Makerere University lecturer TANGA ODOI is the new chairperson of the electoral commission of the ruling NRM. Dr Odoi talked to Sulaiman Kakaire about his new job and the impending NRM primaries, among other issues. Below are excerpts:
I understand the programme for the NRM primaries has changed. What is the new programme?
Our tentative plan is to hold elections for the NRM structures on July 15 and the primaries will happen around August. This also depends on when the presidential campaigns start. If presidential campaigns start in November, like we are praying for, then we should conduct primary elections in August so that we handle conflicts in September.
Critics say you have not addressed the issues that marred the 2010 primaries.
I know there is a group that wants to take aantage of the people who lost in the 2010 primaries. You see there are two groups. There is that group that wanted to organise a conference at Pope Paul VI Memorial Centre that group is a sham.
They are not as organised as the other group, which has brought their memorandum and complaint to the president. The group of Jackson Ojok is the genuine one. They met the secretary general and submitted their document requesting the president to meet them or meet their costs. The president accepted and he is going to handle it.
You talk of a group interested in exploiting this confusion, who is behind this group?
What I know is that there are so many people who tend to take aantage of impending situations. They think that they can arm twist the president and the party…I do not want to be a conspiracy theorist who thinks that there is someone behind them but I want to request them to look at the NRM as their party. If there are internal issues within their party, they should be solved from within.
Some people have claimed that this group mostly has Amama Mbabazi supporters!
I don’t want to accuse anybody. Since they are members who were intending to be honourable MPs, I think they have their mind…I want to be categorical about Hon Amama Mbabazi. He has not come out to say he has left the party or that he is running for president.
But as a senior member of the party, he has a [duty] to make sure the party is stable… The NRM is entrenched up to the grassroots…People waste time on conspiracy theories. If you want to be a president, then mobilise. President Museveni has mobilised for years.
It appears NRM has already decided who will be its flag bearer in 2016. Where do the other interested people stand?
I want to be categorical. Any person who is eligible should come and stand but will have an uphill task. President Museveni will win the next election. It is the MPs who are seen as non-performers who will have an uphill task.
The other day you said that NRM does not have a voters’ register, how will you conduct elections without one?
It is true we inherited a situation in this secretariat, which if we didn’t have g hearts, some of us would have resigned. Inheriting a situation where you do not have a viable bank account. We did not inherit a register. If a register was here, we would simply perfect that.
We are in the process of creating a register, which we should own as the NRM electoral commission and the NRM secretariat. Even if we had got the register, we would not have ownership over it because we do not know how it was done.
The yellow books are already being printed and we shall take them to the local people and start registration. We are behind schedule but we are not panicking.
What do you think about the raging debate on electoral reforms?
I think they [reforms] need to be debated. And I do not think NRM is naive to that debate. I support electoral reforms, which will bring stability to this country. I will not support those which are purposely meant to have this regime sent away.
We want a debate which involves the local people but not only a group of civil society members who are holders of PhDs and master’s degrees.
What is your view on the proposal to remove the presidential age limit?
It still goes back to legislature. But, at a personal level, if you impose term limits or age limits, it should be for all elected people including MPs. Why are they bringing it in respect to the president? I think age is wisdom. I think let’s judge someone with regard to their performance, not age.
So, you think President Museveni can carry on after 75?
I am not a scientist but I am also aware that we have had young men who have failed because of their excitement levels. My father is 94 years and my mother is 91. These are the people I consult. Would I wish them away? No. Let the president do his work.
You were appointed by the party chairperson how independent is your commission from his influence?
The NRM electoral commission is a by-product of the NRM. It is answerable to the central executive committee (CEC), which is chaired by the president. That is the legal framework. In the best practice, the chairperson of the party has to dialogue with the electoral commission of the party.
What had messed up the electoral commission of the NRM was the fusion of the secretariat with the commission. We are trying to say [that] we are answerable to the president because he is the chairperson of CEC. But even when we consult him, I have enjoyed working with him because he has allowed us as a young team to make our suggestions.
But you have to know that the chairperson, who is going to be a presidential candidate, if he wants, will not have the stick to cane the electoral commission when another candidate goes through.
Some people are campaigning ahead of your timetable, what are you doing about that?
The secretary general has warned and issued g directives that campaigns have not started. When I was in Namutumba at a function, I made the same view known to the people.
My warning was that if I find someone campaigning before time, as chairperson, I have powers to summon you to the tribunal and disqualify you. We must establish order.
Are you going to penalise the president since his team is also marketing the sole candidacy?
He is not campaigning. Fortunately or unfortunately, he is a sitting president. If he goes around the country to talk about Operation Wealth Creation, he is talking about government programmes. Now when you come to the issue of sole candidate, the president I know has never come out to declare that he is a sole candidate.
When are you resigning your teaching position at Makerere University because the NRM constitution requires you to do so?
When I get my instruments [of appointment], I will resign. But even when I resign, I will conduct voluntary lectures. I will have to give back to Makerere because it made me what I am today.
You were made EC chairperson to balance power in the politics of Tororo district, what does it mean for your political ambition?
I know that there are people who think that Fox Odoi [MP for West Budama North] helped me get this job…My taking of this job was on the basis of what President Museveni wanted of me…and how he talked to me… what people have lost [in my appointment] is what I would have done as MP but I think there are other credible people going to stand.
As a historian, are you satisfied with the direction the country is taking?
As a political historian and who can testify that the country came from very far, I am satisfied to be at a level which we have never been. We have reached a very high level. There are very few things to correct…we are the icon of the region…we are not a failed state.
You are considered a rabble-rouser. Won’t this be an impediment to your success?
As a chairman, my character is clear. Anyone without academic papers, don’t waste your time. I have come from Makerere and I know the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb). If the president and first lady have clear [academic] papers, who are you?
Source : The Observer