Leadership wrangles at Kaimosi now go to court

Kaimosi Friends University College. [Mumo Munuve, Standard] 

When the Public Service Commission (PSC) declared a vacancy in the office of the vice-chancellor at Kaimosi Friends University (Kafu) on August 8, 2023, it was hard to imagine the journey to get a substantive VC for the first and only University in Vihiga County could end up in court.

Today, the process to have the University get a VC has diverted from the academic corridors to the corridors of justice where one of the candidates who felt shortchanged in the hiring process is seeking redress.

The court case is challenging the Education Ministry’s process of appointing Professor Mary Onyango Abukutsa as the university’s substantive VC.

The ministry on February 19 picked Professor Peter Mwita from Machakos University to sit as acting VC as the court case is being deliberated in court.

In the case scheduled for hearing in June, Professor Jack Nandi, who has been at the helm of the institution since its inception in 2015, has moved to the Labour Court citing the Education Ministry for flouting the law to deny him the VC post even as he emerged top in the PSC interview.

“I attended the interviews on July 12, 2023, and emerged top of the list of candidates scoring 80.33 points followed by two candidates who both tied at 71 points,” he says in his court pleadings.

Professor Peter Mwita. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

He says that PSC, after doing its due diligence and convening public participation, recommended to the Kafu Council, in a letter dated December 15, 2023, his name, Prof James Njiru and Prof Mary Abukutsa Onyango for consideration of the post.

In a meeting held on January 2 this year, the Kafu Council recommended his appointment as the VC, based on merit and precedence set in the previous recruitment for the position of Deputy Principal Academic Affairs.

“By a letter dated January 2, 2024, the Kafu Council sought the concurrence of the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Education, as the law provides, on my appointment as the Vice Chancellor for Kafu,” he says in his pleadings.

“However, rather than give concurrence, Ezekiel Machogu, Cabinet Secretary Education Ministry, in a departure from the law, decided to also recommend vide a letter dated February 5, 2024, the appointment of Prof. Mary Abukutsa Onyango as the Vice Chancellor, as opposed to me.”

He said Machogu did not indicate any security or integrity concerns that had led to the recommendation of another person when he was the top candidate in the interview.

“I aver that it is unfair for applicants such as me, who take time and effort to apply and go in for interviews, when the appointing authority already has a plan to appoint or hire someone else who may not even be as qualified as the other applicants; as it was in my case,” says Nandi, the professor who has acted as Kafu VC since August 2022 when retired President Uhuru Kenyatta granted the institution a charter, in his court papers.

Kaimosi Friends University College. [Mumo Munuve, Standard] 

He says if Machogu’s nullification of his appointment by the Kafu Council was allowed then in future presenting oneself to the PSC in Kenya for an interview will become something of a spiritual suicide mission for certain kinds of candidates.

“Because if a candidate is not from one's ethnic group, ilk or liking and aspires to be appointed to one of the Public Universities, they should be prepared for an interview where their suitability will be essentially taken as given, and they will have a task to persuade Cabinet Secretary to the contrary,” he says in his plaint.

As the case is waiting to be heard the university sitting some 500 metres off the Chavakali-Kapsabet Road, has witnessed changes in top posts and pockets of unrest as community and civil groups demand the filing of the post with Abukutsa who come from Vihiga as others want Nandi, who is from Bungoma County, who shepherded it to a point of attaining a charter.

The neutral ones are calling for a speedy hearing of the case so that the university gets a substantive VC to light the academic torch in the county and even country.