Court stops jailing of UoN Vice Chancellor Stephen Kiama

University of Nairobi (UoN) Vice-Chancellor Stephen Kiama during a past interview with The Standard at his office. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor Stephen Kiama has been saved from a possible six-month jail sentence after the Court of Appeal suspended proceedings of the contempt of court case.

Prof Kiama is to appear before Employment and Labour Relations Court judge Maureen Onyango on January 27 for sentencing for violating the court order that stopped restructuring process of the university’s top management but can now relax following the appellate court decision.

Appellate judges Daniel Musinga, Agnes Murgor and Kimana Laibuta on Friday ruled that the VC’s liberty will be at risk if he is sentenced to jail before his appeal is heard.

“He has been summoned to appear before the trial court on January 27 for sentencing. There is no telling the nature of sentence that the trial court is likely to pass and if it passes a custodial sentence, however short it may be, his personal liberty shall be irreversibly lost,” ruled the judges.

The judges stated that Prof Kiama had raised a strong appeal against the labour court decision which found him guilty of contempt and which appeal will be rendered nugatory should he be sentenced before it is heard and determined.

Aerial view of University of Nairobi (UoN), November 2018. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

They added that the VC had raised strong grounds of appeal on why he proceeded with the institutional reforms despite the court order which ought to be determined before the contempt case is allowed to proceed.

Kiama raised 15 grounds in his appeal, among them that the labour court judge erred in law and in fact by issuing an order against the implementation of his proposed “Vice Chancellor’s Proposed Governance Reforms” in July 2021.

“He has raised arguable grounds of appeal which are not frivolous. It is obvious that if he is sent to jail, even for a single day, the deprivation of his liberty cannot be undone. If we don’t stop it and he is sentenced, then his appeal were it to succeed will be rendered nugatory,” the court ruled.

The dispute relates to proposed changes Kiama introduced at the university in July last year in which the institution abolished schools, some colleges, faculties and institutes.

However, the University Academic Staff Union (Uasu) challenged the changes, arguing that there was no policy framework or transitional guidelines. The union further argued that the proposed changes had caused anxiety, disquiet and confusion in the university.

The union obtained a court order stopping implementation of the proposed institutional changes, an order they claimed was violated by the VC when he went ahead to implement the changes.

UASU Secretary-General Dr Constantine Wasonga(left) speaking to the press at UniAfric House, December 2021. [ Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

Uasu, through lawyer Titus Koceyo, told the court that those appointed to head the new UoN’s management structure were already running those offices despite the court suspending implementation of the changes.

They argued that despite the order, Kiama went ahead to appoint Prof Julius Ogeng’o as Associate Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs and Prof Mohamed A. Jama as acting Executive Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences.

The VC also appointed Prof Francis Mulaa to head the Faculty of Science and Technologies on acting capacity, Prof Robert Rukwaro the acting Executive Dean of Faculty of Built Environment and Brian Ouma as the acting Chief Operations Officer.

On December 10, last year, Lady Justice Onyango found Prof Kiama in contempt of court for proceeding to make the changes and ordered him to appear in court on January 27 for the sentencing.

Kiama in his appeal argued that he was condemned unheard, and that the court failed to appreciate the role of a vice-chancellor which is very important in ensuring the institution is properly functioning.