CORNERED! Abim district LCV boss faces jail over sh350m poll petition legal fees debt

Loi Advocates' lawyer Andrew Obam, Electoral Commission's Counsel Antonio Naturinda and Abim District LCV Chairperson Capt (Rtd) Yuventine Omara

Abim District LCV Chairperson Capt (Rtd) Yuventine Omara is in trouble with a city lawyer over legal fees.

To know that things are serious this time, he has been given two weeks to clear the shs350m or face court music and subsequent humiliation.

The money has accumulated over the years as the retired army captain reneged on his responsibility to pay lawyer Andrew Obam and Loi Advocates, a Kampala-based law firm that represented him in three cases involving his election as district boss.

GENESIS

In 2021 Capt Omara trounced Johny De West Ariko in Abim district LCV polls with a margin of about 10000 votes.

Not satisfied with the outcome, Ariko petitioned the High Court in Soroti seeking orders for the nullification of his rival Capt Omara’s victory on grounds that he had not complied with electoral laws.

Ariko’s lawyers of Kob Advocates argued that Omara was yet to formally retire from the national army, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), by the time he sought nomination for the Abim District LCV Chairperson job.

Counsel Andrew Obam led a legal team comprising Loi Advocates (which he works for) and Okwi & Company Advocates to successfully prove that Omara had retired from the national army on June 18, 2020, about four months before he was nominated to contest for the Abim District LCV position.

Among other things, the Obam-led legal team presented Omara’s certificate of retirement from the UPDF, a key piece of evidence, before the temple of justice presided over by Justice Jane Okuo Kajuga.

On August 26, 2021, the judge dismissed the petition, leaving the applicant (Ariko) grumbling.

WHAT THE LAW ON RETIREMENT FROM UPDF SAYS

According to army laws, and in particular , Section 66 of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces Act, 2005, (1) An officer may in writing tender the resignation of his or her commission to the Board but shall not, unless otherwise ordered by the Chief of Defence Forces, be relieved of the duties of his or her appointment until he or she has received notification, in writing, of the approval of his or her resignation by the Board.

Also, (2) The Board shall notify an officer of its decision on his or her application to resign his or her commission within ninety days after receipt of his or her application, and the approval of an application to resign the commission shall not be unreasonably withheld.

And, (3) An officer who resigns his or her commission and resigns from his or her employment in the Defence Forces under any regulations, shall not be exempt from any service in the reserve to which he or she may be liable.

ARIKO NOT CONVINCED

Unhappy with Okuo’s ruling, Ariko appealed the judgment in the Court of Appeal.

The petitioner prayed that the Court of Appeal bench of Deputy Chief Justice Richard Butera, Irene Mulyagonja and Catherine Bamugemereire (recently appointed to the Supreme Court) sets aside the decision and order the trial judge and that the justices direct that that Soroti Election Petition No 007 of 2021 be returned to the High Court for it to be tried on its merits.

On July 19, 2022, after hearing submissions from the appellant’s lawyer Jude Byamukama, respondent Omara’s lead counsel Andrew Obam and the Electoral Commission’s Antonia Natukunda, the three-judge bench unanimously set aside the ruling by Justice Okuo (the trial judge), and directed that the petition be returned to the High Court for hearing on its merits before another judge.

On March 09, 2023, Justice Isah Serunkuma of the Soroti High Court nullified the election of Omara as the Abim District LCV Chairperson, declared the position vacant and ordered the EC to conduct a by-election “as soon as possible.”

Again, represented by Counsel Obam, Omara filed an appeal against Justice Serunkuma’s decision. He also moved to block the execution of Serunkuma’s ruling until the matter was disposed of in the Court of Appeal.

On April 06, 2023, Justice Dr Henry Peter Adonyo of Soroti High Court, ruled that the execution of orders issued by his colleague Justice Serunkuma be stayed pending the determination of appeal filed by the applicant (Omara) in the Court of Appeal “or until the end of the three months within which the Court of Appeal is enjoined to have determined the appeal, whichever comes earlier.”

The Court of Appeal is yet to rule on Omara’s application.

SILENT HERO

Behind Omara has been Counsel Andrew Obam, a brilliant and determined lawyer, who is now complaining that the embattled Abim District boss has not paid him for his legal services in the multiple cases.

For example, while Obam (of Loi Advocates) represented Omara in the first case in 2021 alongside Okwi & Company Advocates, the LCV chairperson only paid the latter company, leaving Obam – who was lead counsel and doing almost all the paperwork – complaining. He says he went ahead to “singlehandedly” defend Omara when Ariko appealed Justice Okuo’s ruling in the Court of Appeal.

“The case was referred back for a re-trial at Soroti High Court, where I represented him without getting any pay,” Obam told this publication.

“When the court ordered for a re-trial, a Notice of appeal was filed through my law firm and the applicant co-opted for another lawyer without paying me despite filing a Notice of appeal currently pending determination at the Court of Appeal.”

OBAM RUNS OUT OF PATIENCE

Left with no choice, on January 31, this year, Loi Advocates’ Obam wrote to Capt (Rtd) Omara demanding Shs350m in legal fees.

The lawyer has threatened to take the matter to court if the district boss does not meet his demand in two weeks time.

Obam has also notified Omara that he will no longer represent him in any temple of justice.

“The above matter refers; wherein upon my legal representation at High Court Soroti, both at commencement of the Election petition and Re-trial at the same court, as well as legal representation at Court of Appeal, in Kampala, I do hereby demand which action will be proceeded with an Advocates’ Client’s bill of costs, to be filed in the two subsequent courts for taxation, the Sum of Ugx 350,000,000/= (Three Hundred and Fifty Million, Uganda Shillings) as costs, for my legal representation in the election petition that ensued and a Notice to cease my legal indulgence,” Obam’s notice to Omara reads in part.

“This serves as a notice to wit the same shall be preceded within a 14 days’ Notice for your indulgence, failure of which the legal due process shall commence against you without fail.”

CAPT OMARA FIRES BACK

Capt Omara has since fired back revealing that “some people are misinforming Obam.” He even alleged that the city lawyer had connived with his opponent (Ariko) lawyers in an attempt to make him lose the case and his seat.

He went on to say that insiders in the Ariko legal camp and in the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) had told him that he had a weak team representing him in court.

That it was because of this realization that the NRM had instructed Counsel Evans Ochieng to represent him in the Court of Appeal.

Regarding payments to Counsel Obam, Omara noted that while he had made no agreement with the lawyer on how much he would pay him for his legal services, he had paid him up to Shs7m over the years.

The retired army captain confessed that with his monthly pay of Shs1.5m, he is unable to pay Shs350m, adding that Counsel Obam himself knows that there is no way he can get that amount – and that the lawyer had promised to offer him a “helping hand.”

“He knows very well I don’t have money. Should I sell my children? If there is a market let him look for market and I sell my children and he gets that money. I have my three children, I will let them look for the market,” Omara suggested in a response to this publication when he was contacted.

“Should I go and lay a roadblock and begin stealing money from people? He wants me to go and steal?”

Capt Omara even threatened to drag Obam to the Uganda Law Council to have his matter resolved.

“The step he has taken is a very wrong step. One of us may die because of stress. That [notice] is the paper I am going to use against him because this is Obam who I paid really fully and he left the matter in the middle. As I talk now the matter is lying in the Court of Appeal. What does it say about him?” he said.

“I am also thinking if Obam continues like this, I am coming to Kampala to report a case against him [at the Uganda Law Council] on what he is doing because that is not how lawyers should work.”



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