Key questions emerge over the Kenyatta University land row

Kenyatta University vice-chancellor Prof Paul Wainaina. [Esther Jeruto, Standard]

Questions are being asked whether Kenyatta University vice-chancellor Prof Paul Wainaina should be held responsible for the row between the institution and the State over land.

At the same time, the new Kenyatta University Council says it has started a probe into the conduct of senior officials whose action may have led to the creation of the row. 

Prof Chrispus Kiamba, the incoming chair of the new council, said all officials who should have made decisions regarding excision of the 410 acres from to facilitate various projects will be queried.

Details emerged how the old council turned down a request by the State to surrender title deed, explaining that the VC did not have powers to make such decisions.

“The vice chancellor does not have the right, power or mandate to unilaterally surrender any assets of the university such as the tittle to land,” reads the letter by Prof Shem Migot.

The letter, dated July 5 is addressed to Head of Pubic Service Joseph Kinyua.

Prof Migot said that the council had no knowledge of the Cabinet decision and that the university council was not involved in the process leading to acquiring the land.

“In view of the foregoing, we wish to inform you, most respectfully, that the council will be unable to accede to the request to surrender the title deed to the subject parcel as requested,” said Prof Migot in the letter.

But yesterday, Prof Kiamba said probe has been launched into the conduct of the council and VC.

“We really want to understand what was wrong with council and VC. Why did they not find it important to work with government on this course,” said Prof Kiamba. “The Cabinet approved it. And land is available. If the university was lacking land, they should have communicated.”

Surrender tittle deed

In his letter dated July 4, just a day earlier, Kinyua made reference to a Cabinet meeting held on May 12, which approved allocation of land to Ministry of Health, strategic institutions and the Kenyatta University Hospital.

“It is expected that you surrender the tittle deed by close of business on Tuesday July 5, 2022,” Kinyua said.

Finer details of land use are contained in another letter by Kinyua dated July 7, itemising how excised land would be used.

Kinyua said according to Cabinet approval, the council was to cede 180 acres to the referral hospital and 30 acres to the World Health Organisation (WHO) centre. Some 10 acres are to be allocated to the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and 190 acres for the resettlement of Kamae squatters.

Last evening, Prof Kiamba said the government would not let such opportunities go to waste. “When we have serious international institutions expressing interest to come to our country to invest on health and science matters, we cannot let go,” he said.

Details presented

He said the probe will also summon the Chancellor Benson Wiaregi to assess if they acted in best interest of the country.

“We shall also meet the Chancellor. Was he in the picture of these decisions by the council? Was the university appropriately advised by the chancellor?” said Kiamba.

But even as he spoke, vice chancellors of other universities said culpability of Prof Wainaina will depend on details presented.

“All government letters come through the chief executives. The VC is the chief executive of the university. And because Prof Wainaina does not have powers to sign off any property, he ought to have been authorised by the council,” said a VC of a top university.

The VC said the council was expected to deliberate on the matter, approve and authorise Prof Wainaina to sign.

Did the council authorise him to act? These are the questions we need to interrogate to determine his culpability,” said another VC of a public university. “If the VC refused to table the letter in the council, or if the council authorised him to sign off and he declined, it is only then that he can be deemed culpable.”

Prof Kiamba however said: “We shall seek to establish if there was indiscipline in the manner in which the issue was handled.”

As the row rages, university students are defending the VC and also threatening to go on strike. KU students president Moses Ngigi called for the immediate reinstatement of Prof Wainaina as well as the university council that was also disbanded.

“We want to condemn the government for suspending our VC and council in order to grab the university land. As students we are an unhappy lot. If our demands are not met, we shall go to the streets,” Ngigi said.

“KU is not only the place to go and acquire land illegally, let them get an alternative land to put up the proposed ventures. What can be done to us is to construct more hostels since only 8,000 out of the 75,000 students at KU stay within the university.”

Also, a lawyer who filed a case challenging Kenya University land allocation withdrew from representing the petitioners a day after filing.

Lawyer Danstan Omari confirmed that he was no longer acting for Faith Ngugi, Chrispus Koinange, Ken Mutua and Moses Ngigi in the case they had filed against Kinyua, Ministry of Education and Lands Ministry over the KU land saga.

In the case filed before Justice Jairus Ngaah, the four complained that there was no public participation before the decision to hive off part of the university’s land was made.

It emerged that three are three models of land ownership with approaches through which the government can compulsorily acquire land.

First is the Private-Private land ownership where the parcel is wholly a property by an individual or private entity.

Here, the government compensates individuals or entities owning the land based on assessment of the State valuers.

Second is the Public-Private land ownership where a public institution acquires land through its resources.

In this case, even though the property is acquired using resources of the public institution, the government may compensate the institution.

Finally, Public-Public ownership is where the land if fully owned by the government. All public universities, for instance, are fully owned by the government.

And the government does not give any compensation should it acquire land within the public universities.