By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi
When the Court of Appeal last month struck out a notice of appeal filed by Norbert Mao and his Democratic Party (DP) leadership to protect Mathias Nsubuga’s 2008 election as Secretary General, it appears to have thrown him to the wolves.
“The ruling has cast aside everything that was done by the fake leadership of Mathias Nsubuga as secretary general, in effect upholding the actions of Prof. Joseph Mukiibi’s leadership,” Mao’s lead opponent, Samuel Walter Lubega, told The Independent soon after the ruling, “As a result, I am the rightful DP president.”
Lubega contested the last national presidential elections on independent ticket after being outmanoeuvred by Mao for the DP ticket.
A press release by Bonny Kasujja, a deputy publicity secretary of the Lubega faction claimed that the ruling had returned DP’s leadership to Chairman Prof. Joseph Mukiibi, his Deputy Hajji Ali Sserunjogi and President Samuel Walter Lubega.
Nsubuga convened the controversial Mbale Delegates Conference in 2010 at which Mao was elected to succeed Ssebaana Kizito as leader of Uganda’s oldest party, the DP.
When Secretary General Prof. Ebil Otto left for the US shortly after losing a parliamentary election in 2006, the then DP President, Ssebaana Kizito convened the party’s National Council that elected Mathias Nsubuga as secretary general on August 1, 2008, to the chagrin of deputy Secretary General Lulume Bayiga.
Bayiga said Mathias’ election was unconstitutional, leading to a petition filed by DP members Peter Ochieng, Gerald Kobwemi and four others against the DP leadership and the national Electoral Commission.
Mao’s opponents argue that all the actions Nsubuga took as secretary general, including convening the February 2010 Mbale delegates conference, were illegal.
But in reality, Mao’s opponents still have to apply for a High Court order for the implementation of the Judge Yokoram Bamwine’s ruling that declared Nsubuga’s election illegal
Judge Bamwine on October 26, 2009, quashed the “Decision of the Democratic Party National Council Meeting of 1st August 2008 electing Hon. Mathias Nsubuga as Secretary General of the party.”
He also prohibited the DP President General, National Executive Committee and National Council “from electing and/or confirming the election of Hon. Mathias Nsubuga as Secretary General of the party until a proper meeting is convened to fill the vacancy.”
The ruling further barred the national Electoral Commission from registering Mathias Nsubuga as DP secretary general and ordered the National Council, National Executive Committee, Party President and Party National Chairman “to implement and follow the DP constitution in election of the Secretary General.”
Bamwine also prohibited the DP President General and any other persons “from convening, chairing and/or presiding over any party meetings which they are not authorised by the party’s constitution.”
Bamwine’s ruling was not implemented due to the notice of appeal that Court of Appeal judges, Deputy Chief Justice Mpagi Bahigeine, Constance Byamugisha, and Augustine Nshimye, threw out on July 27.
Nsubuga told The Independent that the Court of Appeal ruling was just “academic since the appeal had already been overtaken by events”.
A lawyer for the anti-Mao faction, Ddamulira Muguluma, thinks otherwise. “Events can’t overtake a court ruling,” he says, “Any action taken by Mathias Nsubuga is illegal.”
Muguluma now says he is awaiting instructions from his clients to apply to the High Court for an order to implement the Bamwine ruling.
Whereas Nsubuga had 60 days to appeal against Bamwine’s ruling, he did not. That is why his opponents went to the Court of Appeal to strike out his notice of appeal.
The ruling came amidst two successive blows to Mao’s leadership of the party. The first one, involving the former DP spokesperson, Mwaka Lutukumoi, crossing to the ruling NRM, was closer to Mao than to DP. They both hail from Gulu Municipality and Lutukumoi is said to have blamed his failed parliamentary bid on lack of support from Mao, who swept the district in the presidential vote.
On July 25, Mao declared that he had been ‘heavily involved’ in the deal in which former Bukoto Central parliamentary candidate Jude Mbabaali, withdrew an election petition against Vice President Edward Sekandi. Some DP members have criticised the decision.
Even without these setbacks Mao has been struggling to get a grip of the party.
Prominent party members who were scattered by the power struggle that brought Mao to power remain at best cold towards his leadership.
Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, whose ambitions for the DP top job are the worst kept secret, says Mao is a “de facto leader of DP” because there are legal issues concerning his leadership.
Other prominent members like Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze and her Buikwe South counterpart, Lulume Bayiga, are in parliament on DP ticket but continue to keep away from party activities and did not support Mao’s 2011 presidential bid.
Mao’s group has reacted with equal vitriol to recent developments.
Fred Mukasa-Mbidde, its legal officer, is vowing to take disciplinary action against party stalwarts Joseph Balikuddembe and Ddamulira Muguluma. They are the legal representatives of the faction that won the court petition. Balikuddembe is a senior Kampala lawyer who has been heavily involved in DP’s legal issues for a long time. Mbidde maintains that Lubega and Lukwago, are no longer members of DP.
If things unravel and he fails to hold DP together, observers say Mao may rue ever ignoring advice from former DP President Paul Ssemogerere and party stalwart Prof. Fredrick Sempeebwa to the Sebaana leadership, of which Mao was vice president, to defer the February 2010 Mbale delegates conference. The duo counselled that reconciliation needed to come first.
At the time, Mao’s response was that reconciliation is a long process, which may even take a life time. If Mao wants to keep national presidential ambitions, he must find rapprochement with the opposing faction. Sadly for him, this might mean losing the DP leadership.