Soweto, South Africa | IAN KATUSIIME | It is said being Attorney General is among the worst jobs in government. As the government’s legal advisor, one has to possibly take a number of untenable positions for the sake of the government. And one could say that Peter Nyombi who passed away on Oct.7 had his turn when he served as Uganda’s Attorney General from 2011 to 2015.
While in office, Nyombi had so many disagreements with fellow lawyers that Uganda Law Society, (ULS) the association of lawyers in Uganda resolved to suspend him from the body in August 2013. Nyombi scoffed at the suspension asserting that he was the head of the bar in Uganda. But it was a defining moment for his tenure as the Attorney General.
Peter Nyombi was born in 1954 among the Baruuli community based in Nakasongola, central Uganda. He went to Nakasongola Primary School and King’s College Budo for his secondary education. He completed his law degree at Makerere University in 1976. He enrolled for a diploma in legal practice at Law Development Centre (LDC).
After he left LDC, Nyombi started a long career as a civil servant and first worked as a state attorney in the ministry of justice. Here, he was appointed to work in the department of public prosecution.
In 1986 when a new government under YoweriMuseveni took power, Nyombi was appointed as counsel to one of the several commissions appointed to probe abuses of past regimes.
When the Inspectorate of Government was established in 1988, Nyombi was one of the first staff to join the institution as a member of the legal department.
In 1994, like many of his contemporaries in government then, Nyombi contested for a seat in the Constituent Assembly. He stood to represent Buruuli County and lost. He soughtthe same seat in the 1996 general electionsand lost again.
Nyombi was elevated to the position of Legal Director in the Inspectorate of Government until he left in 2000.In 2006, he was elected MP for BuruuliCounty on an Independent ticket. “He was more of NRM though,” says Wilfred Niwagaba, MP for NdorwaEast with whom they joined parliament.
As one of the so- called rebel MPs in the NRM, Niwagaba says he had several run-ins with Nyombi. Niwagaba and others were critical of certain party positions and Nyombi often came into try to rein them in whenever he could.
Role as Attorney General
Nyombi’s toughest year was possibly 2013 as he found himself at the centre of major political issues.
On May 8, 2013, Nyombi wrote to the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, advising her to reverse her decision when she refused to declare the seats of the so-called rebel MPs vacant as per a Constitutional Court ruling.
The appointment of the late Gen. ArondaNyakairima as minister for Internal Affairs in May 2013 also brought Nyombiinto the spotlight. As opposition MPs and civil society rose up in arms over the unconstitutionality of a serving army officer joining cabinet and partisan politics, Nyombiin Nyakairima’sdefence, said legally it was not a problem.
Perhaps the most controversial issue Nyombi was embroiled in was President Museveni’s re-appointment of Benjamin Odoki as Chief Justice after the latter had attained the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Nyombi backed Museveni’s decision to the chagrin of the Judicial Service Commission which strongly advised Museveniagainst Odoki’s re-appointment.
The re-appointment was sharplycriticised by lawyers, MPs, and the general public as unconstitutional but Nyombi argued that the appointment of a chief justice was the preserve of the president.
The Supreme Court later ruled the re-appointment of Odoki as unconstitutional following a petition filed by MP Gerald Karuhanga.