Age limit: Makerere don warns NRM on opening Pandora’s box

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Prof Joe Oloka-Onyango

Joe Oloka-Onyango, a Professor of Law at Makerere University School of Law where he has also formerly been Dean and Director of the Human Rights and Peace Centre, in a letter to The Observer, said anybody with even a slight sense of history, the developments at parliament over the last several days must bring back an acute sense of shock and grief.

“Our ancestors of constitutionalism such as James Wapakhabulo (the chairperson of the Constituent Assembly) and the thousands of other martyrs who have passed on in the name of liberation, must be turning in their graves,” Onyango wrote.

He said since the enactment of the ‘Pigeonhole’ Constitution in 1966 have Uganda has seen government troops amassed at the legislative assembly in a bid to intimidate and force through a constitutional change such as the one being proposed with respect to the removal of age limits.

“While the young MPs behind the move may be forgiven because they were not alive at the time, for an old man like President Museveni, it is a damning indictment of every criticism he has ever made of previous governments and of all the principles he has claimed to stand for.”

“Milton Obote must be laughing his head off wherever he is. However, the proposed action by the MPs has serious implications for our constitutional jurisprudence and the rule of law. As a matter of fact, it amounts to contempt of court and of the 1995 Constitution.”

The proponents of the constitutional amendment claim that it is a response to the Supreme Court decision in the case of Amama Mbabazi Vs YK Museveni and the Electoral Commission, he argues.

He said among the holdings in that case was a direction to the attorney general to propose amendments to the constitution. However, the issue of changing the age limits was never part of the recommendations.

“If the limits on the age of a presidential candidate are removed, it implies there is no other limitation which can be imposed that will pass constitutional muster; thus, my eight-year-old nephew should be allowed to vote and a person without any academic qualifications should be eligible to run for a parliamentary seat. In sum, the proposed amendment is opening up a veritable Pandora’s Box.”

Finally, the 1995 Constitution was based on certain fundamental principles including ensuring that our history of political and constitutional instability is not repeated, Onyango wrote.