By Joan Akello
Samuel Odonga Otto, the opposition Forum for Democratic Change’s Aruu County Member of Parliament spoke to The Independent’s Joan Akello about politics and his retirement plans.
What are you thinking of lately?
I am making a deliberate effort to work on my brain. I am still not sure this is the state of mind I am comfortable with. I do not know what I am going to be tomorrow but Angel Gabriel is guiding me and the Virgin Mary is always by my side. The public does not know my personality; they just do not know who I am. What they think I am, I am not and that is deliberate.
What distinctive achievements have you made?
I have published two books-Theory and practice of parliamentary practice: A Parliamentarian’s Perspective and Tears of a War Survivor and it is a best seller at Aristoc. Being an MP, anybody can be an MP. Maybe becoming one at 23 years and 3 months after completing university and hanging on. This is my last term; I’m left with about 17 months to become former MP.
But in 2013 you said that you would contest to unseat deputy speaker Jacob Oulanyah in Omoro what has happened?
I changed that position and pulled out of the constituency because I realised there was no compromise among us the opposition candidates. It would still give a win for the deputy speaker. When you change constituencies, it is not for the sake of it; you must win. If you lose, everyone will blame you. BecauseI had said I am not running in Aruu again, the only option was to retire. I badly want to retire. If this parliament could be wound up in three to four months I would be the happiest person.
What are you dying to do after retiring?
I think I need to regain my innocence; this job is training me to be a thug and I know this because I am an ex- seminarian who should have been a Catholic priest. I need to get back to myself because as of now, I’m a public good; I do not control the direction of how my day starts or ends. For example the first call I had one morning was land wrangles in Aruu and the second one was about a dead body in Mulago Hospital and the next one school fees. I think I need a break, step aside and watch whether what I was doing was the best. What motivates me the most to leave is that the NRM party is committing treason on a daily basis. They have taken over the mandate of parliament. Right now we are redundant here, we cannot transact any business because all business of the national parliament of Uganda is being transacted from Kyankwanzi, and it is rehearsed there and played here in parliament.So what is the motivation to hang on here; is it the money?
I need to hibernate politically. It does not mean that I will cease to engage with the community. I am a lawyer and will do my own work because since I was in primary four I have been in politics, I have never done anything else. I was prefect in primary and secondary school, guild president at the university and immediately became MP and therefore I am so loud that I am unemployable.
Why can’t the opposition have its own caucus?
We have one but what can a caucus of 36 people do to people who are over 300? So the frustration comes from the electorate and the more we explain to them, the less they understand. I would have betrayed a generation if I changed political parties. I am not willing to do that. So in the circumstances I just say that this is where the story ends for now.
Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) will be holding elections for a new leadership team, what position will you vie for?
I have reservation to the extent that if I run in the next election, I will not run under FDC.
It’s a personality problem; I do not push. The little toughness I have is to protect the softness. I will definitely deny them one more seat which is Aruu in the next election because they have no capacity whatsoever to claim Aruu County without me even if I go as an independent I will still get that seat. The main issue with FDC is that we are not agreeing with the novice approach of Gen. Mugisha Muntu. His approach does not work. I personally campaigned for him when he became the party president. He is a thorough and perfect man, a good ‘saveddee’, I am a failed ‘saveddee’. You can predict the direction a leader wants to take a party by the choice of his team. Now, you bring Wafula Oguttu, someone who has just joined parliament, does not understand procedure to be the Leader of opposition. You pick your contemporaries or age mates like Reagan Okumu, Kassiano Wadri and Okupa Elijah and then give them positions.
The committed and outspoken opposition politicians like myself, Abdu Katuntu, Nandala Mafabi, Patrick Amuriat Oboi who were at the centre of all these activities in Kampala were selectively sidelined from critical positions. Even when the party resolved that those who were not paying subscription fees like Reagan Okumu should not be given any position but because of the weaknesses of the party president, he picked those people and gave them sensitive positions like the Parliamentary Commission. So you see that that there is a personality disorder.
So those of us giving hope to Ugandans, and having running battles with the police on a daily basis, have all retreated. We say, well, this is your winning team, good luck and now you can see where we are going. They have virtually been crippled and are operating like a Non- Government Organisation (NGO). We are getting farther and farther from State House just as day follows night. These are some of the tactical miscalculations Mugisha Muntu made as far as some of us are concerned. Now do you know how many youths I command countrywide with my kind of political approach and in all districts of Uganda? They are more than Muntu’s. I’m personally not against him.
Unfortunately, most of the people Gen. Muntu seems to be working with are people who do not even dream to take power; they have accepted that being in the opposition is also a noble cause. Even as we go for the elections in 2016, some of them are even planning who is going to be the Leader of opposition. I am not going to be a person who is going to lead people into this kind of pessimism. I will not contest in the election, win, get a high paying job, a brand new car, get comfortable and then we keep telling people that the change is coming.
I think that people are getting tired of the same usual things we have been telling Ugandans since 1996.Our appeal is continuing to diminish; we are even worse than magicians who try to explain why the magic failed. More people seem to be jumping off the opposition bandwagon and getting into the Movement system not because they love Museveni but its appeal has diminished and survival is more difficult. You cannot keep singing the old song. The lullaby does not even make a dizzy child sleep. When I say this, they say I have compromised.
So if we do not do something exceptional, we will be seeing Museveni getting close to 74percent in the next election and the opposition members in parliament dwindling from 37 to about 23. What explains the fact that the independents are leaning towards the NRM not the opposition and not being independent? What explains why people are in Kyankwanzi with a clean conscience? They do not feel they are doing the wrong thing. Why don’t they feel that Ugandans are watching or will blame them? Something must explain why things are happening like this.
You say that you will not accept any ministerial post but recently, the President said he is going to have a government of the children and you can see his engagement with young turks like Evelyn Anite, Richard Todwong, what do you think about his statement?
First of all, I cannot work with President Museveni; even if I am made minister I cannot repair what I have destroyed. Over the years I have traveled all over the country telling people how the regime is not good and should not be in government. My areas of disagreement with NRM are substantial. One is that the government is for the rich not for the poor; when you get knocked by a boda boda, no ambulance will come; if you have no one to call you are a dead person.
The ordinary man is virtually nowhere because the government has been extensively privatized where survival is for the fittest. It is a government where man eats man. I have not seen any kind of government like this in the world. In South Africa, the ANC (Africa National Congress) builds 10,000 low cost housing for local people every year, in United Kingdom, you fall down and an ambulance will come in the next five minutes and it is the same in Rwanda. The social protection for the last man is more pronounced.
You have been so controversial for the last 15 years you have been at Parliament such as bringing your family to demonstrate that you are a man, tearing the order paper in 2013 and also seen to accept the president’s bribes, why?
In fact, if I receive a phone call and I am told that there is Shs 110 million the President wants to give every MP to remove the age limit, I will call off this interview. I disagree that when the president wants to bribe MPs, opposition MPs should reject or refund the money. I will accept that money because I know nobody has sold his cows in Rwakitura. This is money from the state coffers and therefore public money that is supposed to provide basic social services. My area woman MP the other day got Shs 300 million and bought bicycles for the constituency.
I have nothing to show for the years I have spent at parliament. So I am looking for that money so that maybe I can do the same thing. i want to show that you can receive the money but not do what it is for; I would be the first to object removal of the age limit in parliament. Controversial things I have done in the past 15 years in parliament were all because I am a very courageous person. It has worked for me and some people but also caused others trouble or made them bitter or angry.
What has been the most courageous thing you have done as MP?
In 2007, the President invited all MPs under 35 for dinner at State House but we had disagreements amongst ourselves on who would lead the delegation. Members like Rose Namayanja, Justine Lumumba said that it would be better if somebody from their party-National ResistanceMovement (NRM) led and presented our issues to the President but I had told them that I was better placed. So when we had finished the main course, I stood up but the President said, `Hon Odonga Otto does not know that here we serve a four course meal’ and my colleagues laughed. But I did not sit down but rather said that the people in the camps back at home have only one course every day. When I said this, I silenced the president. He pretended to be eating his food and only spoke after about three minutes.