s opponents have showed no respect for court orders

Since Erias Lukwago, was controversially impeached from the Kampala lord mayorship on November 25, 2013 he has hoped to return to his mantle by trouncing his political foes in court. When on March.20, he arrived at High Court for yet another appearance in a bid to save his job, his supporters mobbed him like he was a superstar. Omuloddi (The Lord), Mayor,” they chanted as he waved back as he acknowledge them. He had arrived in the Lord Mayor’s official vehicle with customised number plate and police escort and he behaved like he was still every inch the mayor of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

In reality, observers and some of the 29 Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) councilors say Lukwago’s return to City Hall, whatever the outcome in court, might be next to impossible.

Even before any ruling could be made, Lukwago’s friend, Moses Kasibante who is the MP for Lubaga North in Kampala, described their expectation of success in court crisply:

“In this case, we are standing to defend court itself,” he told three other colleagues, “there is no way we can lose, if we do, this court will have failed itself.”

Lukwago appeared to share in the confidence as he strutted around the courtroom. Almost after every 30 minutes, he would consult and share documents with his lawyer. Then he would wave to his supporters. “Victory is not far from our grasp” he appeared to be telling them.

Another Lukwago confidante, Allan Sewanyana – a KCCA councilor central to the case by virtue of his deep involvement, told The Independent.

“We wanted to challenge them in court, we do not have the guns that they (government-side) trust, we trust the courts. If they continue defying court, Ugandans will be watching.”

At the court that morning, however, instead of Ugandans watching, it was truck-loads of anti-riot police with guns strapped around their necks and batons in their hands that watched. They were positioned at different strategic locations overlooking the High Court premises in the Kampala city centre. Their presence at the court appeared to give currency to Sewanyana’s allusion to gun-rule.

Lukwago was seeking an interim order restraining the Electoral Commission (EC) from continuing with a by-election to replace him that the electoral body had scheduled for April.17.

His lawyers’ main argument was that the actions of EC boss Badru Kiggundu, KCCA Executive Director Jenifer Musisi, Attorney General Peter Nyombi and the Minister for Kampala, Frank Tumwebaze, were in contempt of court.

Tumwebaze, Katuntu argued, ignored a court order, which KCCA councilor Allan Sewanyana went to great lengths to serve him. Video footage, which is part of the evidence, shows Sewanyana flashing the said order in Tumwebaze’s face and the minister calling on security to handle the councilor.

The order sought to halt the meeting that Tumwebaze called to discuss the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire tribunal report, on which the councilors based to impeach the mayor.

After the meeting, the Attorney General allegedly went ahead and advised that Lukwago was no longer mayor, even when he had been served with the court order.

Musisi, on the other hand, went as far as cutting off Lukwago’s benefits as mayor and wrote to the EC notifying them to hold by-elections for the post of mayor.

And lastly, that the EC and its boss, Badru Kiggundu ignored the court order and went ahead to organise the by-election for which candidates of the ruling party are already through nominations. Peter Sematimba, who lost to Lukwago is leading the pack.

For these actions, Katuntu prayed that court sends the three government officials to jail and halts the by-election until a main petition in which Lukwago is challenging his impeachment, is disposed of.

`Fake’ court orders

The three defense counsels, Martin Mwambutsya, Dickinson Akena and Eric Sabiiti representing Nyombi, Musisi and Kiggundu respectively, challenged Katuntu’s submissions.

Mwambutsya urged that while the court order presented to the KCCA council on Nov.25 was allegedly fake—that it bore no signature, court stamp or seal, the other court order that the AG received was served at 10:05am yet by 09:30, Lukwago had already been impeached.

“The attorney general could not reverse the clock to suit the court order of 10:05am following the impeachment at 9:30am,” Mwambutysa urged. He added that since the court order had come in late, Lukwago had an option of challenging the impeachment in court, which he never did.

On his part, Akena said that KCCA was never served with the order. For all the respondents Mwambutsya also added that even if both Musisi and Kigundu were aware of the order, “knowledge of the order is not enough unless followed by service”.

He prayed that the judge dismisses Lukwago’s application with costs because it lacks merit and is incompetent.

Sabiiti on his part requested that Kiggundu is not charged because he was acting on behalf of the institution, which had a constitutional mandate to hold the by-election following a letter from KCCA.

At this point, Katuntu argued that by subjecting a letter from KCCA to a court order, the EC and Kiggundu exhibited “utter contempt of court”.

Apart from this, Katuntu argued that the agents of the AG, the police had blocked, assaulted, harassed and dragged on the tarmac an officer of court, his only crime being attempting to serve them a court order. Then, he added that the Minister had instead of even looking at the court order, just ordered Sewanyana thrown out. He tendered video footage which, he said, is part of the evidence.

“To allow this kind of impunity,” he argued, “is to (misconstrue) the rule of law…Court should not set a bad precedent of how one can disobey a court order and easily get away with it …,” Katuntu submitted.

Court, which started at 11:00 am, was adjourned twice and went on till 8:30pm. The judge said she was ready to push beyond the normal 5pm if that is what it would take for both sides to make their submissions.

In the end, the judge ordered the EC not to proceed with the by-election until she rules on March.28. It was a mini-victory for Lukwago. More is yet to come.

Lukwago’s reality

While a triumph in court might shower up Lukwago’s confidence and that of his supporters, the reality on the ground shows that in as far as reclaiming his old political stature at City Hall where he once called the shots, the odds are stack against him.

The last time Lukwago was allowed to step at his office at City Hall as Lord Mayor was in 2013. KCCA councilors on November 25, 2013 claimed to have removed Lukwago from office through an impeachment on grounds of misconduct, abuse of office and incompetence. But Lukwago is challenging the move in the Supreme Court.

Through the courts of law, Lukwago could therefore remain mayor. But in reality, it could only be as far as he is chauffeured in the Mayor’s car.

To understand the void of the mayor’s Lordship, one does not need to dig deep.

It is a public secret that mayor personally fuels the mayoral car and all his benefits were suspended by the capital authority.

When he sought to suspend his security detail saying he could no longer afford to facilitate them, police insisted he keeps them – apparently so that they can keep tabs on his movement.

Just the other day, he was put under “preventive arrest” when he attempted to hold a rally.

The council that kicked him out is still put. Of the 34 council members, 29 voted for the impeachment of the Mayor.

There is not much evidence that even if he returned to City Hall tomorrow, they would not take the same course of action.

His relationship with the top technocrat at City Hall, the KCCA Executive Director, Jennifer Musiisi has never been worse.

She is the one that wrote to the Electoral Commission (EC) to organise a by-election to replace him as Lord Mayor. Yet President Museveni has extended her contract to 2017.

If Musiisi is Lukwago’s enemy, Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister for Presidency under whose docket KCCA falls, is the grandfather of Lukwago’s political foes.

He constituted the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire Commission upon whose findings and recommendations, the council he led, impeached Lukwago despite having knowledge of a court order by Judge Yasiin Nyanzi halting the process.

Instead of receiving the court order, in which Judge Nyanzi sought to halt the impeachment of the mayor, Tumwebaze directed and watched as security operatives roughed up and threw out a KCCA councilor, Allan Sewanyana, who delivered it.

The same security operatives took their zeal a notch higher and manhandled a lawyer that had come to serve Tumwebaze another court order. A video footage showing all this is among the evidence Lukwago’s lawyer, Abdu Katuntu has furnished court with.

Such impunity appears to suggest clearly from the onset that, whichever way the court cases go, Lukwago’s political opponents, who are much more powerful than he is, would be the winners even if he defeats them in court.

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