Rallies to popularise the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) will end in March, ODM leader Raila Odinga has said, signalling the home stretch in the push for a referendum.
Mr Odinga said on Saturday that once the gatherings are closed, the BBI Secretariat will embark on aggressive campaigns countrywide, to collect a million signatures.
The Orange Democratic Movement leader said the draft bill will then be presented to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for validation in preparation for a referendum.
Mr Odinga, also the African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa, said there is no need for the BBI taskforce to move around the country collecting signatures yet they can engage the people directly.
“We want the consultation process completed by March before we embark on implementation of the BBI through Parliament and a referendum,” he said.
Mr Odinga’s remarks are the clearest indication that Kenya is headed for a referendum, about two years since he and President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a handshake aimed at nationwide unity and development.
So far, the rallies have taken place in Kisii, Kakamega, Mombasa and Kitui. Meetings are being planned in Nakuru, Narok and Meru.
There has been a push for the referendum to be conducted by June.
Siaya Senator James Orengo, Mr Odinga’s close ally of Mr Odinga, has pushed for the process to take place before July and has asked the BBI team to draft the Referendum Bill in readiness for the poll.
Mr Odinga spoke at the burial of former Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police at Magadini village in Ugenya Constituency, Siaya County.
Earlier in Busia, the ODM leader said Kenya’s challenges, including runaway corruption, negative ethnicity and unemployment, will be addressed through implementation of the nine-point agenda in the BBI.
In that county, Mr Odinga attended the burial of former Cereal Board member Mzee John Melti Okinda in Matayos.
At the ceremony, Western region leaders threw their weight behind the BBI initiative, with calls for an expanded Executive once again taking centre stage.
Bungoma Senator and Ford Kenya party leader Moses Wetang’ula said the BBI offers Kenyans an opportunity to address past injustices, so they should back it at all costs.
“If the BBI will foster unity among leaders at the top, residents should also be given the chance to express their views on matters of their interest that will be incorporated into the final report before implementation,” he said.
Busia Women Representative Florence Mutua said the initiative BBI will end corruption , which she link to poor service delivery to the public as a few individuals continue to enrich themselves.
“Mr Odinga cannot mislead his supporters. He has ably guided us and we will continue to follow his advice,” she said.
She added that the ODM leader has been fighting for devolution and the BBI and will ensure counties are allocated more money for development projects.
“We promise our party leader that we will guard the BBI cautiously since it will bring inclusivity and cohesion, and strengthen devolution,” she stated
While vouching for an expanded government, former MP Fred Gumo noted that the grand coalition government performed better that past regimes, in which the winner took all.
“The government of retired President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga is in the history books for initiating several development projects yet it had an expanded Executive. If you have people of integrity at the helm, however many, things will always move smoothly,” he said.
He asked the taskforce to ensure it looks into the thorny issue of electoral injustice as it has been a recipe for chaos during elections.
“If we had fair and credible elections, my brother here Raila would have been President in 2013 and 2017. Let us forge ahead and ensure electoral injustices don’t happen again.”
But Ugenya MP David Ochieng asked Mr Odinga and BBI proponents to exercise caution and give Kenyans time to read the document.
The MP told members of his Luo community to read the document and avoid being excited that Mr Odinga had read the document on their behalf.
“This document presents you with the opportunity to have the changes you desire but I plead with you to read and understand it fully,” he said.
Mr Ochieng said the euphoria during the referendum in 2005 and 2010 didn’t help the community.
“I saw this happen in the two referendums, where people failed to read the document. They got consumed by side shows rather than focusing on real issues. I hope they learnt [their lessons].”
His calls were rubbished by the ODM leaders led by Mr Odinga, who said consultations were concluded and that what remains is the process of adopting the document.
“The people have read the document. In March we will kick off the next phase of collection of signatures before we take it to the IEBC for ratification,” he reiterated.
Mr Odinga told those opposed to the reform process to ready to battle with his team at the polls.
“If you don’t want what we are doing then wait for us during the vote, ” he said, noting the BBI resulted from the need to end issues such as poverty, illiteracy and disease, which have persisted since independence.
“We have to eliminate corruption. The culture where a clique of corrupt individuals plunder public resources then turn into overnight billionaires, whose sources of income are questionable, [has to end] ” he said.
He noted that Kenya can match countries such as China and create jobs for youths, with proper planning and investments.
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