Senior officers in the disciplined forces have launched intense behind-the-scenes lobbying for the post of Commissioner General of Prisons which is set to fall vacant when Isaiah Osugo leaves in August.
Mr Osugo, whose term was extended by President Uhuru Kenyatta for two years in 2016 after he attained the mandatory retirement age of 60, was last month cleared to continue serving by the Labour and Employment Relations Court.
Sources familiar with the matter have said the president, who has been consolidating his control in the criminal and justice system, is not keen on extending Osugo’s term again. The prison’s boss is the only remaining top officer in the justice system that Uhuru inherited from former President Mwai Kibaki.
Since beginning his second term, President Kenyatta has so far redeployed Keriako Tobiko from the public prosecutions office, moved Ndegwa Muhoro from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and recalled Joel Kitili and Samuel Arachi from the police.
In light of these developments, there is an all-out behind-the-scene scramble for Osugo’s office at Magereza House.
Among those top in line to replace him is his assistant Benjamin Njoga, the Deputy Commissioner General of Prisons and senior most officer in the service.
Njoga is a career prisons officer, who joined the service in 1983 and has served in various capacities including Duty Officer, Officer in Charge and Regional Commander of Prisons.
Also angling for Osugo’s position is Wanini Kireri, the senior most woman in the department who is the Assistant Commissioner General of Prisons.
The other officer of a similar rank is the Director of Prison Enterprises Josephat Ituka who is also waiting on the sidelines.
Ms Kireri was transferred to Magereza House in February last year after being promoted from her position as Nairobi Regional Prisons Commander.
Since the prison’s department is one of the highest funded Government units, the stakes are high. It costs about Sh240 to keep a prisoner behind bars per day and Kenya has at least 210,000 inmates.
Two weeks ago, the president said his administration will dedicate more resources to the reformation of Kenya’s criminal justice system to make it more effective.
“I ask the department to tap their revenue potential so that we can avoid over-reliance on the Exchequer,” Uhuru said during the pass out of 3,198 prisons officers at the Prisons Staff Training College in Ruiru.
In 2008, Osugo was plucked by retired president Kibaki from DCI where he was in charge of Eastern Province. His appointment at the time when the Government was rolling out prison reforms is said to have caused a lot of grumbling among senior officers who thought they deserved the position.
Despite initial resistance to his appointment, he is credited with introducing a door policy that opened the prisons to the world and initiating several reforms, including improvement of housing conditions for officers.
In what is seen as a preparation for his exit, Osugo has in the last one year made sweeping changes in the department by moving at least 53 top officers in two phases.