ODM party yesterday issued an ultimatum to President Uhuru Kenyatta to remove Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho from the Building Bridges Initiatives (BBI) campaign programmes or risk scuttling the referendum plans.
Through Minority Whip in the National Assembly Junet Mohamed, who is in party leader Raila Odinga’s inner circle, the Orange party told the Sunday Nation the President has to choose between their input in the push to amend the Constitution and his powerful PS whom they accuse of hijacking the BBI secretariat and sabotaging it.
“If he must continue meddling in the work of the secretariat if he must continue dictating how we do the work, if he is that indispensable, we will be left with no choice but to abandon BBI. (Mr) Kibicho is causing political constipation and we are not afraid of telling him that,” the Suna East MP, who is also the co-chairman of the BBI Secretariat, told the Sunday Nation.
The remarks coming from Mr Mohamed, a high ranking member of Mr Odinga’s inner sanctum and also ODM director of campaign and elections, is a revelation of behind the scenes supremacy battles that have been going on in the secretariat and the top tier of the pro-BBI campaign team.
It is also a rare display of frustrations in public following the handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga in March 2018.
Mr Mohamed warned that allowing Mr Kibicho to run the show would not only complicate chances of a favourable referendum outcome but also make the BBI appear as a State project.
“You remember Uhuru (President Kenyatta) had to pitch tent in central Kenya to save BBI in the county assemblies thereafter (Mr) Kibicho bungled it. He can’t be playing politics and he’s a civil servant. We do not want him anywhere next to the secretariat’s work. He has to take a back seat,” he said.
If not addressed in good time, some insiders expressed fear that the turn of events may jeopardise preparations for the referendum expected anytime between May and June. The BBI Bill has been cleared by a majority of the county assemblies and is now before Parliament.
Mr Mohamed, who was among a clique around Mr Odinga kept abreast of the secret engagements with Mr Kenyatta before details of the handshake were made public in March 2018, accused the PS of making BBI about provincial administration.
“He wants us to be part of the chiefs and county commissioners he orders around,” he told the Sunday Nation.
The PS was instrumental in coordinating chiefs and county commissioners during the BBI signature collection that was done in record time.
Should he be locked out if ODM’s wishes are met, it would hand the process back to politicians, since it is a political process, said the vocal ODM MP.
“Our position is clear, if he has to continue being part of the process, we will leave it to him. He has created a separate command structure through which he thinks he can bulldoze us around,” he said.
Yesterday, Mr Kibicho was not available for comment despite being contacted by the Sunday Nation. However, a source close to the PS said he did not want to engage with Mr Mohamed in public over the matter.
Mr Mohamed and former Dagoreti South MP Denis Waweru co-chair the secretariat charged with engaging various stakeholders to deliver a new Constitution with significant changes to the 2010 document.
Mr Waweru was careful not to give his views about the subject only wondering why Mr Mohamed would not exhaust internal mechanisms before “going public” with such information.
Even though Mr Odinga has been in the frontline marketing BBI, there have been murmurs among his support base with some in his Nyanza stronghold, for example, feeling they got a raw deal especially in the proposed formula on resource allocation that includes new constituencies.
They would thus not lose so much in the event BBI failed at the referendum, some of Mr Odinga’s allies hold.
BBI is a product of a political ceasefire between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga and any signs of internal strife will be watched closely. Add to the intrigues is the falling out in the Jubilee Party between President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto as well as the 2022 succession battles.
The BBI secretariat is said to be facilitated by the Interior ministry hence Kibicho’s influence.
ODM accuses him of micromanaging the secretariat, denying the politicians a say in the running of its affairs.
The development will likely be sweet music to the ears of the Ruto camp, with the Deputy President largely isolated in the running of the State as well as the BBI process.
But fundamentally, it also introduces the elephant in the room, President Kenyatta’s succession, which is taking centre stage by the day.
The unspoken fear in ODM is that Jubilee could be using their leader to amend the laws then abandon him afterwards even as others in the same camp say the script is to scuttle Dr Ruto’s chances of ascending to power and then isolate Mr Odinga to pave the way for a preferred pick.
Country’s top job
It is the reason Mr Odinga has embarked on a mission to revive his traditional bases just in case he will need to go it alone.
Mr Odinga has often insisted that the handshake should not be linked to 2022 politics as it is meant to unite the country and bring reforms.
And sentiments by Mr Odinga’s elder brother Oburu Oginga on the possibility of the ODM chief joining forces with DP Ruto in the next elections could also be a pointer to the options they are toying with, especially in the event President Kenyatta does not back his handshake partner for the country’s top job.
Even DP’s allies such as Soy MP Caleb Kositany do not rule out a reunion of Mr Odinga and the second in command.
“From where I sit, there seems to be some discomfort in ODM about the handshake, the way things are rolling out now, nothing at all bars (Mr) Raila Odinga from working with (Mr) William Ruto, the same with Uhuru (President Kenyatta) — all the three have worked together before, they understand each other, they know their strengths and weaknesses,” he said yesterday.
And separately in what looked like a coordinated massaging, Siaya Senator James Orengo accused some senior civil servants of seeking to craft the succession of President Kenyatta an insinuation that Mr Odinga could perhaps be ‘betrayed’ in the 2022 elections.
Mr Orengo threatened to expose the people who he accuses of working for their selfish interests and attempting to take over the running of the BBI.
“Just like it happened when President Kibaki was serving his second and last term in 2013, some people inside the government are busy trying to lay succession strategy,” he said.
Unnamed civil servants
According to Mr Orengo, the unnamed civil servants have already declared who is going to rule the country after the exit of President Kenyatta.
The Senate Minority Leader who spoke during a funeral in Asembo, Siaya County yesterday, cautioned that interference with free and fair elections would plunge the country into chaos.
“We are calling on some officials at Harambee House and the police to desist from those schemes and obey the political and constitutional institutions,” he said.
Mr Orengo pointed out that the government officers have in the last three to four months been frustrating most of the projects and illegally attempting to engage in political activities.
“Whenever civil servants who are part of a cabal trying to chart the destiny of a nation for their interest there can never be any peace.
“They are reaping where they have not sown. Without the handshake between Raila Odinga and President Kenyatta that has brought peace in this country they could not be planning that succession,” he said.
The Siaya legislature further alleged that the government bureaucrats have taken over the management of BBI.
“Even in BBI they have led to the closure of BBI so that they can run the secretariat from government offices,” he said.
Rocking the boat
While expressing his support for the close working relationship between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, he reiterated that they would continue to support government initiatives for the President to be able to deliver on his mandate.
“Nobody can attempt to bring down the initiative that has brought peace and stability in this country and what will form a firm foundation for our future generations,” he said.
Observers were yesterday in agreement that for Mr Mohamed to boldly say such, it was clear the camaraderie between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga was being tested.
Mr Mohamed would also not say such without the express authority of his bosses and so the belief is that he was voicing what Mr Odinga would rather not say.
Last evening, the President’s men, who felt that Mr Mohamed’s sentiments could rock the boat from within, were plunged in a state of panic. They felt it would take away the momentum from plans to change the laws even after county assemblies overwhelmingly endorsed the Bill.
Sources indicated that they were making frantic efforts to get hold of Mr Odinga to call his troops to order.
As he ponders over how to treat the demand from ODM, Mr Kenyatta will be walking a tight rope since BBI is one of his legacy projects and he has demonstrated the resolve to see it succeed. He cannot afford to back off from it midway.
Yet in Mr Kibicho he also has a dependable worker who has made immense contribution in the BBI journey and he’ll his services even after the June referendum. How he handles this will make or break the handshake with Mr Odinga.
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