A joint force of presidential guards, the elite Special Forces Command (SFC) soldiers and police officers attached to parliament forcibly pulled out several legislators opposed to lifting the age limit from the chambers of parliament on Wednesday afternoon.
Recall that the commotion began yesterday, ahead of a debate on whether to grant long-serving President Yoweri Museveni another term in office. The move to extend Museveni’s rule has met widespread opposition from civic rights activists, the political opposition, religious leaders and even some members of Museveni’s own ruling party.
On Wednesday, the House proceedings was disrupted when fighting broke out between opposition and NRM MPs, forcing the Speaker to adjourn the House.
In a scuffle that lasted more than an hour, at least 30 SFC soldiers in plain clothes poured into the chambers to pick at least 25 MPs who were named and suspended by the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga for three sittings at the beginning of the session, for engaging in disorderly conduct during yesterday’s plenary sitting.
The operation was commanded by Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander, Frank Mwesigwa, who was seen earlier in the day, patrolling the precincts of Parliament with the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura.
Those suspended from the House include Ronald Kibuule the state minister of Water, who was accused of carrying a firearm during the House sitting, an act Kadaga explained was a violation of Rule 74 of the Rules of Procedure.
“I have received some terrible information that Hon Kibuule endangered the safety of members by bringing a firearm into this House. I have checked the footage and Hon Kibuule did not go through security checks. He came through the Office of the President into the North wing and into this chamber so I will be suspending you,” Kadaga announced.
Kadaga also suspended 23 opposition legislators, whom she accused of flouting the House rules by engaging in chaotic behavior. They will not be allowed to access Parliament, including committee and plenary sittings.
“The Speaker was not heard in silence. Members were standing, jumping over tables and chairs; they were dressed in a manner that contravened the Rules and despite calls from the Speaker to sit down and be orderly, this was not adhered to. Some members crossed from one side to another in a menacing manner…This Parliament is a place to speak, to exchange views even if you don’t have the same views,” she reminded the legislators.
When the Speaker directed them to leave the chambers with immediate effect, only Kibuule and Mbwatekamwa complied. The opposition legislators refused to budge and kept shouting, “procedure, procedure”.
However, Kadaga did not budge and ordered them to leave immediately or be forced out by officers from the Sergeant-at-Arms. When the MPs remained defiant, Kadaga suspended the House for 30 minutes.
At that point, the police officers walked into the chambers to escort the MPs out but the legislators instead grabbed the microphone stands and tried to scare away the officers.
Some legislators were seen shoving the police officers away, prompting more commotion that saw the SFC soldiers enter the chamber and grab MPs indiscriminately. MPs Odonga, Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and Hassan Kaps Fungaroo (Obongi) jumped on the Table of the House, where the mace is usually placed, with microphone stands and warned the officers against touching them.
Zaake pulled out his belt and repeatedly tried to whip the officers. Other MPs hurled chairs at the officers, leaving one of the Parliament police officers bleeding profusely.
The provocation saw the SFC officers, three or four at a go, lunge at the MPs and drag them out of the House. Ssemujju was the first victim to be dragged out. Others followed suit, however the opposition MPs did not go without a fight.
One of the SFC officers jumped on the seats and grabbed Nabila Naggayi Ssempala (Kampala Woman) and tried to drag her out. However, some MPs nearby rushed to save her. It was not until one of his fellow officers shouted that she is not on the list of suspended MPs that were suspended that she got relief.
Former Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) and State Minister of Works, Gen. Katumba Wamala tried to quell the commotion by calling for calm and speaking to the SFC officers; however this did not help save matters.
For close to two hours, the suspended MPs were dragged out, one by one and swiftly taken to the North Wing entrance, opposite National Theatre, where a number of police pickup trucks were waiting to whisk them off to unknown destinations.
At least three MPs fainted, including Osegge, Lucy Achiro (Aruu North) and Angiro Gutumoi (Erute North). Zaake has also been admitted in hospital.