Why Wafula Chebukati's name is causing anxiety in political circles

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati is whisked away by security officers and the clergy after chaos erupted between Azimio and UDA leaders at the auditorium, Bomas of Kenya on Aug 15, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati is back in the news since retiring after his starring role in the controversial 2022 presidential poll.

After taking a low profile and spending most of his time with his family, Chebukati’s name is again a subject of discussion at political rallies and press conferences.

Sources say the man, who was whisked away by security officers and the clergy when chaos broke out between Azimio and Kenya Kwanza leaders at the Bomas of Kenya auditorium before announcing results on August 15, 2022, could soon be a Court of Appeal judge.

The former IEBC boss is best remembered for officiating two very controversial presidential polls, in 2017 and 2022, and also for the acrimonious fallout with four commissioners who quit after the last General Election.

As the country watched live coverage of the drama on TV in August 2022, armed policemen baton-charged and cleared opposition agents from the hall before Chebukati re-emerged to declare Ruto the victor.

Chebukati declaration

He announced that Ruto garnered 7,176,141 votes, representing 50.49 percent of valid votes cast, while Azimio la Umoja flagbearer Raila Odinga got 6,942,930 which was 48.85 percent.

Political analysts say the plan by President Ruto to appoint Chebukati to the Court of Appeal has been in the pipeline for a while now and that his name was on another list that was circulating last year.

Chebukati’s name featured last week after many months when Raila sensationally protested that Ruto was plotting to make him Chief Justice of Kenya ahead of the 2027 presidential elections.

The opposition leader claimed he became aware of Ruto’s intentions after the president recently met Chief Justice Martha Koome and other Judiciary officials at State House.

The ODM party leader further claimed Chebukati and his predecessor Ahmed Issack Hassan will first be appointed as Court of Appeal judges before the former is later eased into the CJ position before 2027.

The debate went a notch higher when Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi responded to Raila, telling him Chebukati has a right to forward his name for the Chief Justice post should he so wish because he is qualified.

Opposition leaders, however, argue that because of the controversy that IEBC was involved when he served as chairman and the Supreme Court ruling of 2017 that reprimanded the commissioner, Chebukati should not hold a public office, let alone being a judge.

Quiet understanding

Political analyst Martin Andati says there exists a quiet understanding that Chebukati will go to the Court of Appeal, a fact that will be actualized soon in the coming months.

He says Chebukati’s name was on the list of new judges who were to be recruited but the process was stopped for further consultation with the Judiciary but now there is every likelihood that he will now be appointed.

“The politics about his role in IEBC will not stop Ruto from appointing him because he meets all the qualifications that are required for one to serve in both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

“It appears he will be sitting at the Court of Appeal as they look for a way of easing Martha Koome out, because having served in such a senior position at IEBC, it will be difficult for him to return to legal practice unless it is on consultancy terms,” added Andati.  So the man who has since 2022 moved away from public glare will be given a comfortable place at the Court of Appeal as he waits for other opportunities.

Justice Koome is expected to advertise vacancies for five additional High Court judges and 11 Court of Appeal judges.

Raila has also clashed with the CJ for allegedly accepting funding from the Judiciary when such allocations are supposed to come from parliamentary committees as provided for by the law.

 “Why Koome sought money from State House and not from Parliament, only she can explain because the presidency cannot allocate any money to the Judiciary,” said Raila. 

Exchanges between the opposition and government continued after Mudavadi asked the Azimio La Umoja leadership to stop accusing President Ruto’s administration of interfering with the independence of the Judiciary yet it was Raila who is allegedly undermining the mandate of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Mudavadi argued that should Chebukati apply to be a judge, the vetting exercise will be conducted by the JSC which is an independent body and has a right to recruit any persons who are qualified for the job

Mudavadi has defended Chebukati for many years and also supported him in 2021 when his Amani National Congress was still working with ODM, Wiper and Ford Kenya political parties.

He is the only opposition leader then who welcomed the decision by the IEBC to pull out of a multi-agency committee that had been controversially formed to plan and manage the 2022 elections. 

Chebukati had announced the withdrawal of IEBC from the multi-agency committee that had been put in place to prepare for the elections, saying the law only rested the burden of election preparation on the commission.

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