Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko has informally declared an all-out battle with what his handlers say are State operatives out to check him.
The resignation of Nairobi Deputy Governor Polycarp Igathe following alleged frustration by Sonko is just the beginning of what insiders say are turbulent times at City Hall.
Mr Igathe’s decision to quit and Sonko’s refusal to accommodate former State House officer and County Secretary nominee Peter Kariuki has effectively put Sonko on a war path with a man he has avoided clashing with throughout his seven-year political career, President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Sonko who emerged as an unlikely candidate during the election has in public acted to be at ease with the president while it has been known for some time now that there is a simmering tension between City Hall and State House.
The bitter fight for control of Nairobi eventually blew out to the open on Friday evening. It will be interesting to see how Kenyatta, who has been on state visit to South Africa, will handle the governor who has time and again proven that he is unpredictable and ambitious at the same time.
During a recent interview, the governor said he will only run Nairobi for one term leaving everyone guessing what his next stop will be.
While Igathe is said to have made his intention to resign known during an induction workshop for the County Executive Committee (CEC) members in Mombasa after they differed with the governor, it is unclear why he appeared in a TV interview defending the county only to resign four hours later.
During the interview with NTV, the Deputy Governor admitted a number of failures on behalf of their administration like garbage collection and congestion in the city. He answered questions in a concise manner and never gave a hint that he was uncomfortable with the job.
“Nairobians want simple practical solutions, they don’t want garbage, they want the streets decongested and they want water in their taps then they will reconsider us for another term,” he said.
“Last year before the holiday break, we gazzetted a decongestion plan but small scale traders follow traffic which has made it difficult. That I admit,” he said.
What transpired in the four hours between the TV interview and Igathe’s resignation is still a mystery. Sonko and Igathe have maintained silence on the matter with the only communication coming from the governor being an acknowledgment sent on Friday night that he had received his deputy’s resignation letter.
Political pundits and the Opposition threw shade at what appeared to be an unlikely political marriage that was doomed to fail from the onset, to the chagrin of Jubilee.
“Now Nairobi County has no deputy governor, just like Nyeri County. Must every cloud have a silver lining?” Asked Kibra MP Kenneth Okoth.
“The currency of politics is not trust. It is common interests. Trust is for girls if you are a boy. Polycarp should not have asked for Sonko’s trust. He is not a girl,” political commentator Mutahi Ngunyi tweeted.
Among the issues which Sonko and Igathe differed on is on retaining Jambo Pay as the collector of parking revenue. We understand the Deputy Governor wanted the contract awarded to another company while Sonko refused. The duo had in their manifesto promised to cancel Jambo Pay’s contract within the first 100 days.
Counties are essentially supposed to be run by the governor, assisted by his deputy and being checked by the county assembly. In Nairobi, however, it is emerging that Igathe had his own team that has been fighting to wrest control from the Sonko team. It is a fight that they lost, and which may have triggered Igathe’s resignation.
County Speaker Beatrice Elachi has termed the events of the last few days as unfortunate.
“I believe this was the best team we had for Nairobi. Whatever bad blood one feels he has, they should just sit down and discuss because we promised Nairobian’s hope,” she told Sunday Standard.
“These things happen politically and it depends on how people look at it. For me, I know the governor has been doing good work and I believe that he has a strong back room that will support him since there is no provision in law for the replacement of a deputy governor,” she added.
There are fears that the fallout between Sonko and his deputy could split the party’s leadership in Nairobi into two, like it did when he was vying for the Jubilee ticket. During the run-up to the elections, most Jubilee MPs with blessings from powerful hands in the party ganged up to prevent Sonko from clinching the ticket.
None of the MPs who were part of this scheme, apart from Wihenya Ndirangu (Roysambu), Mwangi Gakuya (Embakasi North) and Yusuf Hassan (Kamukunji), made it back to Parliament. The rest were either swept away by the Sonko wave or other parties in elections.
It took Deputy President William Ruto’s hand to get the party to rally behind Sonko when it dawned on the leadership that it was not going to be possible to stop him. It is widely believed that Kenyatta’s camp was uncomfortable with Sonko’s candidature.
Refused to appreciate
Igathe was among nine people the governor was considering as a running mate when he won the Jubilee ticket in April, last year. The list included Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, Denis Waweru, Millicent Omanga, John Gakuo, Janet Ouko, Jimnah Mbaru, Raymond Matiba and James Ole Kiyiapi.
Sonko’s senior political adviser Onchari Oyieyo now claims that Igathe was not even among the top candidates for the position.
“It is indeed the President who ultimately helped on matters campaign in as much as Sonko did his mobilisation,” he said.
“The understanding was that Igathe would run the county government like a manager while Sonko handles the political component. What Igathe has refused to appreciate is that there exists a fair share of legal limitations which makes it impossible for Igathe to become the kind of manager he had wanted to become,” claimed Onchari.
According to him, trouble started when Igathe conspired with people he cannot name and lied to Sonko that State House wanted Mr Kariuki appointed county secretary.
“The governor agreed because he is close to the President and would not have wanted to undermine a recommendation from State House,” said Onchari.
“However, following some consultations, we discovered that Kariuki was in fact an impostor. If the President wanted Kariuki to be county secretary, he would have told the governor the way he told him when recommending the nomination of Elachi as County Assembly speaker,” he said.
This claim, however, contradicts a statement made by President Kenyatta when he attended a special task force meeting on the re-generation of Nairobi chaired by Sonko at Harambee House. The President had acknowledged Kariuki as the nominee for the county secretary post.
“The meeting agreed that in the next four weeks, all relevant state departments and city county departments re-align their procurement plans to ensure relevant allocations are available for the implementation of the programme,” said the President on November 8.
During the meeting, Igathe and Tourism CS Najib Balala co-chaired a technical committee of the special task force on Nairobi that was supposed to synchronise the county operations with those of six national government ministries for key projects.
These include Housing and Settlement, Infrastructure and Transport, Energy, Water Resources, Environment and Solid Waste, Youth, Women and Persons with Disability. Those in the know however say Sonko’s allies in the county are uncomfortable with this idea as it usurps the powers of the governor and amounts to giving State House control of county affairs.
The Sunday Standard understands it is the outcome of this meeting that sowed the initial seeds of discord between the governor and his deputy.
“The governor felt he was being undermined and the deputy felt he had been handed powers over the affairs of the county,” said a Jubilee MP.
Since his deputy resigned, Sonko who is usually very active on his social media pages has only posted a video of the gospel song ‘Najua’ by Eunice Njeri whose lyrics are about God knowing one’s tribulations. This is uncharacteristic of a man who posts dozens of messages per day and actively engages his followers.
“He is shocked. He was not expecting it and he cannot talk about what transpired yet,” said a source close to him.