Rival governors lobby to replace Oparanya

Thursday, January 21st, 2021 00:00 |
Governor Wycliffe Oparanya. Photo/PD/File

Eric Wainaina @EWainaina

The choice of the next Council of Governors (CoG) chairman after Wycliffe Oparanya is poised to be the next battlefront between the Handshake team of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM chief Raila Odinga against Deputy President William Ruto’s Tanga Tanga faction.

This is because county government  are expected to play a critical role in the success of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and key politicians would be keen to influence the choice of the next occupant of the powerful position that links the National Executive and devolved units.

CoG Chief Executive Officer Jacqueline Omogeni yesterday confirmed that elections to succeed the Kakamega county chief, who took over the position in 2019, are slated for next week when his two-term stint comes to an end.

“The elections have been slated for January 29. We will, as usual, go for consensus but if it fails, we will have a vote,” the CEO told People Daily.

While governors allied to the Handshake have been aggressively campaigning for BBI, which proposes radical changes to the 2010 Constitution, those in the Ruto camp have voiced reservations about the initiative expected to be decided in a referendum.

Multiple high-profile sources told People Daily that Governors Kivutha Kibwana of Makueni, who is the CoG Chief Whip, Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Salim Mvurya (Kwale) and Jackson Mandago of Uasin Gishu are among those who had expressed interest to succeed Oparanya. 

According to the sources, Governors James Ongwae (Kisii), Prof Anyang Nyong’o (Kisumu) and Ali Roba of Mandera) are angling for the vice-chairmanship currently held by  Iria. 

Tharaka Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki, Stephen Sang’ (Nandi) and John Lonyangapuo of  West Pokot are lobbying for the position of  Chief Whip.

During his tenure, Oparanya, who is also the ODM deputy party leader warmed his way into Uhuru’s power circle because of his prominent role in the BBI campaigns and as the President’s co-chair in the inter-governmental response team on Covid-19.   

Contacted yesterday, Oparanya said he hopes his replacement would be a governor who supports BBI and who is able to maintain a rapport between counties and the National Government as well as agitate for allocation of more resources to the devolved units. 

“I expect my successor to maintain the good relationship between CoG and the National Government and also spearhead the push to have money allocated to counties released on time and also have more resources channeled to the regional governments as proposed by BBI,” Oparanya said.

Maintains rapport

Governors Wa  Iria and Waiguru are staunch BBI supporters while Kibwana has faulted the move to change the Constitution through the initiative and has moved to the Supreme Court seeking an advisory opinion on the process. Mvurya, Roba and Mandago, who are staunch Ruto allies, have not been enthusiastic about the campaign.

Governors will play a key role in BBI, as they are expected to rally County Assemblies to pass the Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2020 after verification of signatures by the national elections body. The Bill will require the support of at least 24 assemblies to go through.

Dr Richard Bosire, a Political Science lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said the rivalry between the Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga political groups that are allied to the President and Ruto, respectively, is certain to play out during the CoG elections.

“Controlling CoG is critical because governors have a key role to play in the referendum. The Constitution requires that the Bill be approved by at least 24 County Assemblies and because of that someone who heads the lobby is assumed will be able to prevail upon the counties to either pass or reject the proposals and I think the DP is very keen about that,” Dr Bosire said.

The offices of the CoG chairman, vice-chairman and Chief Whip come with attractive perks, including a stand-by chopper, paid for by the council to facilitate their travel across the country.

They are also entitled to two personal assistants based at the CoG headquarters at Delta House, Westlands, Nairobi, also paid for by the council.

They are also entitled to full-time membership of a club of their choice, with previous chairmen preferring a five-star hotel on Thika Road where they meet and entertain their guests.

During his highly visible stint at the helm of the CoG, Oparanya has on several occasions had to fend off criticism levelled against him by a section of governors mainly allied to Ruto over his close ties with the President and Raila.

Yesterday, CoG insiders told People Daily of an incident during a governors’ retreat at a Naivasha hotel late last year at which a section of pro-Ruto governors led by Mandago accused Oparanya of “auctioning” the council to the Handshake team.

“On that day, Jack Ma (as Mandago is known in CoG circles) took chairman head-on, saying the council had been turned into a mouthpiece for Uhuru and Raila. It was so stormy that CoG staff were kicked out as tempers flared between the pro-Oparanya group and the DP’s supporters,” said the source who sought anonymity to avoid victimisation.

“These days, people like Ali Roba no longer attend CoG meetings because he is not in talking terms with the chairman,” added the sourcey.  

Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, who was initially interested in the CoG chairmanship, said he had shelved his ambitions “to concentrate on my presidential bid”. 

Mutua said he expected the next holder of the position “to be sober like Oparanya” whose shoes, he said, are too big to fill. 

“The replacement must be mature and a person who builds bridges. Oparanya was an excellent leader, sober and a person who was very approachable,” Mutua said, adding that he fears that the next chairman might be an activist.

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