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Year of twists and turns at City Hall as fancy-pants Sonko shown the exit

By Josphat Thiong'o | December 28th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

The year 2020 will be etched in the annals of history as one that coronavirus ravaged the globe, killing millions in its wake, but for Nairobians, it will go down as a year they were treated to un-ending drama at City Hall.

From former Governor Mike Sonko facing the impeachment sword twice, Covid-19 striking the assembly, and the resignation of Beatrice Elachi as Speaker, the twists and turns at City Hall played out like somewhat of a novel that had the entire country glued to its pages.

Uhuru intervenes

While many were optimistic of the fortunes a new year brings, Sonko in February 2020 was busy trying not to sink in the impeachment waters after an ouster motion was lodged against him by Nairobi MCAs.

In a move that would pave the way for a tumultuous relationship between him and MCAs, ODM ward representatives tabled a notice of motion seeking his ouster.

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The MCAs listed 16 grounds for removal of the governor, including abuse of office and irregular procurement of services. These included irregular awarding of a Sh1.5 billion tender for construction of stadia, irregular awarding of a Sh1.7 billion contract to an insurance company, the Sh18.5 million city beautification programme, inability to constitute a working cabinet with almost all CECs working in acting capacity, and skewed award of contracts to road developers in estates.

Despite Sonko’s tactics to scuttle his ouster bid, his saving grace was President Uhuru Kenyatta’s intervention.

The president implored the MCAs to drop the ouster bid and focus on service delivery. All the 122 MCAs were later summoned to State House where they were talked out of proceeding with the ouster. The governor also rushed to court and obtained orders barring debate of the ouster motion until the case was heard and determined.

Covid-19 strikes

In March, Speaker Elachi suspended plenary sittings for 30 days as a measure to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. Foreign travel by members and staff of the city assembly was also suspended as well as visits by delegations such as schools and international groups to the County Assembly. 

Elachi would explain that a number of staff had in February travelled to destinations affected by the virus and that the assembly was located in a high risk area. It was later confirmed that an unidentified number of MCAs and staff had contracted the disease.

The virus would strike again in November, leaving six MCAs indisposed. An unspecified number of staff also contracted the virus forcing the assembly to adopt virtual plenary sittings to avoid physical meetings as a measure to curb spread of the virus.

NMS born

It would also be in the same month that President Kenyatta established the office of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), completing the national government’s takeover of key functions from a rudderless county government.

Major-General Mohamed Abdalla Badi was appointed director general of NMS, which now oversees the crucial health, transport, public works and planning dockets that the governor ceded on February 25.

In February, Sonko had called on the President to help him run the county citing outside interference from cartels. This led to City Hall and the national government signing a deed of transfer agreement that saw four county functions transferred to the central government.

The transfer took effect in March when Sonko and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, at a ceremony witnessed by the president and Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka at State House, signed the final deed of transfer following public participation.

After several confrontations, Sonko would formally register his intent to pull out from the deed of transfer agreement entered between the two levels of government.

In a letter addressed to the Attorney General, Wamalwa and Badi, Sonko declared a dispute between the county and the national government.

He cited numerous illegalities in the deed of transfer as reasons for his desire to terminate the deed of transfer of functions. He said the deal was grounded in sheer bad faith and monumental breaches of the Intergovernmental Relations Act. The matter is still before the office of the Attorney General and is yet to be determined.

Mlango Kubwa MCA Patricia Mutheu is dragged by police officers inside City Hall, Nairobi. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Elachi resigns

Then came August 11, 2020, when Elachi threw in the towel as speaker, citing poor working environment characterised by chaos, threats and constant fighting all the while blaming Sonko for her woes.

It would later emerge that then governor Sonko and his allies in the assembly had in July held a meeting with top Jubilee leaders that ultimately sealed Elachi’s fate. The meeting came amid continued in-fighting and power struggles at the assembly with the name of Uhuru being dragged into the mess at City Hall.

Prior to her resignation, Elachi was facing an impeachment motion after MCAs announced that they had collected 51 signatures in support. They accused her of abuse of office, illegal appointment of new assembly clerk, and victimisation of MCAs and assembly staff.

Elachi, however, linked the move to her support for NMS. Sonko had called for termination of the deed of transfer that saw the county cede the four functions to NMS.

The wrangles had escalated to an extent that the pro-Sonko and pro-Elachi MCAs clashed in the assembly precincts on numerous occasions.

Mutura wins

Mutura, a former Makadara MP, was elected and sworn in as the third speaker on August 15, 2020. As his first task in office, he vowed to unite the assembly and strengthen ties with NMS.

Mutura beat former Nairobi County Deputy Speaker Ken Ngondi, finance and economic planning chief officer Washington Makodingo, Abdi Ali Abdi, Mike Guoro and Allan Mang’era.

Sonko ousted

The impeachment ghost would return to haunt Sonko on November 26, 2020, after assembly Minority Leader Michael Ogada tabled a notice of motion for his ouster.

Ogada listed four grounds for the governor’s removal. These were gross violation of the law; committing a crime under national and international laws; and lacking the capability to run the county. He also faulted Sonko for crippling operations of NMS and the county executive by failure to assent to a Sh37.4 billion budget and the subsequent refusal to release funds for county operations.

The motion was approved by 86 out of 122 MCAs. This surpassed the required one third (42 members) threshold by law.

The assembly’s resolve to impeach the governor was further seen on December 3, 2020, after 88 MCAs voted to oust Sonko.

His ouster trial would then proceed to the Senate which, as fate would have it, upheld the decision to impeach him. The senators voted to send Sonko packing, making him the second governor to be a victim of Senate's axe following former Kiambu governor Ferdinand Waititu in January, this year.

Acting governor

Speaker Mutura took over as acting Governor December 21, for 60 days. His first act in office was to sign the governor’s warrant that in effect gave the Treasury the greenlight to release Sh37.5 billion to the county, paving the way for implementation of the 2020/2021 budget.

Mutura’s role as the governor includes steering the county government for the remainder of his 60-day term ahead of the February 18, 2021, by-election.

former Governor Mike Sonko Sonko Impeached Speaker Elachi Resigns
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