Inside Wanjigi, Oparanya deal amid succession politics in ODM

Safina party leader Jimmy Wanjigi and ODM deputy chief Wycliffe Oparanya. [File, Standard]

A four-hour closed-door meeting of ODM deputy chief Wycliffe Oparanya and Safina party leader Jimmy Wanjigi on Saturday has set tongues wagging.

The meeting appears to have brought a new twist in the ODM succession politics after the Orange party boss Raila Odinga indicated that he could relinquish the position.

Raila, currently eyeing the African Union Commission (AUC) chairmanship, is perceived to be on his way out of national politics, leaving the leadership of ODM up for grabs.

Unlike Oparanya, former Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho who is the ODM’s second deputy leader has been loud about wanting to replace Raila.

Oparanya has been diplomatic, leaving his allies like ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi, MPs Tindi Mwale (Butere) and Raphael Wanjala (Budalang’i), among others, to blow his trumpet.

Joho, who has been missing in action since the 2022 elections, has already fired a warning shot at Oparanya to brace himself for the mother of all battles in ODM succession.

“In our culture, you cannot start talking about inheriting someone’s (Raila) estate when he is still alive,” Oparanya said in an exclusive interview with The Standard at his Mabole home in Butere constituency before he met Wanjigi.

But those who know him say Oparanya is a shrewd man, shy from the traditional “noisy” politics that Joho loves.

“Joho has been AWOL for a while and that may affect his candidature among party loyalists who have been seeing Oparanya around Raila all this while,” said Alfred Mang’ula, a political analyst and party leader of Maendeleo Democratic Party.

He added: “In meeting Wanjigi, a former close ally of Raila and a notable political wheeler-dealer with a proven record of bringing people to power, Oparanya could as well be using potent non-verbal cues to show the competition the variety of political options and reach he has.”

Mang’ula nonetheless cautioned the two Raila deputies from placing high hopes in the dream of inheriting ODM from the former prime minister who “arguably single-handedly” built it.

He pointed out at the recent speech from the ODM boss to the effect that should he be successful in his quest to become AUC chairman, he would leave the party to the duo as a “feel good vibe” tailored to keep ODM alive even as he prepares for the elections early next year.

“That was a loaded statement from Raila in Wajir that could mean he is not ready to let the party go. If he wanted, to he could have endorsed one of them. When the chicks come home to roost, ODM will eventually be left in the hands of a trusted lieutenant from Luo Nyanza. You heard Ida Odinga mention John Mbadi as Oburu Oginga suggested Opiyo Wandayi,” he said.

True to the sentiments, Jared Okelo, MP for Nyando, told The Standard that should Raila relinquish the party’s top leadership, he would vie for it because “it is a seat reserved for Nyanza.”

“I doubt Raila will let go of the party leadership because there is no law barring him from leading ODM as he is AUC chair. He is no stranger to AU politics and just quit last October as the head of infrastructure. Was he not the ODM boss then?” he posed.

The two-term ODM lawmaker MP said the media should not read too much in the Mabole meeting where Wanjigi likened his union with Oparanya to a reincarnation of the 1990s union between firebrand politician Kenneth Matiba from Central and Martin Shikuku from Western that gave the government of the day a hard time then.

Okelo noted that Wanjigi met Oparanya days after he shared a meal with Raila at a Nairobi hotel and what followed after could be in line with the Nairobi deliberation.

“We should therefore not speculate that Oparanya wants to ‘short-wire’ Raila, he has never done so. What transpired at Mabole could be likely a follow-up meeting from the Nairobi one where Oparanya was also a party. He could be following up on behalf of Raila as a loyal deputy,” he said.

Wanjigi, on his part, was categorical to The Standard when asked if he had plans to rejoin ODM.

“No, I already quit, I am here (Mabole) to mark baby steps of a coalition that will start a movement to kick Ruto and his aggressive tax regime out of power for the pain they have caused us,” he said.

He would later take the media through how he was attacked by government agents and even his photo placed on an obituaries page of a leading daily for speaking against government excesses as strips of an opposition leader ready to take on Ruto.

Prodded further on how their alliance will take shape differently to Azimio and Kenya Kwanza, Wanjigi threw in the one-liner statement “watch this space”,  refusing further interrogation.

Martin Andati, a political analyst, laughed off the meeting between Wanjigi and Oparanya, saying it was dead on arrival as the duo had no constituents or supporters.

“Wanjigi is not known for anything apart from cutting deals and riding on his father’s name. Oparanya on the other hand hardly ventures outside Vihiga and Kakamega where his might is felt,” he said. 

He fears that Oparanya is doomed if he leaves ODM to form an alliance with Wanjigi.

MP Mwale, who hosted the leaders in Butere, told The Standard that Oparanya was free to form political alliances and even find friends who would propel his political career for the good of the Mulembe Nation.

Former Shinyalu MP Kizito Mugali, a close ally of Oparanya said the former county boss has no intentions of abandoning ODM for another political outfit.