Almost always smartly dressed in expensive Hugo Boss suits, lawyer CLIFF OMBETA has had a colourful, if not controversial, career thanks to his alacrity to defend suspects facing serious crimes charges. Our reporter, JOAKIM BWANA sat down with him to get insights on his experience in court corridors and some glimpses into his social life.
You have handled many cases in your career. Which would you term as the most difficult between Akasha’s and now, Pastor Ezekiel’s?
The Akasha case was more difficult and it had threats and a lot of bullying. The government was totally involved and at that time there was a big fight against drugs in the country. International eyes were on it as well as United Nations.
The Americans believed an offense had been committed against their country, so they were hell-bent to get results whichever way they deemed fairly or unfairly with threats and promises and attempts to bribe us.
The guys pretend like they are holier than thou but it is me they approached with about Sh25 million (US$250,000) telling me that the Akashas need not to appear in court so they can withdraw the cases and ensure the Akashas are extradited but I refused.
So let them not pretend and when they said there were some lawyers who have been bribing judges, it was a smear campaign. They never came out with any evidence or do follow-ups. They threatened they would come back for other people but they can’t. Extradition cases are done at the chief magistrate courts level unless it is an offense.
What is you most favourable case that you have handled in your 28 years of career as a lawyer?
The Willy Kimani case, the Akasha, and now we are in the new arena of Pastor Ezekiel.
What are the new dynamics in terms of litigating for the Church?
This is a new development because the church is something to do with faith. There is hardly any existing legislation that can really pin down churches and that is why you see the president is trying to appoint a commission so that regulations can be brought about.
On matters of faith, when somebody tells you they believe in God, Jesus, or Mohamed or they are atheists, it is a belief of the heart and mind. We believe Jesus multiplied fish to feed 5,000 people and also turned water into wine.
Then someone tells you they are called Jesus and the name is not patented and we have people in South America calling themselves Jesus and Yesus, then there is Jesus of Tongereni, he doesn’t say he is Jesus of Nazareth and those who follow him is a matter of faith. So when the State says he has done radicalization, they can’t prove he has been preaching hatred.
You find as a result of Makenzi, things are spilling over. The excitement and rush all of a sudden against the churches is not justified. Go for Makenzi, his issues are not about church, it is probably radicalization, probably murder.
There was a hullabaloo over your failure to renew your practicing certificate, what is the story?
It is a mountain made out of a molehill or a storm in a teacup. It is total rubbish. I have been a lawyer for more than 28 years and have been paying for my certificates all the years. Then one year, when I decide to go into politics and decide I am not going to practice that year so I decide not to pay for the certificate. When I come back and get called for cases that are urgent, I don’t remember that I haven’t paid for the certificate. What is wrong with forgetting?
There exists discord between junior and senior lawyers with some judges and magistrates calling to order some of the young lawyers. What is the cause and what is the solution?
You know over the years, the number of junior lawyers has increased exponentially. Most of the decisions or positions they want and get elected, they get them easily. Junior lawyers have come together and ganged together but they should not forget ethics are there for a reason and that is why it is a paper in the Kenya School of Law.
I tend to think instead of making noise, why don’t they tell us what the problem is exactly and the way forward?
You always handle high-profile cases that cause friction among parties. Have you ever received death threats?
Death threats come on a daily basis and you report and record OBs until you get tired. Nowadays, even if someone threatens me, I tell them not to keep me waiting and come immediately because I am tired of waiting.
When did you discard your first phone and what is your current phone?
I discarded my previous phone - a mulika mwizi - during the Akasha case. This iPhone was bought by Akasha. I have never bought any other phone. This is how I even got into social media because I never used to get into social media because I never used to have this kind of phone.
You have helped many people in litigation and life situations, do they always appreciate it?
Yes, many people do appreciate and come back to say thank you and some forget and never even remember. And this is what happens even in politics, while some appreciate it; most forget the moment their problem is solved. They will be given Sh100 or Sh200 and vote for the opponent. It is what we call gymnastics of politics. Help people and never stop and start thinking about how you will be paid back.
Who is your favourite designer when it comes to clothes?
HUGO BOSS is my favourite suit designer. It is always Hugo Boss. This suit I am wearing cost Sh100,000. I bought it at US$101 duty-free. When am not doing the suits, I rock Versace, Fendi, Adidas, and all other designs. I also like tracksuits, t-shirts.
In this era relationships and marriages are falling apart really fast, what is your advice to the youths?
Anything to do with relationships and marriage requires focus. The moment you lose focus everything goes astray. Always focus and do the right things, be considerate, humble, and treat everybody fairly.
Ladies consider you a celeb, how do you deal with the social media traffic and DMs?
I just take it as a normal process when I get messages from women coming to my DM asking about my status whether am married or single. I usually ignore that frenzy and do my routine without getting bothered by who likes or admires me or hates me.
You are known to keep fit in the gym, what is the motivation?
It feels good to work out. This morning I did a 15-kilometer run. It keeps you alive. Again, when you look at the effects of not working out and keeping healthy, you realize you are going down the drain. It is advisable to keep healthy and work out, it keeps you looking good and sharp in your clothes and able to do menial tasks easily.
You can go up and down stairs easily. I have colleagues for whom that will be a problem. I rather not fall into that trap but keep healthy, smart, and looking good.
The whole motivation is about looking good, keeping healthy, and avoiding future incidents of bad health. I have seen that people like you when you are looking healthy, and smart and when you buy clothes, they fit well.
For me, if I decide to add weight as I did during the elections, which I have cut down, I waste a lot of clothes. You have like 70 suits where will they go? You have to buy new ones. So, sometimes, when you look at your clothes, it is motivation enough to go back and put them on.
Advice to your fans and the general public?
Never lose your ball, focus on your target, and never compromise.