Issack Hassan peels back the mask of journalists, lawyers and lawmakers

Former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chair, Ahmed Issack Hassan. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

Occupying the lofty position of chair of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, Ahmed Issack Hassan sat at a vantage position in most crucial of times, elections. 

The position however came with immense pressure and intrigues. In his book, “Referee of a Dirty Ugly Game”, Issack is most generous with the information of who threatened him, who helped him, who advised him on what, and who asked for what. 

"Peeling back the mask" is a term associated with lawyer Miguna Miguna from his book "Peeling Back the Mask, a quest for justice in Kenya." In the book, Miguna tells it all on his interactions with senior figures of the grand coalition government, including his boss, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

In Issack's book, not even Miguna is spared. He says he had initially thought Miguna was a Nubian from Kibera and one of the affirmative action recruits of the former PM's office, on account of his Muslim cap.

Incidentally, Miguna's 2011 article "IIEC chair Issack does not deserve all the plaudits" played a role in his epic fallout with the PM after Issack complained about it. Miguna was suspended from office, but was reinstated after he was cleared of gross misconduct charges.

"I had noted that he generally engaged in debates on television with eloquence, and wrote captivating, thought-provoking articles, though I could not figure out why he attacked me so viciously on this particular one," the former electoral agency boss writes.

Issack goes on to "peel back the mask" of fellow lawyers, MPs, top politicians, colleagues and senior state officers.

The tenderpreneur lawyer 

“Mr Chairman, I am an agent for... I will be getting a good commission which I can share with you,” he writes in his book. 

The gentleman being referred to is a ranking-lawyer who had played a significant role in his appointment as chair of the commission. Issack says he rebuffed the lawyer's overtures to support a major tender, following which the man hit back. 

“After our meeting, he sent a lengthy, rude text message, letting me know that I was a useless nomad,” he writes of the man. 

 Diplomatic threat 

When the Canadian Firm Code Inc. lost out of ballot printing tender, Issack says their Vice President Gordon Sinclair was very unhappy, believing they were unfairly knocked out. The team had supplied BVR kits for the 18 pilot constituencies in the referendum but was the first to be knocked out on bid bond technicality. They complained to their embassy in Nairobi.

Issack reveals that a Commercial attaché at the Canadian embassy visited him, complaining they had already spent a lot of money on the tender: “If they wanted to mess us up, it would not take them more than 50,000 dollars, which was a mere one per cent of the tender value, to do so,” he writes. 

Kambasome affair and Raila's ultimate call

In the run-up to the election, IEBC riding on election regulations decreed that photos of presidential running mates would not appear on the ballots. He said Wiper leader Kalonzo  Musyoka dispatched different emissaries to him, among them chair of Law Society of Kenya Eric Mutua and Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. 

They all placed a word for Musyoka: “The matter was becoming what Kenyans on Twitter would call ‘kambasome’,” he says in the book. 

Later, Issack reached out to presidential candidate Raila Odinga on the unrelenting nature of his deputy to ensure his photo appears on the ballot. Raila had an emphatic response to it: 

“I don’t want his photo on my ballot.” 

Spymasters query on 'Othaya Narc politician'

During the party primaries in the run up to the 2013 General Election, the activities of “Othaya politician” Mary Wambui attracted interest of all and sundry. She was determined to succeed President Mwai Kibaki who was retiring, but the president’s men had chosen Gichuki Mugambi. 

Issack says he had left the office when then intelligence boss Michael Gichangi called him for a meeting, over Wambui. They met at a petrol station along Argwings Kodhek Road. 

“It was a sight to behold, as the tall, lanky spy chief sauntered quietly while approaching my car. I asked my driver and my bodyguard to step out. He then got in and we had a brief discussion. His major concern was that the increased political activity around Mary Wambui and her rival was breeding acrimony among those close to the president,” he says in the book. 

Wambui had actually won TNA nominations and stormed IEBC headquarters when she learnt of the attempts to rig her out. By force, fury and fire, she bagged her TNA ticket.

Amina’s 'steadying' business 

In the book, Issack reveals that besides her day job as Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director at Unep Amina Mohamed had another job. 

In the tense moments leading up to announcement of President Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya’s fourth president, Amina turned up at Bomas of Kenya to steady him up. 

“Your job is to announce the results, and you should not worry about the consequences. Do it and let the chips fall where they may. It is not your job to think about the aftermath and what the Americans or British will do or not do,” she told him. 

Comparing the whole episode to what “an angel in human form would do” he says Amina helped clear his doubts and anchor his decision with confidence. The angel in Amina did not stop there: 

“I will prepare a guideline for your speech. It should be a compelling and potent oration. All you have to add are the technical bits with figures and results of the election.” 

And so it was that a UN staffer who would later became Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary in the new administration wrote the speech for an independent electoral commission boss. 

The evil in journalists 

Throughout the book, Issack paints the image of Kenyan journalists as conniving lot who worked with insiders in the Commission to finish him. He starts by outing two senior journalists whom he engaged to write his memoirs, and who vanished with his materials and money.  

Every story against him or the commission was either planted or deliberately skewed against him. He says a senior journalist called him on the eve of presidential election announcement, seeking information on the audit of the results as demanded by CORD team.

“I happened to overhear Raila’s voice in the background as we spoke, and I could tell they were together. It became evident that the plan was to make the story a major headline in the newspapers the following day,” he writes.

He says he told him to tell the PM that the direction he was taking was not a good thing for him or the country: “This seems like a planned story, and you will create unnecessary tension if you proceed in that direction. I will hold you personally responsible if this causes any further trouble for the country,” he warned.

At the commission, they nick-named “The Star” newspaper as the “notice board” because they kept banging one scoop after another about them. He also outs the two Star journalists who appeared to know more than the commission about the happenings in the commission.

Backroom advisors 

It would sound strikingly odd that a chair of an independent commission qould have for himself backroom succours whom he leant on for advice.

On page 258, Issack unveils his team of “trusted, well-meaning advisers” who gave him “objective, unbiased advice and opinion” about his work, and outside the commission's corporate governance structure.

The idea had come from his friend, Alice Nderitu who at the time was serving as a commissioner at the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC). Nderitu headlined this team which comprised of human rights activist Irungu Houghton, and Ford Foundation official Maurice MarkOloo. 

“Maurice allowed us to meet in his office over the weekends as I battled many difficult decisions and situations. Their main and only objective was to ensure that I had a safe space to share my worries and concerns, and get advice,” he writes in the book.

Embassy’s fury and demand for refund

It was an awkward moment for Western Embassies in Nairobi, especially the US and UK, when Issack declared Uhuru Kenyatta as the president-elect.

In the book, he says the diplomats were a divided lot, with some accepting the results as they were announced, and others being hostile.

He singles out the Netherlands ambassador to Kenya at the time as having been particularly upset.

“A demand for a refund of the contribution his country had made towards the commission basket fund was made, in protest. Any further contribution was henceforth discontinued. The Netherlands and German ambassadors to Kenya strongly believed that the election was a sham, and that it had been rigged,” he writes.

Issack says he wrote a letter to The Netherlands ambassador to Kenya requesting for a meeting. He neither responded to the letter nor responded to follow up calls.

Ahmednasir’s Sh40 million kitchen furnishing

Lawyers who represented IEBC and the chairman at the Supreme Court presidential petition were paid Sh380 million. They were led by Senior Counsels Aurelio Rebelo and Mohammed Nyaoga.

In addition, Issack says, they hired two other senior counsels- Ahmednasir Abdullahi and Kamau Karori to represent him “as part of a strategy to increase our chances of rebuttal.”

At the Supreme Court which Issack describes as the Oscars or the Emmy’s of legal practice, Ahmednasir made a spectacle of himself, describing Raila as a perennial loser, and outlining the “Raila doctrine” that elections are free and fair “only if Raila wins.”

Just like his commissioner’s Sh164 million exit package, Issack does not see why Kenyan’s led by the media were complaining about the Sh380 million pay for lawyers.

He adopts the same theory to defend the amount; Kenyans would have forked out more had the petition been lost.

He admits that when the lawyers were eventually paid by Treasury, he made follow up calls to them, including to Ahmednasir, to apologise for the delays and to let him know that they were glad the Treasury had finally released the funds.”

“It's not even enough to furnish my kitchen,” the Grand Mullah retorted.

Issack says he wondered what kind of a house the lawyer was putting up whose kitchen furnishing was worth another house in Nairobi.

“Unfortunately, I did not get to find out as he did not invite me to his house warming party,” he writes.

Carry my notebooks!

In the book, Issack claims Ahmednasir’s law partner and then Mandera Central MP Abdikadir Mohamed did not appear to like him. At the time, Abdikadir chaired two important committees which had a direct oversight on Commission work.

“I had noted earlier on that Abdikadir was not clear in his support of my candidature as the chair of IEBC. He was ambivalent at best, and at worst, wanted to have a person he could rely on for help in pursuing his political ambitions. He did not care if the post of the chairperson would go to any other individual other than myself,” he writes.

He says the attitude towards him became clearer during a study visit to France and Germany in 2010.

“On arrival, I observed how Abdikadir engaged in covert power games, like insisting I carry his notebooks for him in my laptop bag, and requiring that I give them to him when we were ready for the next session,” he said.

He claims that Abdikadir had been unhappy about the delimitation report which Parliament had rejected. He writes things started going south for him and his commission in Parliament, with parliamentary staff telling him that the Mandera Central MP and two other North Eastern MPs were plotting against him.

“Chairman, I don’t know what you have done to these three people, but they are going to fix you. Ile kitu wanakupangia,” he quotes one parliamentary staffer telling him.

When matters got to a head, Issack admits he resorted to the same game he had played when lobbying for the position; reach out to North Eastern leadership. He reached out to then Ijara MP Yusuf Haji for help.

He also had Ahmednasir convene a meeting between himself, Abdikadir and two other Aden’s during which Abdikadir was beaten down into backing off.

“Okay, I hear you all and I will relent on any further action on this. However, I will not support or oppose him,” Abdikadir committed.

Chilobae’s favourite and Ruto’s caution

In the book, Issack reveals the intrigues surrounding the recruitment of former CEO Ezra Chiloba.

He admits he’s the one who headhunted Chiloba from the British Commission, and that he was his favourite after his first choice, Murathe Kinuthia who worked for DFID declined, and suggested another person, Dickson Omondi the then country director of National Democratic Institute (NDI).

Chiloba did not immediately jump into the fray. He asked for time to think about, consult, pray and to consult SDA elders. Eventually, Omondi and Chiloba applied and were shortlisted alongside Erastrus Ethekon of UNDP and Betty Nyabuto then acting CEO at the commission.

Ahead of the commission’s date with the four, Deputy President William Ruto summoned Issack to his home. As a preliminary, he confirmed Ruto’s son whom he was introduced to “was a certified true copy of the original” before the DP went straight to his inquiry:

“Who will you be picking?” he posed. Issack tried to play the game, saying they had four candidates so they would be picking one.

“I know that, but who are you, in particular picking? Who among them is your favourite?”

Issack capitulated: “Ezra Chiloba.”

Ruto proceeded to wonder whether Chiloba would not betray him. Following Issack’s assurances, Ruto walked to the window in his house, and offered:

“Chairman, I have been in politics for a long time. Even when you think someone is with you, you have to keep on checking over your shoulder to confirm whether he is with you or not. Otherwise if you make a mistake of thinking everything is okay, you may find out that you have been abandoned, and you are on your own, I am telling you.”

PAC bribery and EACC shocker

Issack says that the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) which was handling a damning Auditor General audit against the commission asked for bribes in return for good verdict.

He says Chiloba told him on several occasions that he was receiving phone calls from some members of PAC, while others came to see him in his office.

“They were mostly soliciting bribes so as to alter the incriminating report they were working on,” he writes.

In the end, he writes, the MPs were ready to settle for Sh3 million to share among themselves. He says he was ready to wear a wire and carry treated money in order to trap the MPs, and consulted EACC on the same.

He says he was shocked by the response he received from EACC when he offered to trap the MPs. A senior EACC official told him PAC was powerful enough to disband EACC in retaliation. Besides, they did not have that amount of treated money over the weekend to execute such a delicate plan.

“Wewe na shida zenu, tafuta tu njia mmalizane nao…," the official told him.

At this point in time, Issack turned on the very media he has bashed throughout his book, to expose what was happening: “It was agreed that an article would be done the following day to expose PAC. In it, members of PAC were accused of extorting money from IEBC Commissioners.”

Finally, the broken clock that the media was in the eyes of Issack, was correct once.

Taliban and Mogadishu offer

In the book, Issack writes about a former colleague who had landed a big job in one of the arms of government and who was fighting with some of his acquaintances.

The people the official was fighting dispatched his “good old friend” Abdikadir Mohamed to intercede for them.

When Issack talked to the official, they refused to apologise or withdraw some of the allegations they had made against friends of Issack. He says the official went on to say “I was just like them, derisively referring to me as a Taliban.”

But the “Taliban” reference did not always work against him. Issack says when CORD calls rent the air saying he must go back to Mogadishu, the President of Somalia Hassan Sheikh inquired whether he was indeed from Somalia.

When he explained that he was a Kenyan but the Mogadishu reference was just a spiteful way of telling him to quit, President Sheikh directed that he be informed that Somalia was ready for him to work with their newly established electoral commission. He would later took the offer.

The book is published by Big Books Limited, founded by journalist Mbugua Ng'ang'a, the author of "We Can Fix This Country", a book on thought leadership and the economy.