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How Polycarp Igathe tried to carry favour with Mike Sonko before the big break up

Equity Bank Chief Commercial Officer Polycarp  Igathe. [Samson Wire, Standard]

When industrialist Chris Kirubi died last year, Polycarp Igathe wrote a momentous “ode to chairman” in which he let the cat out of the bag.

In the tribute, Igathe revealed that he shared a “divinely ordained bond” with Kirubi, one that began back in the 90s. When he was a student leader at the University of Nairobi, he escorted the business mogul back to his car after an event.

The friendship that followed thereafter defined his life forever; Kirubi hiring him as marketing director at Haco and within six months promoting him to deputy managing director and eventually MD in less than two years.

For 10 years, Igathe ran Kirubi’s crown jewel, Haco. And when he expressed his wish to cross to Vivo Energy in 2013, Kirubi bid him a special bye; an appointment as a non-executive director at Sidian Bank.

As if this was not enough, he nominated Igathe’s wife Cathy as a non-executive director at Centum and Gen Africa. He was not done with Igathe yet, for in 2017 he unveiled a grand plan for him and the city that had been his play world.

“And along the way your genius, architectural mind designed a political power-play in Nairobi. Remembering fondly how we laughed and fought about that particular design. The moralist in me, lost to the realist in you,” Igathe wrote in the ode, revealing his entry into city politics was a Kirubi project.

His resignation – the second time he was breaking off Kirubi’s shell – was framed as a solo act. In the ode, he wrote that when Kirubi asked him why he quit, he answered that in matters of the conscience, the rule of the majority do not apply.

“Ultimately what was required and needed in Nairobi was delivered by your design – a city governed by a competent authority and administration. It is work in progress now with NMS. But what a sacrifice that was,” he quipped.

But the steely image Igathe cut of himself in the ode, of a man who could resign without referencing the matter to his mentor, melts when telephone conversations leaked by his former boss at City Hall, Mike Sonko, are analysed.

In the messages released to show the two were working together, the first impression one gets is that of an overly subservient man, struggling for relevance in a ticket he had earned through a vote.

Granted, the deputy governor position is not for the faint-hearted. As demonstrated in cases of several other DGs, it is not enough that your ticket appears on the ballot alongside that of your boss.

The bosses can be mean when they choose to, and frustrate you to the bone. The steely ones, like Deputy President William Ruto, however do not go down without a fight.

Through his short reign at City Hall, Igathe did not throw a single punch. Instead, he bent over backwards, several times, to buy Sonko’s favour. Unfortunately for him, Sonko was the steely, nonchalant type; unbothered, unmoved, unwilling.

Millions of apologies

Every time he missed his calls, Igathe would text back with not just an apology, but millions of them: “Million apologies. Was dead asleep and missed your call,” he wrote on November 5, 2017. A few days later on November 8, he was oozing similar regrets, albeit not in millions.

“I retired to bed way early last night. Just noticed missed calls last night. Pray all is well. I am en route to the office. And apology for missing your call boss.”

At the burial of former Nyeri Governor Wahome Gakuru on November 18, 2017, Igathe could only text his boss of his presence in the same function, complete with his name at the end. The boss needed to know he was around.

“Seated behind you to your left boss. Good to see you here. Igathe.”

But Sonko was lost in his flashy element; with probably too many text messages flooding his many handsets. Also, in some of these jobs, one has to learn to imagine the ruminations of his boss.

When he failed to respond, Igathe fired another one, and tweaked it a little bit just in case the big man was wondering where exactly where he was.

“Seated a row behind you. Good to see you.” Sonko, the quintessential boss, obliged in a single word: “Perfect.”

Ex- Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko(left) and his deputy Polycarp Igathe during the swearing-in ceremony at Uhuru Park in 2017. [Beverlyne Musili, Standard]

 

His colleague in Nyeri, Mutahi Kahiga, leapt from a DG to a full governor in a matter of days, sadly on account of death of his boss. Two weeks later, Kahiga was looking for Sonko, and Igathe texted his boss to alert him of it.

Sonko did not respond, at least not in text. The following morning, Igathe texted his boss early to check whether he would make it for the flag-off of the annual Standard Chartered Marathon. 

The boss was non-committal, instead asking him to represent him if he doesn’t make it on time.

“I am here bro. Am running too,” Igathe responded, and was ignored as usual.

On November 22, 2017, Igathe arrived in Sonko’s imposing Mua Hills home to find the owner who invited him was a no show. He had either not arrived or had arrived and left without bothering to alert his guest.

He either called and his call was ignored, or he elected to fire a text to inquire his next move: “Arrived in Mua, or do I come to Machakos?”

Without apology, Sonko simply retorted: “Come to Maanzoni Lodge.” Maanzoni is off Mombasa Road, before the junction of Mathatani road leading to Sonko’s home. If there had been better communication between the pair, Igathe would not have had to drive uphill to Sonko’s home.

Eerie silence

That December, on the eve of Jamhuri Day, President Uhuru Kenyatta was to visit City Hall. Eerie silence greeted Igathe’s brief of the proposed programme for the president’s visit.

On the actual day, Igathe grew apprehensive of the absence of his boss, and texted him: “Call bro, H.E is on the way.” Sonko calmed him down: “He’s coming at 2pm” to which Igathe submitted, “Ok Sir”. At 2:03pm, he texted again: “Your Excellency, are you almost here? With CS Mucheru.”

Many are the times he was ignored, but he pushed on. And many are the times he was railroaded into taking certain directions, without recourse to his feelings. When he informed Sonko he was due to appear on Citizen TV for an interview, Sonko passed a request.

“If they ask about Lilian Towers acquisition tell them those are allegations and in any case if they are true there’s nothing wrong with a politician/leader to acquire a property anywhere in Kenya provided he’s not using public funds.”

On December 5, he apprised Sonko of a situation where an individual who ran on an opposition ticket continued to chair a public hospital. He asked for his approval to have the irregularity fixed. Sonko never did, at least not on text.

The next communication from the governor was a reminder, two days later, of a court matter due for that day.

In other instances, Igathe got into the murk of City Hall filth, the dubious payment system where contractors had to beg for payment or throw some weight to impress steely bureaucrats.

“Your Excellency, request these market contractors to get paid. I visited the projects and if paid they can be completed before end of year for your launch.”

In a separate occasion, he pressed: “Your excellency, I beg that we pay markets and ICT contractors so work commences.” His justification is enticing: “This work will have immediate effect feel good factor. World Bank mission (president of World Bank) is in Nairobi and they will pay you a courtesy call. They have put 330 million dollars into this. They need us to do our part.”

Although Sonko obliged with a monosyllabic “done” for a response, Igathe was not convinced. He ploughed on: “Thank you boss. Send message to CEC Finance to effect. Want you to commission projects first week Dec so we silence the people talking  about  the  100  days  achievement.

In other instances, the Nkubu High School alumnus informs his boss that he is dining with Indonesia’s number one domestic manufacturing investor, William Katuari.

He doesn’t waste the space before telling him that Katuari’s Wing Group businesses annual turnover is equivalent to 40 per cent of Kenya’s GDP. Attaching loads of grainy photos of himself and the business mogul, he signs away his psalms:

“He cannot wait to invest in Nairobi City County under the wise leadership of my boss H.E Mike Mbuvi Kioko Sonko wa Kivanguli.”

In total, the former governor published 23 screenshots of his communications with his DG. In the communications, the DG, an avowed “Mkenya Daima” enthusiast is doing 90 per cent of the talk as Sonko responds in monosyllables of yes and ok.

Igathe is now back, and seeks Jubilee’s ticket to run the city by himself.