How Lawyers Lost Their Flair Trying To Bring Down Their Own

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A few years ago, I joined Makerere University to study the Prestigious Law Course.

In his first lecture, our Constitutional Law lecturer, Dr. Daniel Ruhweza asked us to introduce ourselves by name and former school.

When his turn came, an obviously overweight gentleman (he would later invite me to join his weight loss journey since I am also overweight but I chickened out) seated in one of the corners of the lecture hall introduced himself thus: “Solomon Nyombi, King’s College Budo.”

Clearly surprised, Dr. Daniel Ruhweza, who has since written an interesting book entitled: “We don’t teach that at University, “ (You can buy it here) queried the young man; “Are you related to Peter Nyombi? Is he your father or Uncle?”

For starters, Hon. Peter Nyombi, who died five years ago, was Uganda’s Attorney General from 2011 to 2015 and according to the legendary former Supreme Court Judge Prof. George Kanyeihamba, “no Attorney General in the world I know of has ever been condemned so much almost universally by his legal fraternity.”

The Attorney General is the chief lawyer for the Government of Uganda, according to the Constitution.

I don’t remember exactly what Mr. Solomon Ignatius Nyombi replied to Dr. Ruhweza’s question because he was a bit inaudible (maybe due to discomfort) but my gut feeling tells me it was a “ Yes.”

So, we (or at least I) confirmed that a relative of a big, powerful government official was in our midst.

I would later become friends with Mr. Solomon Nyombi and confused about his humility and seeming frugality (he used to share with me his knack for saving money), I one day asked him why he didn’t drive since he was from a seemingly rich family background given his father’s status.

In response, Solomon Nyombi told me a car would have brought him “bad friends” and besides “instead of reading cases, I would spend time tending to it.”

One of the must-read cases for any law student seeking to understand Constitutional law in Uganda is the case of Gerald Karuhanga Vs. Attorney General which was filed by then Western Uganda Youth Member of Parliament, Mr. Gerald Karuhanga.

This case challenged President Yoweri Museveni’s re-appointment upon the legal advice of Mr. Solomon Nyombi’s father; Attorney General Peter Nyombi of Retired Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki after he attained the mandatory retirement age of a Chief Justice of 70 years. 

Now, law school lectures (at least at Makerere) tend to be animated, and punctuated with argument and it is not uncommon for lecturers to veer off course content and plunge into irrelevancies.

In fact, lecturers at the Makerere University School of Law are often invited for televised political shows and other events so most law students often have an idea of the political stands or at least ideologies of their lecturers and so they look forward to what they have to say on political news and newsmakers when they come to teach.

The problem is that most law students tend to be impressionable so much that they take the words of their lecturers for gospel truth.

So, Mr. Solomon Nyombi, now a lawyer at his late father’s law firm, must have joined law school at the wrong time because it coincided with a period at which lawyers, the media, opposition politicians, and members of the public questioned his father’s legal knowledge, competence, and even legal ethics.

“ One hot Friday afternoon, in my First Year at Law School, I sat in class dozing and struggling to pay attention. Suddenly, I felt like a bolt of electricity had passed through my body. One of my lecturers ( who Peter had worked with several years before), broke into a monologue about how Peter was trafficking Children under the guise of adoption.

She spoke with so much assurance and yet she was lying. Never mind the fact that her ravings were totally unconnected to the lecture. All of a sudden, the room felt like a cauldron. I sat rooted to my chair; my eyes trained on her like guns. I could feel beads of sweat rolling down my temples as she continued her tirade. My unease and discomfort were palpable, and I could sense that every one of my classmates’ eyes were on me at that moment.

There they were lapping every word she said like it was gospel truth. I wanted to stand up and give her a piece of my mind, but I was afraid.”

Solomon Nyombi, Attorney General Peter Nyombi’s last born son writes in a just released and launched bombshell book about his father that details and uncovers in part toxicity at Makerere University Law School (as indeed in the political arena of Uganda.)

“One of my former lecturers, Dr. Daniel Ruhweza once remarked, ‘ If the President asked the former Attorney General to jump, he would only ask how high.’”

Attorney General Peter Nyombi
Attorney General Peter Nyombi/ Courtesy Photo

Solomon Nyombi’s book, launched by the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda in February 2023, is one of the first (if not the very first) books that have ever been written by a child of a controversial high-ranking government official about their parent, depicting scenes, emotions, hurt, concessions, and life we never see or hear about these officials and their families publicly.

Solomon calls for respect toward everyone and their families regardless of their political undertakings and I think at Age 28, Solomon underscores for us fellow “young people” especially a sense most of us seem to have discarded a long time ago (if we ever had it anyway) of empathy.

The timing of the lesson and the book could never have been more apt. We are at a stage in our country’s politics where we celebrate the deaths of political officials we dislike.

If only we knew death is a “great equalizer” as Solomon calls it in the book, then we would, as a human race, be united when it comes knocking on our doors for it lives us and our loved ones distraught.

“ One time as we were waiting to catch our flight at Entebbe Airport, Hon. Muwanga Kivumbi walked into the room where were waiting. He came over to where we were seated and greeted Peter. Peter used that opportunity to point at me and tell him, ‘ When you insult me on television and in the newspapers, these are the people who see those things.’ Hon. Kivumbi, not expecting this, flashed an embarrassed smile while I sat there staring into his face. He didn’t say much after that and he left.”

The re-appointment of Retired Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki by President Museveni on the advice of Attorney General Peter Nyombi was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” for that’s when his fellow lawyers under their umbrella body; The Uganda Law Society moved to “award” Peter Nyombi the infamous “certificate of incompetence.”

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Led by Ms. Ruth Sebatindira, who is rated among the best corporate lawyers in Uganda, the “Orwellian Uganda Law Society” – in Solomon’s words,  held an impromptu “Extraordinary General Meeting” of its members on August 29th, 2013 to do the “noble duty of suspending the Hon. Peter Nyombi from the Uganda Law Society” and cited at least three previous cases where Mr. Peter Nyombi had allegedly “misadvised” the President and the Government including; the appointment of the late Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, then a serving military officer at the time, as a government minister; the removal of four MPs from Parliament for disobeying the ruling party’s instructions; and the re-appointment of Justice Benjamin Odoki as Chief Justice despite clocking the retirement age of 70.

In his book, Solomon Nyombi walks the reader into the machinations that characterized the Uganda Law Society’s debacle to embarrass his father and strip him of the legal prowess he had accumulated for over 30 years of law practice.

“ Peter did not waste his time attending what was a farce of a meeting. However his daughter Patricia (a lawyer too) attended it. What she found was a sickening atmosphere. It felt like she had fallen into a pit of snakes that were slowly encircling her, waiting for the precise moment to plunge their fangs into her… The one redeeming thing about this meeting was that some lawyers spoke out against the wrong in this meeting… Mr. Jet Tumwebaze  (a lawyer at a law firm that would later help Peter challenge the Certificate of Incompetence)  argued that this was the first time in his long adult life that he had heard lawyers condemning lawyers for their opinion… ‘ The Certificate of Incompetence should be spread throughout the world. So that he is not only embarrassed among his colleagues in Uganda but he is also embarrassed among his colleagues at the International level.’ Another lawyer said.

 At the end of it all, the majority of the lawyers present took collective leave of common sense and having been blinded by emotion, voted in favour of giving Peter a certificate of incompetence.

The certificate was issued and circulated on social media and broadcast by various media houses. The lawyers in support of the suspension were playing to the gallery and in their eyes, they were heroes.

Years later, Patricia would tell me that the whole experience left her very disillusioned with the Uganda Law Society.”

The book entitled; “ Peter Nyombi: His Side of the Story; The Life of the Maverick Former Attorney General Through the Eyes of Those Who knew him”  is a chronology of Peter Nyombi’s rise from a poverty-stricken boy in Nakasongola, Uganda to arguably the most “talked about” Attorney General of Uganda, according to a tribute by the Daily Monitor newspaper titled; “Nyombi: The Passing of a troubled legal star.”

Archbishop Stanley Kazimba Mugalu and Retired Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki at the launch of Solomon Nyombi’s book in February, 2023/ Photo: Observer Uganda

Although Solomon Nyombi, does not use footnotes or endnotes to the revelations made in the book thus making it difficult for the reader to verify their veracity, there is no doubt he researched the book very well.

It contains pictorial evidence so the reader is not treated to mere blocks of text.

With access to his father’s records including legal opinions and having conducted interviews with knowledgeable people, Solomon Nyombi puts up solid arguments in defense of his father’s work and legacy.

I have been looking for the “trouble” alluded to in the Daily Monitor article cited above and could not find any.

Instead, I am inclined to agree with Mr. Solomon Nyombi that lawyers and politicians manipulated the media and the Public to create a troubled image of Attorney General Peter Nyombi.

In one instance, for example, during the Parliamentary investigation into the so-called “6 Billion Handshake” in which President Museveni rewarded government lawyers and officials for successfully litigating a major taxation case between Uganda and an oil company, the media used a misleading picture of the Hon. Peter Nyombi that depicted him as troubled.

His son writes;

“ There was a picture of Peter attending one of the many sittings of the COSASE ( Parliament’s Committee On Statutory Agencies And State Enterprises) inquiry and seated opposite, were those who were being questioned.

In the picture, his face was buried in his palms. To outside observers it looked like he was a man wracked with guilt and yet at the time, he was struggling with eye problems.

The bright light was hurting his eyes and because the hearings were relatively long, he felt that he needed to cover them from time to time.

As per the usual, the social media know-it-alls took this picture and circulated it and spun the narrative that this was a man consumed with guilt.”

The so-called Certificate of Incompetence awarded to him by the Ms. Ruth Sebatindira-led Uganda Law Society (ULS) – a body that has consistently struggled for relevance in Uganda’s politics despite being a creature of the law, was quashed by a Court for ULS had overstepped its mandate and doesn’t have the powers to declare lawyers incompetent.

An Article appearing in the Daily Monitor newspaper claimed Hon. Peter Nyombi had not been awarded the coveted legal title of “Senior Counsel” despite him being recognized as such. (Solomon Nyombi’s book contains his instrument of recognition). The assertion in the Article was based on information from “sources within legal circles.”

Solomon Nyombi in his book belabors to deliver a blow-by-blow analysis of his dad’s legal mind in all the most controversial cases he worked on and the reader discerns that however disagreeable his legal advice to the government might have been, it was not without basis and certainly a lawyer is not incompetent because you don’t agree with his legal advice.

Importantly, Solomon’s book gives us a lesson – lawyers and non-lawyers alike – in humility.

It quotes an eloquent Article written by Lawyer Bob Kasango (who has since also passed) that exposes the machinations of the lawyers thus:

“ I have followed with bated breath as my colleagues berated the learned Attorney General over his opinions to the President. The altercation has largely been verbal and only the Attorney General’s opinion is known to the Public. His accusers have not had the courtesy to make known publicly in writing their contrary views/opinions on the subjects over which they disagree with the Hon. Peter Nyombi. Lawyers have taken sides in what has become a highly charged political and even partisan controversy. …Lawyers know too well that there are as many opinions on a point of law as there are lawyers and until a competent Court of law pronounces itself as to which lawyer is right, none of us should sit in Judgment of another as incompetent… To punish a lawyer simply on the mere hare-brained abstraction that there opinion is erroneous would be a dangerous precedent to set. By extension, every lawyer that loses a case in Court would be subject to punishment for incompetence and a candidate for a certificate of incompetence.” 

Bob Kasango wrote.

In fact, when I read this chapter, my mind rushed to a statement my law lecturer, Mr. Joseph Kyazze made in one of his classes:

“ If you ever see a lawyer who says the law is clear, you know he doesn’t know the law.”

Solomon Nyombi’s book on his father is not a “my dad is the only hero I know” kind of writing, it is a well-balanced book that addresses his father’s weaknesses too.

Beyond controversies surrounding his father’s public life, Solomon Nyombi gives us a glimpse into other facets of their family’s life.

For example, I could see his father was a family man in the true sense of the word.

No wonder his death occurred in the hands of his brother, Ambassador Henry Mayega after a family visit.

This is important because I learn to prioritize family relations for they tend to care more than any other.

Every lawyer’s dream could be to end up a high-ranking lawyer in the government or such place, but Solomon’s book paints an ugly picture of the job of an Attorney General.

In fact, contrary to what people thought after he was dropped from President Museveni’s government as Attorney General, Peter Nyombi did not miss the job.

And one other former Attorney General who came after him didn’t either.

“ I had an opportunity to speak to one of the former Attorney Generals. He was one of those who came after Peter. He revealed that he used to follow what was going on during Peter’s time and he admitted that it was only when he became Attorney General that he appreciated what that office entails.

When he was dropped , he confessed that he didn’t miss it.

‘ The office of the Attorney General is a big job, the world over. When you are the Attorney General, people only see the surface and don’t understand you. You have no friends. The opposition hates you because your boss is the President who they hate, and members of the Cabinet hate you when you don’t side with them on an issue.

It is not easy and you are alone. It is easy for people to talk and yet they have extraordinarily little understanding of what that office entails. You can’t sleep because you are always working. Everyone wants your signature and the President wants you every minute. It is not easy.

If you go into that office as an old man, you can die and if you go in as a young man that office will age you.’ He reflected while shaking his head.”

Solomon Writes.

There are so many lessons and points that Solomon Nyombi touched on in his book using the story of his father and this review can’t address them all.

I suggest you buy your own copy at just 65000 UGX ($17) from Nyombi & Co. Advocates 1st Floor NIC Building and read this great story!

Benjamin Ahikiiriza is a Professional Legal Writer And Digital Communications And Marketing Specialist Focused on Helping Lawyers, Law Firms And the Legal Sector Leverage Digital Communication Tools to Achieve Their Goals.

He is the Founder and Chief Editor of the LegalReports Website.


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