Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko’s survival strategy revealed

Thursday, September 26th, 2019 00:00 |
Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko. Photo/File

Yesterday’s move by Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko to suspend 16 senior officials, including two ministers, over the Monday school tragedy which left eight pupils dead, may pass as a normal reshuffle.

Indeed, in a statement to newsrooms, Sonko said the move was meant to facilitate impartial investigations into the tragedy and allow an ongoing systems audit in the Planning Department, which he said had become a den of corruption.

“I have, therefore, suspended the following Nairobi City County Government officials (the 16) with immediate effect, to facilitate impartial investigations that have commenced into this unfortunate incident and the conclusion of the ongoing comprehensive systems audit in the Urban Planning Department,” said Sonko.

However, to those who know the man and also understand the twists and turns of City County politics, Sonko’s move may have been motivated by factors and considerations beyond the Precious Talents Academy incident.

And what has caught the attention of observers is the sheer number of top officials that the governor has sent home from a department that is at the heart of the city’s development and expansion.

Those suspended yesterday included the Finance and Economic Planning County Executive Committee Member Charles Kerich, who has for a long time been regarded as Sonko’s “Mr Fix It”. 

Kerich, a former Lands and Urban Planning minister, has been in the governor’s “Kitchen Cabinet” who has been untouched even as Sonko regularly shuffled his Executive. He was replaced by acting County Secretary Pauline Kahiga, who was in May arrested by the Ethics Antic-Corruption Commission officers after she allegedly refused to cooperate and provide crucial documents needed in an investigation on procurement  at City Hall.

Sent packing

The second minister sent packing was Mohammed Dagane, who was in charge of Health. The docket was handed to Environment executive Veska Kangogo, former Jubilee Party national election’s board vice-chair and close ally of Deputy President William Ruto. She was once a member of the National Social Security Fund(NSSF) board.

Others sent home were Chief planning officer Justus Kathenge, Jusper Ndeke (Planning Compliance and Enforcement, Dominic Mutegi (Development management) his assistant Fredrick Ondari, Ruth Waruguru, (Urban Planning) and her deputy Thomas Dudi. 

Others are Simon Onyango, in charge of regularisation of buildings and approval of architectural plans, Alex Mucheru, mandated to oversee approvals of buildings and schools, Mackline Saitera who oversees the inspection and other officers in charge of Dagoretti sub-county.

An official familiar with the governor’s way of doing things told People Daily that Sonko’s move to suspend the team at the heart of the city’s infrastructural development may have been motivated by the pressure he has been feeling as a result of the ongoing corruption investigations against him. According to a source, police have a strong case against the flamboyant politician, who uncharacteristically vanished from the public limelight after the recent grilling over corruption allegations. 

Realities of the day

“It would seem that Sonko is determined to paralyse the city and he’s put some people back in office as a way of trying to get himself noticed and probably rescued,” said the official who is not authorised to discuss county issues.

The official cited Kangogo’s appointment to take charge of two key dockets saying the governor was most probably trying to get the DP’s attention in a bid to ward off EACC detectives who are believed to be analysing material that could see him hauled to court over garbage tenders.

The governor has in recent days been issuing press statements aimed at exonerating himself from allegations that people and companies doing business with the county had deposited millions of shillings in his personal accounts.

“Why would the governor suddenly develop confidence in a person he sent on compulsory leave for disobeying him? It’s obviously a calculated move aimed at advancing a political agenda,” he added.

Sonko, who has a knack for sacking and suspending his ministers, has in the recent past been seen to be switching political allegiance between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto, depending on realities of the day.

Kagongo was in the ‘List of Shame’ which the President handed over to Parliament in 2016 over claims of corruption and abuse of office over her role at NSSF, but was among those cleared, leading to her appointment at City Hall.

She was in the Nairobi County Public Service board in former governor Evans Kidero administration and joined the Cabinet as the head of the Finance and Economics department immediately after the 2017 election.

Minority Whip Peter Imwatok, who is also the Makongeni MCA, dismissed Sonko’s cosmetic actions which he termed as a ploy to divert the attention of Nairobians from graft allegations facing him. “He should keep his word that he would step aside if he’s linked to corruption and stop   painting his juniors as corrupt,” he said. 

However, South B MCA Waithera Chege, also the Majority Whip, defended the governor saying the suspended officers must take responsibility for their actions which had endangered the lives of city residents.

Lack of confidence

In May last year, while serving as Devolution and Public Service Management Executive, she was suspended over alleged insubordination after she allegedly travelled to the United States without Sonko’s permission but was reinstated after almost a month in the cold.

But this is not the first time Sonko is playing politics to safeguard his position at County Hall. 

When his deputy Polycarp Igathe resigned citing lack of confidence from his boss, pressure mounted on him to pick a replacement, the governor, nominated controversial lawyer Miguna Miguna as his preferred candidate. 

Though it’s his prerogative to nominate a deputy, Sonko’s move was seen as a deliberate political message aimed at his Jubilee allied alleged detractors. And though Miguna’s name was rejected in the County Assembly, it has given him opportunity to operate without a deputy. To observers, it was indeed a masterstroke that left those who were piling pressure on him over a deputy to retreat.

He was at it again calling Nairobi residents to vote for various women who he promised to consider for appointment to the position. After what appeared like a merry-go-round, the matter fizzled out.

Sonko has also outboxed people pushed to City Hall and who he did not feel comfortable with. Former State House official Peter Kariuki was picked as the county secretary, but the governor later sacked him.

 Nairobi Speaker Beatrice Elachi, a member of the pro-Uhuru Embrace team, after an alleged fallout with Sonko, was impeached by MCAs and her efforts to return to City Hall after a court order has been frustrated.

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