Part 4: As a judge, Steven Kavuma did not forget his NRM roots

Nile Post News
By the time Justice Steven Kavuma dealt with Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, it had emerged that he was still listed in the NRM constitution as one of the party’s promoters at number 163.
This came to the fore in 2013 during the hearing of a constitution petition in which the NRM wanted four of its MPs who had been dubbed “rebels” to be ejected out from parliament citing their rejection of party positions.
The MP’s were: Mohammed Nsereko (Kampala Central), Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga), Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), and Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa West).
Through their lawyer, Peter Walubiri, they asked Kavuma to recuse  himself from  the case, flashing the NRM  constitution  as evidence to show that he indeed was promoter of the ruling party  which was the protagonist in the petition.
Of course like he had done in the past, Kavuma declined to yield to calls that he leaves the coram of five judges who were hearing the case, citing the judicial oath he took before he assumed office as a judge of the Constitutional court/ Court of Appeal.
As he was ruffling feathers with lawyers in court, the legal fraternity had heard enough of having Kavuma acting both as chief justice and deputy chief justice.
First, the Legal Brains Trust (LBT), a human rights watch dog, filed a suit in the High court civil division, challenging the suggestion that Kavuma could hold both positions.
The new law year of 2015 soon set in, and it was Kavuma to preside over as the acting chief justice, something which had never happened before.
The Uganda Law Society (ULS) ordered its members to boycott the ceremony on the account that President Museveni had refused to appoint a substantive chief justice and the deputy, for two years despite endless assurances.
They also argued that Kavuma had no legitimacy to preside over the ceremony.
Majority of the lawyers did not turn up but Kavuma, in true Machiavellian style, isn’t one to be fazed by any kind of criticism.
At a rare press conference organized after the ceremony, Kavuma brushed off the absence of advocates contending that the presence of the attorney general [then Peter Nyombi] who is the head of the bar, was enough to legitimize the function.
Piling more pressure, the Constitutional court which Kavuma ironically headed, had earlier ruled that it was illegal for him to hold both positions in acting capacity.
If that message wasn’t clear, judicial officers at a 2015, February, judges conference didn’t leave anything to imagination.
In his presence, Kavuma, who kept his cool, was jeered by judicial officers who openly referred to Justice Yorokamu Bamwine, the principal judge, as their leader.
The message from the public and judicial officers was loud and clear and on March 5, 2015, President Museveni succumbed and appointed Justice Bart Katureebe, then the most senior judge at the Supreme court, as the chief Justice.
But Museveni, as a trade off, appointed Kavuma as the substantive deputy chief justice leaving his critics dumbfounded.
The appointment of a substantive chief justice and his deputy was expected to usher in a period of tranquility and serenity in the already struggling judiciary.
It did not. The problem as usual was Kavuma. A group of lawyers would later plunge the judiciary into turmoil  when they claimed that  contrary to the law, Kavuma had neither applied nor been recommended  by the Judicial Service Commission but,  he somehow, got  the job of deputy chief Justice.
But in an interview with one of the local papers in aftermath of his appointment, Kavuma said: “I was not interested in the position of the chief justice. I never applied for it. I only applied for the position of deputy chief justice.”
Gerald Karuhanga, who was the Western Youth MP, at the time, and city advocate Eron Kiiza did not buy Kavuma’s explanations.
Through their lawyer, Professor George Wilson Kanyeihamba, a retired Supreme curt judge, the two plotted to file a petition challenging Kavuma’s appointment just before he could be vetted by parliament.
The petitioners were under the illusion that by filing the petition early, parliament would stay Kavuma’s vetting –   they were wrong as Kavuma had set up contingency plan to out maneuver his opponents.
On the face of it, everything was in Kavuma‘s favour because he was the boss at the Constitutional court where Karuhanga and Kiiza where going to file the petition that would perhaps up end his dream.
So on the morning of March 18, 2014, there was drama at the Constitutional court when a frustrated Kanyeihamba publically wept after the court staff tossed him about as he tried to file the petition. A kilometer or so away, parliament was putting final touches on the approval process of Kavuma as deputy chief Justice.
On the third floor of Twed Towers, where the constitutional court is located, Kanyeihamba was being tossed up and down by clerks who were clearly not interested in handling his petition.
Minutes later, news filtered through that Kavuma had been approved leaving Kanyeihamba to lick his wounds.
With his position as deputy chief justice secured and his grip on the court tightened Kavuma started issuing controversial interim orders arising from constitutional petitions. This, according to people familiar with the court, soiled the court’s image and angered many of its judges.
Kavuma then went into full political mode.
On April 30, 2016, Kavuma issued an interim order banning the “defiance” campaign activities orchestrated by the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and its former leader Dr Kizza Besigye.
The activities which Kavuma banned included weekly prayers and the countrywide demonstrations protesting what the political party activists claimed was rigging in the February 18, 2016 elections. This he did at around 7.00 PM, without listening from the FDC lawyers.
The petition was later withdrawn since Kavuma’s interim order had served the purpose of illegalizing defiance activities.
Police arrested many activists who had to gone ahead to participate in the prayers accusing them of being in contempt of Kavuma’s orders
Then there was a time when it appeared as if police chief Gen Kale Kayihura together with a half dozen police officers were destined to face criminal prosecution at Makindye chief magistrates’ court for beating up Besigye’s supporters.
The much anticipated trial never took place when on August 26, 2016; Kavuma issued an order stopping it, following a petition lodged by Robert Rutaroh, an NRM youth activist and a former guild president at Makerere University.