It’s just a passion for the law, says Omtatah after Uhuru jibe

Friday, January 24th, 2020 00:22 |
Activist Okiya Omtatah. PHOTO/COURTESY

Bernice Mbugua @BerniceMuhindi

Activist Okiya Omtatah is not new in the corridors of justice, a place he patronises almost on a daily basis armed with documents he has either filed or intends to file touching on public interest matters.

The man, whose activism has seen him engage in near absurd theatrics, including chaining himself at Vigilance House, police headquarters, is a gadfly of sorts to the government with regard to projects and appointment of State officers.

Yesterday, Omtatah, who has filed several cases in court which have either stalled or held in abeyance government projects, was in the mind of President Uhuru Kenyatta as he spoke at the delivery of the State of Judiciary Report by Chief Justice David Maraga.

Though he did not mention him by name, it was clear to many that the “one person” who has 99 cases in court, most of them against his government and who has been granted injunctions halting public projects was Omtatah.

Government Officials

But Omtatah, the face of public interest litigation, disagrees, saying that before he files a case, he looks at the number of people who will benefit if he succeeds.

“If only one person will benefit, I don’t touch the matter, I send him or her to commercial lawyers,” he said, adding that he is a stickler for the rule of law.

“I want this country to develop, all the cases we have filed are based on the law and where the court agrees it means the law was being broken. I want to see the rule of law entrenched.” 

But why is Omtatah attractive to litigants — including lawyers and high profile individuals keen to fight their wars in the shadows? 

According to some lawyers, Omtatah being unrepresented, even if he loses a case, is never awarded costs unlike cases filed by law firms.

The lawyers note that most times it’s not Omtatah the person suing, but most of the cases originate from government officials who feel aggrieved. The officials give him documents which an advocate cannot get, they said.

“If an advocate files something from State House it will be struck out because he will have to disclose how he acquired the government documents, but Omtatah gets it easy because the court will not demand strict representation of the rule of evidence on where and how he got the documents,” said a lawyer who sought anonymity.

The lawyer notes that Omtatah, a passionate and high profile activist with useful social links, including in the media, is given work by some law firms which will do the drafting and hand over the file to him to prosecute.

“Omtatah is seen to represent the public and there is a general belief that Omtatah is not paid,” said the advocate.

Legal Flexibility 

Lawyer Danstan Omari on his part notes that people like Omtatah enjoy some degree of legal flexibility and thus get some leeway to break the rules of procedure.

“If it is a law firm, one error and the matter is struck out. He is unrepresented like a woman suing for her child... the standard procedure is lower than the standard of an advocate,” he said.

According to Omari, Omtatah has the privilege to file matters of public interest which the Law Society Kenya (LSK) should, but has abdicated its role.

“The Executive went and took LSK to bed so they don’t file anymore,” he claimed.

Omtatah says even in his singular mission to ensure the rule of law is adhered to in letter and spirit, he occasionally “loses cases here and there”.

“I have never been to a law school; it is just a passion but I consult on issues from many people and sometimes lawyers bring me work,” he said yesterday.

Omtatah says he gets close to 200 cases a month, but he is only able to file about two or one cases because of limited resources. 

“I do not have staff. I do my own things. Sometimes I get well-wishers, like there was a time the public fundraised for me.” 

While many Kenyans generally agree that the activist has played an important role of putting the government on its toes, others think he sometimes acts as a gun for hire for people who want to settle scores. 

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