By Oyunga Pala
When a tribunal investigating an abuse of office incident involving deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza recommended her removal, I marveled at how things have changed. That a lowly security guard, Rebecca Kerubo, could bring down Kenya’s highest ranking female judicial officer, clearly shows the irony of justice.
This is a country where reputations are enhanced by sex scandals. People win enough admirers to start a church after engineering million dollar scams that loot public funds. Ministers even fraternise with drug barons and the most they get is disapproving looks in public.
In the league of official abuse, Nancy Baraza’s scuffle with Kerubo was a misdemeanour, the equivalent of a schoolgirl caught trying her first cigarette. Not even her past record could salvage her reputation.
Nancy Baraza made her name in Fida-Kenya, as part of the formidable women lawyers who gained a reputation for defending women’s rights, especially poor abused women who could not afford legal representation.
But at the top judiciary echelons, you have to be seen to practise what you preach and on that score, the deputy CJ effectively shot herself in the foot. I suppose after this incident with Nancy Baraza’s famous words, “You should know people”, ought to be paraphrased to read, “You should know people are watching”.
Rebecca Kerubo’s minor assault case was destined for burial in the gutter press back pages. Unfortunately for her, the Twitter vigilante online marshalled by self declared people’s watchman Robert Alai picked up the story. In a matter of hours. It became a trending topic that exploded into a furore for two whole days before the mainstream press caught with the events.
Baraza totally underestimated Kerubo’s underdog appeal and she never imagined Kerubo would be incorruptible, turning down her kitu kidogo offer. I empathise with the Deputy CJ. She clearly had no prior experience with watchmen. She was probably never compelled to jot her details down in a tattered hard cover book at the entrance of a public building.
She probably never knew that the lack of an ID card could deny one entry into most of the city’s offices. Nobody ever told her that in Nairobi, when a security guard demands to inspect your boot at the entrance of a supermarket mall, it is best not to argue. It does not matter whether you own the building. While you may imagine you have the power, the security guard wields authority.
In a city that is lined by security guards in every corner, most Nairobians have learnt through experience never to make the mistake of getting into an argument with a security guard or matatu tout even when you believe they are in the wrong.