A stickler for time-keeping, a devilish adherent to the Rules of Procedure,a love of life,dapper to a fault,Jacob L’Okori Oulanyah, just days away from making 57,was man who courted love and controversy-in equal measure, in life and now in death.
Oulanyah was announced dead on Sunday morning by President Yoweri Museveni,passing away from a Seatle Hospital after being hospitalized for months. He becomes Uganda’s first sitting Speaker to die in office.
In his passing,we will always know that the Man for Omoro was always meant for the House. Oulanyah’s love for debate has always been undiminished. Right from his early days at Dr Milton Obote College ,Boro Boro to Makerere University where he served as Guild Speaker,then the heady times as the Omoro County MP in the Seventh,he was always the man you want on the microphone.
Some have opined that he used his gift of the gab to bootlick his was to power. He in/famously likened President Museveni to ‘Jesus’. A man who wore his heart by his sleeves,he was soo eager to pour out praises for President Museveni at the slightest chance.
Every man has his rubicon line,a point of no-return and Oulanyah had his. You can say he had many rubicon lines and he did not back away from taking the plunge. The Seventh Parliament was a make-or-break House for Uganda. President Museveni was meant to be serving his last year, before the removal of term limits.
Oulanyah was the Chairperson of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee that was charged with dealing with the issue of removal of term limits.The “Oulanyah Committee” compiled a report that largely made way for the removal of term limits. As a punishment for his misdeeds,the people of Omoro sent him packing in 2006.
That was a point of reckoning for the bow-tied man;a stick or twist moment. Stick with the UPC or twist to the NRM. He chose the latter and he never looked back. In 2011,as a reward for ditching UPC,the NRM CEC tapped him for Deputy Speaker.
In his first term as Deputy Speaker,the office was akin to a poisoned chalice for him. It’s like he had been given a rope by the NRM to hang himself. He publicly whined about being set up by the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to preside over hot bills like the Public Order Management Bill and the Petroleum(Exploration,Development and Production) Bill. Oulanyah and Kadaga did not hide their resentment for the other.
Those lucky enough to have enjoyed his company know one of his favorite tales from his first term as Deputy Speaker. Oulanyah famously said that he gave counsel to President Museveni about the impugned appointment of Gen Aronda Nyakairima(RIP) as the Internal Affairs Minister while he was still a serving soldier in 2013.
The appointment of Gen. Aronda had been so controversial that President Museveni convened a meeting with then Speaker Rebecca Kadaga,then Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Jacob Oulanyah,who was the Deputy Speaker then.
Museveni’s question to his legal gurus was in black and white: “What law stops the appointment of a serving soldier in a Ministerial position,”?. Kadaga and Mbabazi went mute. Oulanyah shot up.“Mr President,what the law does not forbid,the law allows,”Oulanyah counselled. As they say,the rest is history.
After the easy win in 2011,his subsequent contests in Omoro County were not smooth-sailing. The 2016 race was too grueling that then Speaker Rebecca Kadaga quipped that he had “3Kgs of political weight”.
Oulanya’s real and defining battles were to come in the contest for Speaker. In 2016,Oulanyah respected the NRM CEC ruling and opted out of the race for Speaker. In 2021,with the NRM’s backing,he took on Kadaga head on and won the race.
He did not live to enjoy the toils of his contests. His notable Business as Speaker was presiding over the Budget Day in June last year.