ODM leader Raila Odinga has denied claims he has stopped his party MPs and close allies from criticising the government to safeguard his friendship with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Mr Odinga (pictured centre) said MPs from his party were free to demand accountability from the Jubilee government, adding that the lawmakers do not need his permission to criticise the government.
Speaking yesterday during an interview on Ramogi FM, a Luo vernacular radio station, he moved to debunk the belief that his March 9, 2018 handshake with the president had killed the Opposition and cowed even once fierce critics of the government.
“I have not stopped anyone from criticising the government. There is no single day I have called the MPs to a meeting and asked them not to hold the government to account, especially on service delivery,” Raila said.
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“When things are bad, leaders must speak out. The MPs are representative of the people and are free to criticise the government if they have a reason to do so.”
The former prime minister and African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development, however, said he may once in a while act as a bridge between the MPs and the government, especially if they want to reach out to the president.
He said the leaders were free to complain when their people were being affected by floods, famine or other calamities.
“I am only there as an intermediary should they need my intervention,” he said.
The radio host had asked Raila if it was true that leaders from Nyanza had taken a back seat because they did not know how he would react if they criticised the government.
The political truce between Raila and President Kenyatta has changed the political landscape in Nyanza, and elected leaders often wait to read Raila’s stand before commenting on unfolding political issues.
An MP from Kisumu had once told Saturday Standard that he did not want to comment on the demolition of business stalls in the town at the time until he confirmed the party’s position on the matter.
“What is the party leadership saying? Let me not jump the gun. Let me consult,” he said.
But some ODM leaders recently broke the lull when they delivered a scathing attack against the government from inside the National Assembly.
Chairman and Leader of Minority in Parliament John Mbadi and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed led the onslaught, faulting the government over the manner it was handling the Covid-19 crisis and the floods disaster in Nyanza and other parts of the country.
The leaders wanted to know how the millions of shillings the government had received from the World Bank to fight the spread of the virus had been spent when many people could not afford face masks and food.
Their attack on the Jubilee government at a time when Raila was enjoying a cordial political relationship with the president surprised many political observers.
Yesterday, Raila said he encouraged dialogue between elected leaders and the government, adding that he recently attended a meeting between the MPs and the president during which key issues affecting the region were discussed.
“I have been meeting leaders not only from Nyanza but across the country, especially areas hit by floods. We have reached out to those affected in Baringo, West Pokot, Budalangi and Nyanza,” he said.
Raila also spoke about the spread of Covid-19, and accused Kenyans of provoking the government into implementing a total lockdown of the country to help control the disease, which he described as World War III.
“It is unfortunate that Kenyans are provoking the government to lock down the country through continuous reckless behaviour. I am seeing it happening if we don’t change. We are heading for a total lockdown,” he said.
The former PM also told communities to stop ferrying bodies from one part of the country to another for burial.
“We must stop this cultural belief that a dead person must be ferried and buried upcountry. The bodies can be interred in cemeteries in urban centres where these people have died,” he said.
Raila added that the pandemic was a global war that could be worse than World Wars I and II combined.
“Look at Italy and the US. The number of people dying of the virus each day are more than those who died daily during the Vietnam war or the World War II. This thing is far more deadly than we have been thinking,” he said.
The ODM leader said he was perturbed by reports that a group of mourners from Kibra in Nairobi ferried a body for burial in Siaya, only for seven of them to test positive for Covid-19 on arrival.
“We want to know how these people left Nairobi and passed all the road blocks. I am being told a chief wrote a letter authorising them to travel, yet no precaution was taken,” said Raila.
He asked why health and county officials did not handle the burial in Siaya the way a similar ceremony in Bungoma was handled a few days ago.
“In the Bungoma burial, health officers took charge. The coffin was draped in polythene paper and no one went near the grave except those dressed in protective clothes. Why were those who traveled to Siaya allowed to exhibit such carelessness?”
Raila said the government should introduce guidelines to stop the ferrying of bodies across the country for burial.
“We have no choice but to change. We should suspend cultures that expose us to danger at this time of an epidemic,” he said.
Raila also asked Kenyans to stop stigmatising and criminalising those who have contracted the disease, adding that growing stigma was causing many Kenyans to shy away from being tested for the virus.